Many people, myself included, will either give or receive at least one poinsettia plant during the festive period. Like the Christmas Cactus, this is one of the most popular and recognizable flowers of the festive period.
But once the holiday is over and the decorations have been taken down, what do you do with your poinsettia? Well the answer is that you need not put it in a quiet corner of your garden and allow it to wither away. With a little time and care, you can keep your poinsettia healthy before enjoying its colorful blooms again the following Christmas.
This is your complete guide to poinsettia care.
A popular winter flower, the Christmas Star is not just an annual plant. With a little care it can be encouraged to return year after year.
Warning poinsettia foliage contains a sap that can irritate the mouth and esophagus tissue if ingested. Consuming a significant amount can lead to feelings of nausea and vomiting.
If you accidentally consume the plant seek medical advice immediately. However a large amount of foliage would have to be consumed to cause significant poisoning.
Take care and always wear gloves when handling the plant.
The plants can also be mildly toxic to pets. Keep them high up, out of the way of inquisitive animals.
What is a Poinsettia?
Also known as the Christmas Star or the Mexican Flame Tree, the poinsettia (Euphorbia Pulcherrima) is a popular festive houseplant.
Indigenous to Mexico, in the wild the Christmas Stars can reach a height of 16 ft. During December the plant can turn entire mountainsides crimson in color.
Missionaries travelling into Mexico noticed the eye catching crimson plants and introduced them to their Christmas festivities. Ever since, the Christmas Star has been a key, colorful part of the advent season.
Like the missionaries before him, Joel Poinsett, the first US Ambassador to Mexico also noticed the colorful plants. Poinsett introduced the poinsettia to America in 1828. It is from him that the plant gets its common name. National Poinsettia Day, the 12th of December, commemorates Poinsett’s death.
How to Select a Good Poinsettia
If you are purchasing the plant for yourself or as a gift, make sure that you buy the healthiest plant available. Selecting a healthy plant makes care a lot easier.
When selecting your plant, try to choose the healthiest available specimen. This makes care a lot easier.
Always purchase from a garden center or reliable store. Do not buy your plant from an outside store or stall. Avoid purchasing from anywhere where the plant may have been exposed to low temperatures for a prolonged period. Consistent exposure to low temperatures can reduce the lifespan of the plant.
Take care to inspect the entire plant before purchasing. The soil should be moist, not soaking wet or overly dry. The foliage should be healthy and dense with plenty of yellow-green flower buds emerging between the colored bracts. The buds should also be tightly clustered together.
Your chosen Christmas Star should look healthy and robust. Avoid selecting plants with lots of yellow or green-white foliage. Also avoid plants that have faded, discolored or damaged bracts.
Finally, the plant should be free from pests and disease.
Care begins long before you get the plant home. After purchasing your poinsettia make sure that it is protected as much as possible from the cold or wind while you transport it home.
Where to Position Your Plant
As I have already mentioned, care begins the moment you get your plant. While this may make the poinsettia seem a high maintenance houseplant, it really isn’t.
Place the plant in as light a position as possible. A south facing window is ideal. The plants also thrive in east or west facing windows as long as there is enough light. Your Christmas Star should receive about 6 hours of bright light every day.
Don’t worry if you struggle to provide enough natural light. You can still successfully care for the plant. Simply place it under a grow light. Many people who care for houseplants find that artificial light is just as beneficial as natural light.
The temperature should be consistently between 65 and 75 ℉. Anything colder than this can cause leaf drop. An indoor thermometer such as the ThermoPro Digital Indoor Thermometer provides an easy to read, accurate measure. Keep the plants away from drafts and cold air.
Select a light, draft free position. This helps to keep the temperature around your plant stable, enabling them to thrive and preventing issues such as leaf drop.
Watering your Plant
Keep the soil moist when the plants are in flower. The easiest way to do this is by immersion. To immerse your plant, remove it from its regular position and place it in a bowl containing a few inches of water.
Leave the plant in the bowl for about half an hour. During this time it will soak up as much moisture as it needs. If the plant absorbs all the moisture don’t be afraid to add a little more.
Remove the poinsettia from the bowl and allow the excess water to drain away before returning it to its usual position. Don’t allow the plant to sit in water for a prolonged period of time.
Post Christmas Care
After Christmas, continue to care for your plant as before. Continue to water the plant until about the start of April.
Keep it in its light, warm position. The temperatures should remain between 65 and 70 ℉. At night the temperature can be allowed to fall slightly lower. Take care not to expose the plant to temperatures that are too cold. Prolonged exposure to anything below 60 ℉ can cause leaf drop.
From mid spring onwards how you care for the plant will change. Cease watering in early April, allowing the soil to dry out.
