Good poinsettia care is essential if you want to get the best out of this delightful plant.
Nothing heralds the festive season quite like a ruby red poinsettia. It’s one of the best winter house plants, and makes a lovely holiday gift.
There are so many wonderful poinsettias for Christmas available in a range of colors, so even if you don’t favor the traditional red, you are sure to find a variety that you love. Why not use different colors to make a poinsettia wreath?
Unfortunately, the plants are not renowned for their longevity. They have usually dropped their leaves by the end of January, and are dead long before summer has arrived.
‘They can be a little challenging to care for, but with due consideration and proper poinsettia care, it is possible for them to thrive in most home environments,’ says Andrew Gaumond horticulturist, botanist, and director of content at Petal Republic.
So, learn how to care for a poinsettia properly, and you’ll be enjoying your plant for many winters to come.
Poinsettia care – expert tips
Start your poinsettia care regime before you’ve even bought it, by choosing a healthy plant from a reputable store or garden center.
A way to select a high-grade plant is to look for undamaged, dense foliage and budding yellow flowers in-between the colored bracts (the upper leaves, which are often mistaken for flowers).
‘Buy your poinsettia from an indoor store, and make sure they don't display these plants near automatic doors,’ says Naomi Robinson, founder of Houseplant Authority. ‘Poinsettias don't like lower temperatures so any period exposed to this, even just the doors opening and closing every now and then, can mean that the plant won't last long.’
A caring seller will also have made sure the poinsettia is watered correctly – feel the compost and ensure it is neither sandy dry nor soaking wet.
‘Wrap your poinsettia in paper for the journey home to protect it from drafts and temperatures below 54°F (12ºC). This protects it from damage that is initially invisible but can lead to premature loss of leaves after a few days,’ says Dr Susanne Lux, international campaign coordinator at poinsettia grower collective Stars for Europe.
When you get it home, take it out of its sleeve and place the pot on a saucer. ‘Be careful with pot sleeves because they can hold too much water, which can cause the plant to die,’ says Gail Pabst from the National Garden Bureau.
An important part of poinsettia care is ensuring it receives the right temperature year round. Position the plant in a well-lit room near a window – ‘keep the plants at a temperature of between 59-72°F (15-22ºC),’ says Lux.
‘Poinsettias don't generally like direct sunlight, although this is less of an issue during winter, so it's fine to keep your plant near a window (ideally south-facing) during the Christmas period,’ adds Robinson.
‘Just make sure you move it away from that position as the warmer months approach to avoid its leaves burning.’
Also try to minimize drafts – ‘A more sheltered position is better, avoiding open doorways or windows as well as fireplaces.’
How often to water a poinsettia
‘Overwatering is the most common mistake with poinsettias – and it's important to let the water drain,’ says Pabst.
The amount of water a poinsettia needs varies depending on temperature, location and the size of both the plant and its pot.
‘For a pot with a diameter of 5in, give it no more than a small glass of water,’ advises Dr Lux. ‘This prevents large pores in the soil from clogging up and waterlogging.'
Mini poinsettias should not be given more than one shot glass of water. Excess water that is still in the planter after ten minutes should be removed as this can lead to overwatering.
‘If in doubt, it’s better to keep these plants a little more dry than moist and to water them little and often, rather than rarely but in great quantity,’ adds Dr Lux.
Only water poinsettias when the soil is noticeably dry, which can range from every day to every three days. Pay extra attention to smaller pots as they dry out faster – mini poinsettias, especially, will most likely need watering daily.
‘Never fertilize a poinsettia in full bloom,’ adds Garamond. ‘These plants are generally light feeders and only really need a nutrient boost once or twice in spring and summer with a balanced water soluble houseplant feed.’
If you’re using cut poinsettias in a vase, cut the bracts, dip the cut end in warm, around 140°F (60ºC), water for a few seconds, then immediately in cold water. Once arranged, make sure to replace with fresh water every few days.
How do you keep a poinsettia alive year round?
To keep a poinsettia alive year round, it needs occasional watering, and fertilizing when not in bloom.
‘The flowers and bracts of poinsettias can last for a couple of months, if the plant is properly cared for,’ says Pol Bishop, gardening at Fantastic Gardeners.
However, good poinsettia care means not neglecting the plant once the leaves have dropped.
‘Once the plant finishes blooming in the spring, trim back the stem and prune the old leaves and flowers.’
Keep an eye on room temperature and move to a less sunny spot in the warmer months.
How do you get poinsettias to rebloom?
‘It can be tricky to make poinsettias rebloom in the following Christmas, but you can support them by watering and occasionally adding fertiliser to the soil throughout the year,’ says Bishop.
‘Starting in October, place them in complete darkness for 14 hours a night in order to encourage the bloom.’
If your poinsettia outgrows its pot, repot it and use a suitable potting mix. ‘Poinsettias thrive best in a slightly acidic, well-draining, loamy or peat-based soil mix,’ says Garamond.
What colors do poinsettias come in?
While red poinsettias are by the far the most common, the bracts actually come in a plethora of shades and even patterns, meaning there’s a breed to suit any taste or style.
On the market today you’re likely to find shades of white, cream, salmon, magenta, apricot and lemon to name but a few. Then, in addition to the purely solid colored bracts of some, you can also find some interesting variations, like marbled or mottled patterns.
Shapes, too, can differ from pointed or jagged to rounded or crinkled.
Are poinsettia poisonous?
You may wonder – are poinsettias poisonous to cats and dogs, or even young children? The good news is that they’re not as toxic as you think.
That said, do keep out of reach of children and pets and, if you see a child eating the leaves, then wash their mouth with fresh water. If there is a severe reaction in anyone, always call your local emergency services.
How is a poinsettia related to Christmas?
The poinsettia arrived in the US and Europe around 200 years ago, when American diplomat Joel Roberts Poinsett spotted the vibrant plant on his travels and brought it home.
Since then, we have taken it for granted that poinsettias are a part of Christmas, but how did that connection happen? Well, the clue is partly in the original Spanish name, Flor de Nochebuena, meaning Flowers of the Holy Night. The actual reason it has become linked to Christmas has few myths attached to it.
One Mexican legend has a poor child bringing weeds as a gift to church on Christmas Eve, and when there they blossomed into red poinsettias. Another theory is that the star shaped pattern of the plant represents the Star of Bethlehem, while the bright red color of the bracts represents the blood of Christ.
As editor of Period Living, Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, I love the charm of older properties. I live in a rural village just outside the Cotswolds, so am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful homes and countryside, where I enjoy exploring. I am passionate about characterful interiors and heritage-inspired designs, but I am equally fascinated by a house's architectural elements – if I spot an elegant original sash window or intricate stained-glass front door, it fills my heart with joy. It's so important to me that original features are maintained and preserved for future generations to enjoy. My other passion is my garden, and I am slowly building up my planting knowledge, and becoming more confident at experimenting with growing my own. As well as editing Period Living, I am also co-editing the Country Channel of Homes & Gardens. In my previous roles, I have worked on Real Homes and Homebuilding & Renovating, writing about modern design and architecture, so my experience is broad – but my heart belongs to period homes.
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