Poinsettias are the quintessential Christmas plant. The best-selling variety of this plant comes in shades of red and green, and as the plant is at its most vibrant over winter, it seems that it was created especially for the festive season.
One common name for the poinsettia is ‘Christmas flower,’ while in Italy, it is known as ‘Stella di Natale’, and in Germany, it is called the ‘Weihnachtsstern’; both of these translate in English to ‘Christmas star’.
While the poinsettia is traditionally used as a houseplant or centerpiece over the winter months, it can actually be grown all year round, blooming again the following winter. If you want your poinsettia to last for more than just the festive season, you’ll need to know a few things about the plant to help increase your chances of success at keeping it alive. Once you understand the basic needs of the plant, it isn’t too hard to keep it happy and thriving.
|Scientific Name||Euphorbia pulcherrima|
|Common Names||Poinsettia, Christmas flower|
|Height||Up to 16 feet in native habitat, or up to 2 feet as a houseplant|
|Light||Bright, indirect light|
|Watering||Water when dry, do not soak|
|Pests||Aphids and whiteflies|
Choosing a Poinsettia
One of the best things you can do to ensure you have a healthy poinsettia that remains colorful all winter long is to make a good decision about the poinsettia you purchase. Poinsettias are finicky about their care, and if the plant has been subjected to less than ideal conditions while it sat in a store, then you will probably find it wilts soon after you get it home.
There are many houseplants that can be rescued from poor conditions in a store and will spring back to life once you bring them home and give them the care they need. This is not the case with poinsettias, so don’t be tempted to buy a sad-looking poinsettia; they rarely ever recover!
To make sure you get a high-quality plant, there are a few things you can look for. First, check the condition of the flowers.
Contrary to popular belief, the red ‘petals’ of the plant are not the flowers; they are actually modified leaves known as bracts. Instead, the flowers are at the center of the leaf bracts and look like tiny yellow berries, usually in a star formation. When buying a poinsettia, you want these tiny flowers to look firm, and they shouldn’t yet have any pollen on them. If the flowers look loose and in poor condition, it’s usually a sign that the plant hasn’t been well cared for.
Another thing you can do is check the soil. It should be neither dry nor soggy to the touch. Also, check the surroundings of where the poinsettia is being kept. Many grocery stores will place them near the front of the store to catch the customer's eye as they enter, but this is a bad place to keep a poinsettia. These plants are very sensitive to draughts or sudden changes in temperature, so they could well have been damaged by being kept near an entryway with continually opening and closing doors.
Even if a poinsettia looks healthy, it could have sustained damage that will cause it to lose its leaves once it gets home, so try to seek out a reputable seller. You should also take care when transporting your poinsettia home. Wrap it up in paper or plastic to protect it from the cold, and don’t keep it in a cold car any longer than necessary.
Poinsettias are known for their winter blooms and bright red coloring, which is synonymous with the festive season, and though these are the most common types of poinsettias, there are over 150 varieties to choose from including those with pink or white bracts.
Varieties of poinsettia include the following.
This is the poinsettia most people are familiar with. It features solid vibrant red leaf bracts at the top of the plant, with deep green leaves on the lower half of the plant. Its flowers are green-yellow.
Euphorbia Christmas Beauty Marble
The leaf bracts of this plant are striking in highly pigmented pink with a marbled pattern in luscious cream.
Euphorbia pulcherrima 'Freedom Jingle Bells'
This unusual poinsettia is a real show stopper. It has glossy green leaves, complemented by ‘petals’ in a two-tone pattern with bright red and buttery yellow. It has an incredibly festive look that makes an excellent Christmas centerpiece.
This poinsettia has green leaves and deep pink leaf bracts. This plant is a great way to bring pretty, vibrant colors to a wintery room.
Winter Rose Dark Red
This plant has burgundy leaves, which look incredibly dramatic next to its lower green leaves. It is an especially festive-looking poinsettia and would be perfect for a Christmas centerpiece.
Princettia Max White
This delicate-looking plant has creamy white bracts that have baby pink veins running through them, giving it a pretty and elegant look.
This poinsettia has vivid lime green ‘petals,’ which grow in an upward direction to make an interesting-looking plant. It seems to be a little sturdier than some other poinsettias and is less likely to succumb to an early death than more traditional varieties. It typically lasts longer than red-leafed poinsettias.
