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Poinsettia plants — Tips to keep your poinsettia looking its best for the holidays

December 5, 2019

What’s your favorite color poinsettia? I can’t decide. Red is classic and perfect for the holidays, but the white is so fresh, and pink is my favorite color. And then there are orange and gold, and even marbled varieties. There are over 100 varieties of poinsettia plants now. What a nice dilemma!

It’s easy to keep a poinsettia pretty through the holidays. Just get a healthy plant to start with, and follow a few easy tips. If you’d like to keep it going for another year (yay you!) you can do that, too!

Choosing your poinsettia plants

• Pass up the plants near the front door of the store. Poinsettias don’t like temperature fluctuations, especially cold drafts (who does?). If the store sells poinsettias in another area (near the back of the flower shop or in the garden department of a larger store, for example), trek back there to find one that’s been protected from cold blasts of air. 

• Look for stems that are full of green leaves and bracts (those fancy, colorful leaves that many people mistake for the plant’s flowers) all the way down the stem. 

• Avoid plants with droopy leaves and bracts. 

• Look for dark green foliage.

• Make sure the flowers (those little yellow buds in the center of the bracts) are tight, not quite open.

• As with all plants, choose poinsettia plants that are well balanced from all sides. 

• Check the soil. If it’s bone dry, it may not survive long because it’s not been well cared for. Ditto if it’s soaking wet. 

• IMPORTANT: Wrap the plant well before you take it outside. Those big leaves need good protection from cold and wind.

At home

• Either take off the decorative wrapper or poke holes in the bottom of it so that water can drain out. You don’t want your poinsettia sitting in water. (I like to repot mine in a terra cotta or ceramic pot. When time is short, I simply plop my plastic pot inside a decorative one.)

• Place your poinsettia where it will get bright, indirect light. (Direct sun may fade the bracts.) Mine seem happiest in a sunny window with a sheer cotton curtain filtering the light. If you place yours in a window, don’t let the leaves touch the glass.

• Keep your plant comfortable with a room temperature of 65 to 75 degrees. Choose a spot away from drafts and heat vents, because dramatic temperature changes will cause the leaves to wilt. If the plant gets too chilly (below 50 degrees, for example), the leaves will fall off. The leaves will also yellow and fall off if it gets too hot. Picky, picky. Luckily, the happy range for your poinsettia is the comfortable range for most households, too.

• Water (with room temperature water) when the surface of the soil gets dry. Poinsettia plants like moist—but definitely not wet—soil. Small pots will need to be watered more often than big ones, and plastic pots less often than clay. Watering needs also depend on the soil, humidity, and temperature in the room. If the air is dry, the poinsettia may need daily watering. Let the soil be your guide. 

• Mist your poinsettia, if you want to give it some extra TLC. 

Decorating with poinsettias

I’m perfectly happy displaying my poinsettias as potted plants. (I put one in each bedroom during the holiday season.) But there are some other fun options I might try this year. 

To try any of these, you’ll want to cut the stems. (Did you know that the poinsettia was first developed as a cut flower?) After cutting, dip the stem ends in boiling water for about 20 seconds to remove the sap, then place them in cold water right away. 

• Tuck poinsettia leaves and bracts in your Christmas tree.

• Add poinsettia leaves and bracts to a wreath.

• Use the leaves and bracts in a floral arrangement.

• Decorate a gift package with a poinsettia stem.

I’m also going to try drying a couple of poinsettia bracts this year. Pressing seems like it should work well!

How to keep your poinsettia for next year

Poinsettias bloom best in the winter, giving them a decided edge when it comes to Christmas florals. (You’re right, they’re not actually “blooming,” they’re just producing colorful bracts.) In fact, I often wish mine would stop putting on such a Christmas show after the holidays, because, well, Christmas is over. I usually discard mine rather than save them for the following year, but with a little diligence you can save yours and—with a little more diligence—have it rebloom next year. Here’s how:

1) Tend your poinsettia as usual until spring, when the bracts start fading, likely early in April. Repot it and cut back the stems to about four inches or so. Water as usual (in the sunny window) and fertilize it every two weeks.

2) Once summer weather arrives for good, move the plant outside to a partially shaded location. Continue to water and fertilize it. 

3) Mid-summer, cut back the stems to keep the plant from getting too leggy (tall with sparse leaves). Leave just a few leaves on each branch.

4) Mid-August, bring the plant indoors and place it back in the sunny window. Continue to water and fertilize until fall. Don’t cut back the plant after September 1.

5) To give your plant the message that it’s winter (light-wise), it will need to be placed in the dark for about 12 to 14 hours each day, beginning the first week in October. Each night, put the plant in a dark closet, or place a big box over it. Later in the morning (12 to 14 hours later), place the poinsettia back in the sunny window for the remaining 10 to 12 hours. Continue watering and fertilizing as usual.

6) Once you start seeing little flower buds, your plant no longer needs to be closeted overnight. Just leave it in the bright window. This will probably happen around the end of November.

7) Stop fertilizing but continue watering. Your poinsettia should be ready to put on another show for the upcoming holidays!

Fun facts about poinsettias

• In spite of what you may have heard, poinsettias are not poisonous. I’m not recommending you include it in your salad (I hear it tastes awful), but you’d have to consume large quantities to get even a stomachache, according to researchers at Ohio State. (That goes for your pets, too, though to prevent an upset pet tummy—and a mess—you may want to keep them out of your pet’s reach.) Some people with a latex allergy have a skin reaction after touching the plant, though. 

• In Mexico, poinsettias grow as perennial shrubs 10 to 15 feet tall. 

• The plant is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico who introduced the plant to the U.S. He was a botanist and physician.

• December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

Euphorbia pulcherrima is the poinsettia’s botanical (Latin) name. This puts it in the spurge family, along with Euphoria milii (crown of thorns), Euphoria horrida (which looks like a cactus!), and Euphorbia polychrome (cushion spurge). 

• Over 70 percent of all poinsettias sold in the U.S. come from The Paul Ecke Ranch in California. The ranch also sells about half of the world’s poinsettia plants. 

• In Mexico and Guatemala, the poinsettia is called Flower of the Holy Night. 

• Poinsettias are the best-selling potted plant in the US and Canada.

What’s your favorite color poinsettia? Have you tried saving one to re-bloom the following year?

You might also like: How to care for your air plants — TLC for your Tilly.

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