These tips for poinsettia plant care will make sure your pretty holiday plant will continue to delight you all through the holiday season and into next year.
More poinsettia plants are sold during November and December than the yearly sales of all the other potted plants, other than orchids. There is a good reason for this popularity – the plant has colorful leaves, which are called bracts, and it is useful both as an indoor plant and also for decorating through the holiday season.
If you have purchased poinsettia plants in the past, you may have discovered that they are somewhat finicky when it comes to care. The plants have a few things that they need in order to hold on to their blooms.
Keep reading to learn how to grow poinsettias so that you can continue to enjoy their beauty throughout the season and beyond.
Facts about poinsettia plants
Brush up on your knowledge of poinsettia plants with these plant facts:
- Botanical name: Euphorbia pulcherrima
- Family: Euphorbiaceae (spurge)
- Common names: lobster flower, flame leaf flower, Christmas star, poinsettia
- Native to: the Pacific slope region of Mexico and Guatemala.
- Plant type: in nature, poinsettia is a shrub or small tree
- December 12 is celebrated annually as National Poinsettia Day.
How big do poinsettias get?
In their native environments, poinsettias will grow into trees, some reaching 10-15 feet tall. If you have a poinsettia plant in your yard, you can control its size by pinching back the growing tips.
The poinsettia flower
When do poinsettias bloom is a common question from readers.
The colorful red parts of the poinsettia that are often referred to as the blooms or flowers are actually colorful leaves known as bracts. These leaves change color in response to shorter winter days. (Christmas cactus is another holiday plant that blooms when the days are short and cool.)
For poinsettia, this process is called photoperiodism. When there is a lack of sunlight, which happens in late fall and winter, the leaves turn from green to red or one of the other shade variations.
In nature, the bracts of poinsettias are meant to provide protection to the flower and to attract insects. The actual flowers of poinsettias, called cyathia, are not the vibrantly colored red petals, but are tiny, yellow and red buds in the center of the bracts.
Once the plant has been pollinated, the bracts will drop off. The aim with a holiday poinsettia is to make sure that the bracts last as long as possible.
Wilting and leaf dropping are indications that the bloom time is done and this happens in spring.
Poinsettia bracts come in several colors – from red, pink, white, yellow and purple, to salmon and multi-colored versions.
How to grow poinsettias
The key to successful poinsettia plant care is making sure the plant has the right sunlight, watering and humidity.
Do poinsettias need sun?
When grown outdoors, poinsettia plant likes part sun of 4-6 hours a day. Indoors, place the plant in a window that gets bright filtered light.
A south, east or west window works best. Avoid northern facing windows, which get very little light, particularly in the winter months.
Temperature requirements for poinsettias
Poinsettias grow best when they have an indoor temperature range of 65-74° F. (18-24° C.)
Be careful where you place your poinsettia plants. Avoid cold or hot drafts, such as heating ducts, fireplaces and window sills near very cold windows.
Poinsettia will suffer damage if the temperatures drop below 50° F. (10° C.) Freezing temperatures can kill a poinsettia plant.
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Soil, fertilizing and watering needs for poinsettia
If you don’t plan on keeping your poinsettia after the holidays, there is no need to repot it from the container in which it was purchased.
Watering a poinsettia correctly means keeping the soil moist and being sure the pot drains freely.
Many holiday poinsettias come with a decorative foil wrapper. Remove this when watering, since it will hold water which can be transferred back to the soil.
Water when the surface of the soil feels dry when you touch it. If the pot feels light when lifted, the soil is most likely too dry.
Letting the soil dry out will make the poinsettia wilt and can cause it to drop its bracts.
Fertilizing is not needed for specimens that will only be used as holiday plants. If you intend to keep your plant for another year, fertilize monthly at half strength with an all purpose plant fertilizer when new growth is noted.
Humidity needs for poinsettia plants
Poinsettias are raised in greenhouses where ideal temperatures can be maintained along with high humidity levels. These conditions are difficult to match indoors at home.
The plants like humidity levels between 50-75%. You can raise the humidity of your plants by placing the pot of a tray of pebbles with water in the base.
Placing the plant near a humidifier will help greatly as, will misting the plant often.
Can you plant poinsettias outside?
The holidays are over. Should you place your poinsettia plant on the compost pile, or can you grow it outdoors next spring and summer?
If you have enjoyed growing this pretty plant indoors in a pot, you will love growing poinsettia outdoors, too. Transplanting poinsettias outdoors can be done in spring or early summer either in a pot, or in a semi sunny garden bed.
Your hardiness zone plays a part in deciding which to do, since freezing temperatures will kill poinsettias.
Is poinsettia annual or perennial?
If you live in zones 9-11, poinsettia is considered a tender perennial that will overwinter in the ground easily, so your indoor holiday specimen can be planted directly in your garden.
Be sure to add compost to the soil and till it in well. Choose a spot that gets 4-5 hours of sunlight a day.
You can also plant poinsettia outdoors if you live in cooler zones, but should be aware that you’ll be treating the plant as an annual, since it won’t survive the winter outside.
Whether you choose a pot or directly in the garden, be sure to water well after transplanting your poinsettia.
Is poinsettia poisonous?
However, they also state that signs of toxicity are irritation in the mouth and stomach, which sometimes causes vomiting. They also state that poinsettia is over-rated in toxicity.
The University of Illinois Extension has an informative page about the toxicity of poinsettia. They report numerous studies which show that poinsettia is not poisonous.
They further state that “a study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect.”
For absolute safety, one should take care with poinsettias around children and pets, since ingesting does cause some discomfort and the sap could produce a rash.
If you enjoyed your plant over the holidays, you may enjoy learning how to propagate poinsettias in order to enjoy them next year, too. Unfortunately, even if you practice the best poinsettia care tips, poinsettia plants may still not be very long lasting.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to grow new plants. The most common method of plant propagation is with cuttings from the live plant.
While poinsettias also grow from seed, taking cuttings and rooting them is a way to make sure that the plant is like the parent plant.
To root cuttings, cut a stem from a healthy plant. The best time to do this is when parent plants send out new growth in the spring.
Use a rooting powder to aid in rooting success. Insert the cutting into moist potting soil or sand.
Place the cuttings where the pot get bright indirect sunlight. A plastic bag over the cuttings will increase the humidity and help the cuttings root.
You should see results in about a month. Continue watering your poinsettia through the spring and summer.
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How to get a poinsettia to bloom for the holidays
Poinsettia plants will only bloom when they experience long and cool nights. The process for getting it to bloom is similar to Thanksgiving Cactus and Christmas Cactus.
Starting in the fall, move the plants into a closet overnight for 14 hours.
Move them to the light in the morning for up to 10 hours. Continue this procedure for 10 weeks and you should have the colorful poinsettia bracts by Christmas.
Although poinsettia plants are finicky at best, by following these care tips, you will be able to enjoy your plant this holiday season and into next year.
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You can also watch our video for poinsettia plant care on YouTube.
- 1 Poinsettia plant
- All purpose plant fertilizer
- Watering can
- Plant mister or pebble tray
- Choose a healthy plant with dark green leaves and brightly colored bracts. Avoid any plants with yellowed leaves.
- Remove the foil outer wrapper and place the pot on a saucer.
- Place the plant near a bright east, south, or west facing window.
- Water when the soil feels dry to the touch.
- Mist often or place the pot on a layer of pebbles with water below them for extra humidity.
- Fertilize monthly with half strength fertilizer in spring when new growth shows.
- To get the plant to bloom again for Christmas, give it 10 weeks of overnight placement in a closet in fall.
- Get new plants by taking cuttings in spring.