As you might expect from the name of this variety, its leaves are pure white. Unlike most poinsettias, it only has one leaf color, so if you are a fan of consistent-looking plants, then this would be a good choice. It also works well alongside more traditional poinsettias, providing a nice contrast.
Strawberries and Cream
This poinsettia has pale pink leaves that have darker pink veins running through them. If your Christmas color scheme is less traditional, and you are moving away from all things red, this is a pretty plant to give a festive vibe with a modern edge. The lower leaves of this plant are medium green, which contrasts nicely against the soft pink shades above.
Caring for Your Poinsettia
Poinsettias like to have their soil kept consistently slightly moist. They should not be allowed to dry out, and they should also not be kept in soggy soil. Many growers recommend a practice that is discouraged for most houseplants, and this is to give the poinsettia a small sip of water every day or every few days, depending on the condition of its soil.
Giving the plant frequent light waterings rather than infrequent heavy waterings will help to ensure a more even level of moisture throughout the soil, and it will also prevent the plant's soil from getting waterlogged, which would result in root rot and death of the plant.
Poinsettias kept in large pots will not need to be watered as frequently as those in small pots, which have a tendency to dry out more quickly.
These plants are accustomed to life in Central America, where they enjoy a lot of sun, so you need to recreate this environment in your home to allow the plant to thrive. A windowsill is usually a good spot for a poinsettia, though make sure it is not allowed to come into contact with the window pane itself, as these can get very cold during the winter months.
If your windows are not well insulated, you may be better off positioning the plant on a well-lit table in your living room. It will enjoy being in the brightest spot your home can offer, providing it is warm enough.
These plants can be quite particular about where they are kept, so if you feel like your poinsettia isn’t thriving in its current position, then don’t be shy about moving it and trying out a different spot until you find one your plant is happy with.
Poinsettias should be kept at a constant temperature of between 65 and 75 °F during the winter months to give them the best chance of staying in bloom. As typical room temperature usually sits at around 70 °F, any living space in your home should be a comfortable temperature for the plant.
The exception to this is anywhere that the plant could be subject to cold drafts. Never place it in an entryway or near a window that gets opened. Also, take care if you position the plant on a windowsill, because if the window panes get cold and the plant comes into contact with the window, then it will likely sustain some damage.
Some people keep their poinsettias on a window sill but move them to a table or somewhere more central in a room each night. This is because if the window gets cold, then the plant could get too cold overnight, especially if it is hidden behind a drawn curtain and doesn’t benefit from heating in the home. The lowest temperature the plant should be subjected to overnight is 60 °F. Any lower than this, and you will likely notice some leaves shriveling and dropping.
As a native of the tropics, the poinsettia thrives in humid conditions. Humidity in homes is typically very low in the winter, as home heating systems have a tendency to dry out the air. This can be easily remedied to keep your poinsettia happy, and you have a few options you can choose from to achieve increased humidity.
One option is to simply mist the plants with a water spray every day. Another option is to sit the plant on a pebble tray and fill over the pebbles with water. As the water evaporates, the humidity around the plant is increased.
You could also do this without the use of a tray if your plant is housed in a larger plant pot for aesthetic purposes. Set some pebbles at the bottom of the exterior pot and cover with water before sitting the poinsettias own pot on top of them.
For both a pebble tray or pebbles in a pot, always ensure that the water level is lower than the tallest pebble. This will prevent any water from being absorbed by the plant's soil through its drainage holes, as this could result in soggy roots and a sickly plant. Another option is to use an electric humidifier to increase humidity in your entire room or home.
Poinsettias can be propagated from seeds or stem cuttings. To harvest seeds from your poinsettia, take them from your parent's plant as soon as the seeds start to turn brown. Dry them out by placing them in a paper bag and setting them aside. When the seeds have burst out of their pods, then they are ready to be planted.
Poinsettia seeds are easy to sow; they can simply be placed on moist soil and covered with a light layer of more soil. Set them in a warm shaded spot, maintain moist soil, and wait for germination to take place. Though poinsettia seeds take little effort to propagate, they may not produce a plant the same as the parent plant. The only way to ensure this is with stem cuttings.
To propagate with a stem cutting, you will need to take a cutting from the plant of between 3 and 4 inches in late spring or summer. To give yourself the best chances of success, you will need a stem from new growth. Old stems that have had the colored leaf bracts already growing on them will not work well for this.
Dip the cut end of your stems in rooting hormone before inserting them in moist potting soil. They should be kept in a bright position but away from direct sunlight. They will grow well in a greenhouse, or you could put a clear plastic bag over the cutting to help increase humidity and recreate a greenhouse environment.
