Tuesday, December 8, 2015

How to Care for a Poinsettia

Poinsettia, licensed from Mensatic/Morguefile.com

It's that time of year when poinsettia seem to explode on the shelves of your local garden center, big box store and supermarket. Everywhere you turn, the beautiful red, white or pink "flowers" celebrate the holidays. But few people know how to care properly for a poinsettia and are disappointed when their plant doesn't last through the New Year. Here's how to care for a poinsettia to keep it healthy and happy.

Caring for Your Poinsettia

Poinsettia arrived in the United States with our ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, who "discovered" the poinsettia growing wild among the hills of Mexico. In its native habitat, poinsettia is actually a weed that loves to flourish in roadside ditches. That gives you an idea of how tough it is when given the right conditions!


Think about this when you bring your poinsettia home. First of all, Mexico is a warm, temperate climate. Poinsettia HATE cold weather and drafts. If exposed to cold drafts, fluctuating temperatures or sudden bursts of cold, they will curl and drop their leaves.

Most garden centers know this and take great pains to wrap a poinsettia correctly before wishing you a Happy Holiday and ushering you out the door. But big box stores and supermarkets don't offer extra wrap, so you'll have to do the job yourself in order to keep your poinsettia warm and snug until you can get it home. Use an extra plastic bag and move the plant immediately to your car. Try not to run other errands when you've got a poinsettia riding along with you; they don't appreciate being outside for that long!


Poinsettia need evenly moist soil. Many poinsettia pots are wrapped in pretty foil at this time of year, which makes them an attractive gift but doesn't help drain away excess water. You may wish to move the foil away from the bottom of the plant container. Check the container while you're at it to make sure there are drainage holes. I've received a few plants over the years that didn't have drainage holes in the bottom of the container, and had to add them to make sure I didn't drown the poor thing.

Keep the soil evenly moist and your poinsettia will thank you. Just stick your finger into the soil. If the soil clings to it, you don't need to water. If the soil feels dry, give your plant a drink.

Your poinsettia needs bright light. A southern window is great, or a bright western or eastern exposure. Make sure that your plants gets plenty of light throughout the holiday season.

Getting Poinsettia to "Bloom" Again

After the holidays, keep your poinsettia as a houseplant until all danger of frost is past. Then, give it a summer vacation. Bring it outside and let it enjoy some bright, dappled shade throughout the growing season.

Once summer is over, it's time to convince your plant to produce those lovely, colorful bracts or leaves surrounding the little yellow "true" flower. From September 1 to December 1, you'll need to give your plant a very strict regimen of light and dark. This mimics conditions in its native habitat.  

You can use a closet or a dark room to provide darkness. Bring the plant into the darkness and make sure it receives absolute darkness from 13 to 16 hours a night. Take it out during the day and place it back in its sunny spot, but make sure to keep up this routine. By December 1, if all goes well, your plant should have its color back.

Poinsettia are lovely plants and a wonderful symbol of the holidays. Enjoy your plants!

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