How to care for a Christmas poinsettia

Expert tips to keep poinsettias alive and healthy for longer

The poinsettia (or Mexican Flame Tree or Christmas Star, as it is also known) is synonymous with the festive season but keeping the plant alive long enough to see Christmas Day can be a challenge. Poinsettias are the second best-selling houseplant in the UK (after the Phalaenopsis orchid), and this year we will buy an estimated 8 million of them over the Christmas period, according to Stars for Europe.

Read more: What is the meaning behind your favourite flowers?

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Image credit: Polly Wreford

It’s easy to see why they are so popular – they come in a range of beautiful colours: stunning reds, elegant whites, a glorious array of pinks and in a variety of sizes too. Poinsettias are the festive houseplant to have this year and are even suitable for use as cut flowers. Keeping them healthy is very straightforward too, here are some quick tips.

Read more: How to make flowers last longer

How do you keep a Poinsettia healthy?

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Image credit: Polly Wreford

  • Buy your poinsettia from a garden centre or reputable store. Do not buy from outside shops or stalls as lower temperatures on display will reduce the shelf life of the plant. Inspect the plant carefully before buying; poinsettia are tender plants and will not last if they stand in the cold for any length of time.
  • If possible, check your poinsettia’s compost before buying. It should be neither dripping wet nor totally dry.
  • Dense foliage and yellow-green budding flowers in-between the coloured bracts are a sure sign of quality.
  • Protect your poinsettia from the wind and cold and transport it quickly to its warm new home.
  • Keep it in a bright, warm spot (around 20° C). It can be close to a radiator, but not in direct sunlight or near draughts – so keep away from open doors, windows and fireplaces.
  • Be careful not to overwater it by leaving a pool of water in the bottom of the pot it’s sitting in. Water only when the compost is starting to change colour and become lighter.
  • To use poinsettias as fresh flowers in a vase, cut the bracts, dip the cut end in warm (60 degrees) water for five seconds, then immediately in cold water, and you’re ready to arrange.

Are Poinsettia plants poisonous to pets?

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Image credit: Polly Wreford

  • The poinsettia plant’s brightly coloured leaves contain a sap that is irritating to the tissues of the mouth and esophagus. If the leaves are ingested they can cause nausea and vomiting, but it would take a large amount of the plant’s material to actually cause significant poisoning.

Read more: Christmas table decoration ideas that will set the scene for your festive feast

How do you revive a Poinsettia?

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Image credit: Polly Wreford

  • Remove the dead leaves from the pot, and continue to remove any leaves that fall off. If the stems of the plant have started to rot, cut them back far enough so that you can remove the dead parts.
  • Place the poinsettia near a bright, south-facing window. Poinsettias are tropical plants that benefit from plenty of light.
  • Monitor how much you are watering your poinsettia. The plant should be moist rather than soggy. How much water you will need will depend on the temperature and humidity level. When in doubt, skip the water.
  • Fertilise the poinsettia once a month after you’ve pruned it. As a rule of thumb, a poinsettia will require 1 or 2 tablespoons of fertiliser.
  • Cover your poinsettia plant every night or move it to a dark cupboard overnight. For it to bloom again, a poinsettia requires 14 hours of complete darkness every night. Continue to cover your plant until the buds start to appear again.

How long do Poinsettias last?

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Image credit: Polly Wreford

  • It will depend on how well you follow the tips above, but on average a well-cared for poinsettia should last 4-6 weeks until the flowers start to fall off.
  • Remember, poinsettias like the warmth of centrally heated homes but they should be kept away from direct heat, as well as from drafty windows and doors.

Will the poinsettia be part of your Christmas decorating scheme this year?

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