By the middle of April or early May the soil should have dried out completely. At this stage the plant is ready to be cut back. You can cut your Christmas Star back earlier than this if it becomes leggy.
Use a clean garden scissors to cut the stems down to about 4 inches above the soil.
Once the soil is dry, you should also repot the plant.
Repotting Your Poinsettia
Repotting is a key part of correct houseplant care.
The new pot should be roughly the same size, or slightly larger, as the original pot. There should also be drainage holes in the bottom. If you are creating an easy to care for houseplant collection, plant in a self watering pot.
Carefully remove the plant from its pot. Brush away any old soil from the root system. Inspect the root system for signs of disease. Use a clean, sharp garden scissors to cut away damaged sections. This stops the disease from spreading. Spotting signs of disease such as root rot early helps to make plant care a lot easier.
Place a layer of sterile potting soil in the bottom of the new pot. A soilless mix can also be used. Position the poinsettia in the pot. It should sit at roughly the same level as in its original pot. You may need to add or take away some soil to get your level right.
Repot your plant every year in a clean pot filled with fresh potting soil. This helps to keep the plant healthy.
When you are happy with the position of the plant, continue to fill the pot with fresh potting soil. Aim to leave a gap of at least one inch between the soil level and the top of the pot.
Gently firm the soil down and water well. Once the excess water has drained away, return the plant to its usual position.
Common Pests and Problems Pests
With the correct care, the Christmas Star is a pleasingly problem free plant.
Regularly check the underside of the foliage for pests such as aphids or white flies. An insecticidal soap or similar organic solution can be wiped on the leaves to remove any infestations.
Caring for Plants During the Summer
One of the most difficult parts of houseplant care is knowing how often to water your plants. Regularly check the soil around your poinsettia to make sure that it isn’t drying out. Water only when the surface looks or feels dry.
When new growth emerges, feed your poinsettia with a dose of all purpose houseplant fertilizer. Natural fertilizers are just as effective as chemical products. Many people prefer using organic or natural products, particularly when fertilizing houseplants. Earthpods Premium Indoor Fertilizer, is an organic fertilizer that is ideal for indoor and container plants.
Continue to feed the plants regularly during the growing season. This helps to promote fresh growth.
Never give your plants more than the recommended dose specified on the label. For a rough guide, aim to apply a quarter strength fertilizer once a week or a full strength dose once a month. 1 to 2 tablespoons of fertilizer per dose is ample.
Fertilize only when the soil is wet. Adding fertilizer to dry soil can burn the roots.
In warmer climates, when nighttime temperatures remain over 50 ℉ the poinsettia can be placed outside. Position the plant in a slightly shady location, gradually increasing the amount of light the plant receives. Continue to water and fertilize the plant while it is outside.
In warmer climates the plants can be placed outside during the summer months.
If new growth is particularly vigorous, around the middle of July, you may need to prune the plant. To do this simply pinch out about an inch of new growth from each stem.
You can also prune the plant again in early September. When you prune a poinsettia, bear in mind that trimming away a couple of inches from the top of the plant promotes more side branching. This creates a bushier plant. Use a sharp garden scissors when pruning. As you prune, aim to leave 3 or 4 leaves on each shoot.
When the temperature begins to fall towards 55 to 60 ℉ return the plant to its indoor position. This should be light and with a temperature averaging between 65 and 70 ℉. Continue to water and fertilize as before.
How to Encourage Colorful Christmas Displays
One of the most important parts of poinsettia care is ensuring the plants are able to develop their distinctive, colorful bracts.
Poinsettias need exposure to dark periods in order to flower and form their distinctive colorful bracts. From the start of October until Thanksgiving, a period of about 8 to 10 weeks, keep the plant in complete darkness for 12 to 14 hours a day.
This is easily done by simply placing your Christmas Star in a closet or covering it with a box every evening. Keep the plant in total darkness for the night before returning it to its light windowsill the following morning. Repeat this process every day.
By the time Thanksgiving arrives you can stop covering the plant. Instead place it somewhere where it gets at least 6 hours of sunlight every day. At the same time, reduce the amount of water and fertilizer you give the plant. This encourages the flowers and colorful bracts to emerge.
By christmas your plant should be, hopefully, putting on a colorful display.
Cease fertilizing completely when the plants begin to flower but continue to water. With careful care the plants can be encouraged to flower for 4 to 6 weeks.
Once flowering has finished, begin the process all over again for a colorful display the following year.
With careful care the Christmas Star can be encouraged to return year after year, providing a pleasingly colorful festive display.
As you can see, once the Christmas decorations come down there is no need to consign your poinsettia to the compost heap.
One of the most attractive indoor plants, with a little time and care the poinsettia can be encouraged to thrive, providing year long interest before producing another colorful display the following year.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.