With its signature red petals and deep leafy greens, no houseplant is perhaps more festive than the poinsettia. This colourful flower is famous for sprinkling a little Christmas joy into our homes and making a perfect Christmas table decoration idea, however, it is crucial to know how to care for a poinsettia to keep it flourishing all winter.
Known as the Mexican Flame Tree or Christmas Star, the poinsettia is synonymous with the festive season, with its brightly coloured, star-shaped leaves flowering in December and January. The poinsettia's vibrancy pairs beautifully with gold and green too, so they're easy to weave into Christmas colour schemes.
Sadly, these beautiful blooms don't have the longest lifespan, and their delicate petals can quickly show signs of wilting. That's not the sort of festive cheer we're looking for, which is why we've asked the experts to share their best poinsettia care tips for keeping these flowers healthy all the way through the Christmas period and beyond.
'With their leafy red ‘bracts’ and dark green leaves, poinsettias are the perfect houseplant for adding a bit of festive cheer to your home,' says Samantha Richards, Garden Gazebo Expert, Gazeboshop. 'That said, poinsettias can be a tricky plant to keep alive and therefore require a fair amount of care and attention.'
Poinsettia care tips
If you love a poinsettia as much as we do but don't want it to start fading before the big day, then our guide is a must-have. We'll take you through top poinsettia care tips from the experts so that these beautiful flowers can adorn your home and be a key part of your Christmas flower arrangement ideas this festive season.
1. Choose carefully where you buy from
In a similar way to caring for other festive plants like the Christmas cactus, the best poinsettia care tips start at the beginning. For the plant to last as long as possible, it's important to buy one that's in good condition. Stick to reputable store or garden centres, where they're more likely to have been cared for correctly. Be wary of outside shops or stalls as lower temperatures will reduce the shelf life of the plant.
'Make sure there are no wilting leaves as that is a sign that it has been kept in too cold conditions,' says gardening expert Samantha. 'Also avoid ones that have been displayed near a door as they simply won’t last due to the fact they have been exposed to drafts.'
Check the compost before you buy, making sure it's neither dripping wet nor totally dry, and look at the leaves and flowers – dense foliage and yellow-green budding flowers in-between the coloured bracts are a sure sign of quality.
2. Transport with care
Always handle the poinsettia tenderly, avoiding rough movements. After purchasing, transport it home quickly, and avoid letting it sit in the car for a long period of time. Choose a bright, warm spot for the plant to thrive in, away from direct sunlight and draughts. A temperature of around 20° C is ideal.
3. Water enough, not too much
Be careful not to overwater the poinsettia 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.
'There is no set number of days with when to water your poinsettia,' says Jack Sutcliffe, Co-Founder, Power Sheds . 'Use your finger to feel the soil and if it is light and dry, the poinsettia needs water.' If in doubt, it's perfectly fine to skip watering altogether until you're sure the plant is in need of a drink.
4. Remove dead leaves
Aside from preventative measures, poinsettia care tips are about solutions to help the plant flourish again when it starts looking a little worse for wear. Remove any 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.
5. Fertilise the soil
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.
6. Spritz the leaves
'Poinsettias need to be misted regularly to increase humidity and keep them looking their best for longer,' says Jack Sutcliffe. Fill a spray bottle with water and spritz the leaves and bracts regularly. Mini poinsettias in smaller pots will benefit from daily misting.
7. Keep away from pets
The poinsettia should be kept away from pets, for the benefit of both parties. Of course, a furry friend knocking over the plant isn't ideal, but more importantly, the brightly coloured leaves contain a sap that is irritating to the tissues of the mouth and oesophagus of animals.
If the leaves are ingested by your pet they can cause nausea and vomiting, but don't panic; it would take a large amount of the plant’s material to actually cause significant poisoning.
8. Find an overnight spot
Lastly, 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. If covering, position the cloth carefully and avoid dragging it harshly over the plant.
How do you keep your poinsettia alive?
'To help your poinsettia stay alive, keep it in a warm, bright room,' says Fiona Jenkins, Gardening Expert, Myjobquote.co.uk. 'Once it’s finished flowering, you can cut the large plant stems back, so they’re around 10cm in length and reduce the watering.'
Positioning of the plant is crucial. Poinsettias love light, but they are sensitive to change in temperature, which is why it's important to avoid placing them where they'll feel the sun. This is less of an issue in winter, but if your windowsills often get warm during the day, it's generally best to avoid these.
Watering is the other component that will determine the poinsettia's shelf life. 'Water your plant with room temperature water, when the top layer of compost is dry – but make sure it’s never sat in water,' says Kate Turner, Gardening Expert, Miracle-Gro.
How do you take care of a poinsettia indoors?
'The poinsettia is a very easy plant to care for, but will want high light, so a spot in a well-lit room would work,' says Keira Kay, plant expert at Bloom & Wild. 'It'll need watering every 7-10 days, but be sure to check the soil has partially dried ahead of watering again. You can do this either using your finger to feel the soil or by picking the plant up – if it feels light, it’s dry.'
'Excessive moisture and poor drainage can cause root and stem rot, which can kill the plant,' Keira continues. 'To avoid this, make sure you only add more water when the surface of the soil has almost (but not completely) dried out. And it’s best to bottom water this plant, by placing it in a bowl or tray of tepid water for 10-15 mins, so that you can ensure the plant only takes up what it needs. This is a plant that will thrive in more humid conditions, so be sure to mist regularly to further the flowering cycle.'
Why do poinsettia leaves dry up and fall off?
Our guide has probably emphasised by now how sensitive poinsettias are. They are delicate flowers who need precise conditions in order to look their best.
'If you notice the leaves curling up or drying, this usually means they have been exposed to sudden changes in temperature,' says Jack, Power Sheds. 'They will lose leaves in response to lack of water, so it is essential appropriate care is taken to these sensitive plants.'
'Poinsettia leaves often dry up and fall off due to environmental conditions,' expands gardening expert Fiona. 'Keeping the plant where it’s hot and dry, such as by a radiator or fire, is usually the cause.'
How do you keep a poinsettia alive year round?
If you plan on keeping the plant beyond the festive period, it’ll want feeding monthly with potassium-rich plant food to encourage new flowers. 'Prune back in the early spring and keep it at a slightly lower temperature (around 13-15 degrees),' says Keira at Bloom & Wild. 'Reduce the light it gets to 10-12 hrs per day to mimic the wintery shorter days.'
'You’ll want to re-pot it in May and pop it in a cool location (around 18 degrees) for continued growth.'
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Amy Cutmore is an experienced interiors editor and writer, who has worked on titles including Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc, Real Homes, GardeningEtc, Top Ten Reviews and Country Life. And she's a winner of the PPA's Digital Content Leader of the Year. A homes journalist for two decades, she has a strong background in technology and appliances, and has a small portfolio of rental properties, so can offer advice to renters and rentees, alike.
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