Once new growth appears on your cutting, you should remove the plastic bag, and after a few weeks, move the stem cutting to a larger pot. Keep the new plants in a bright spot until the fall when you will need to induce flowering by providing the poinsettias with long dark nights (New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension).
If you are able to provide the conditions the poinsettia requires, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to keep the plant blooming and healthy for a few months through the festive season. However, getting it to rebloom the following winter can take some effort. This typically begins in April. Follow these monthly guidelines to help your poinsettia bloom next year.
January, February, and March
Continue care as normal, watering the plant whenever the surface of the soil is dry to the touch.
Gradually dry out the plant by cutting back on watering, allowing a few days of dry soil before you water it again, and slowly increasing the length of time the soil spends dry between each watering.
If the stem begins to shrivel, then you have dried out the plant too quickly, and it is stressed and will die. This needs to be a gradual process so as not to shock the poinsettia. A few weeks into the drying process, transport the plant to a cool area, such as a basement. It should be kept at around 60 °F.
Now, your plant needs to be pruned. Cut it back to around 4 inches tall and repot it. Use a pot slightly larger than its previous pot and fill the bottom with new potting soil. Gently remove the plant from its original pot so as not to disrupt the roots and set it down in the new pot.
Fill around the root ball with more new potting soil, ensuring that the bottom of the stem sits at the same level as it did in the previous pot. Water the plant generously and move it back to its previous home in a warm and bright spot. Water the plant as you previously would have, adding water every time the surface of the soil is dry.
Once you spot new growth appearing on the plant, you should begin fertilizing it. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer at half the recommended strength once a month. All of the new growth will be green, and this is completely normal.
At this point, you can continue to grow your poinsettia as a houseplant in the brightest spot in your home, or you can move the plant outside for the summer. If you move it outside, select a partially shaded spot for the plant, ideally one that gets plenty of morning sunlight but is sheltered from the strong heat of the afternoon.
Continue with your usual watering and fertilizing schedule, noting that a plant kept outdoors may have need to be watered more frequently than if kept indoors. Poinsettias are actually grown as shrubs in their natural habitat and are hardy through USDA growing zones 10 to 12. If you live in one of these warmer zones, you can plant your poinsettia directly in the ground and grow it as a shrub.
At the beginning of July, the poinsettia will need to be lightly pruned. Do this by trimming back each stem by about an inch. This will encourage bushier growth with plenty of branching. If you see a poinsettia that has become tall and leggy, it is usually because this vital pruning has been neglected.
During August, the poinsettia should have nicely branched out and have plenty of new growth. Once again, prune the plant back, pinching the stems so that around four leaves are left on each. At the end of August, if your plant spent the summer outside, you can now bring it back indoors. Position it in a bright window and continue the usual maintenance.
September and October
Continue usual care until the last week of September or the first week of October, then begin a period of forced darkness for the plant. Poinsettias need between 8 and 10 weeks of short days, meaning total darkness for 14 or 15 hours overnight during this time. These short days are vital for the poinsettias to rebloom because their buds are affected by light.
The best way to manufacture these short days required by the plant is to move the plant to a dark spot at around 5 pm each day, bringing it back out at 8 am each morning to its usual bright spot. Some people put the plant in a disused room, such as a spare bedroom, and keep the curtains closed. Other people move the plant to a cupboard overnight.
Remember that a temperature of no lower than 60 °F needs to be maintained, so moving the plant to a garage or dark basement is not an option, and if you move the plant to a disused room, make sure it is heated.
The slightest bit of light during the dark nights will negatively affect the plant, delaying blooming, or preventing it altogether. If kept in a cupboard, it is wise to put a blanket over the plant so that if anyone opens the cupboard during the night, then it won’t be subjected to light.
Streetlights through a window or the soft glow of a nightlight will also affect the plant's ability to bloom, so try your best to remove all chances of light getting to the plant during its overnight hours. Otherwise, all of your efforts to get the plant to rebloom may have been in vain.
November and December
By the middle to the end of November, the plant should have had a sufficient amount of short days and can now be permanently brought back to its usual bright spot. If all has gone well, the poinsettia should have developed its red leaf bracts, and flower buds should be forming on the plant by this time.
Continue usual care throughout the winter, and enjoy reaping the rewards of all your hard work!
How do you grow your poinsettias? Let us know your tips, and don’t forget to share this page with other interested growers!