If we ask you to think of a Christmas plant it’s more than likely a poinsettia that will spring to mind – no surprise, since this most festive of florals has become a firm favourite at this time of year. This colourful flower is famous for sprinkling a little Christmas joy into our homes and making a perfect Christmas table decoration idea.
If you’re wondering how best to keep your plant alive though, our poinsettia care tips provide an expert guide on how to care for your Christmas plant. Plant experts share advice to help expand a poinsettias lifespan – keeping this festive favourite healthy for longer.
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. Its popularity is on the rise, too, according to floral experts Direct2Florist, who revealed that poinsettias are the Christmas flower that has seen the biggest increase in interest on Pinterest this year.
‘It’s not a surprise to see poinsettia trending so much, but the enormous 985% interest on Pinterest shows just how popular this red-petalled plant is at Christmas,’ says Direct2Florist’s Wendy Rea. ‘Apart from the vibrant colours and star shape, one of the reasons poinsettia feels so festive is that it pairs beautifully with gold and green, so it’s very easy to work them into any theme. An indispensable part of the season.’
Poinsettia care tips
As beautiful as they are, however, keeping your plant looking its best right up to the big day can be tricky. Don’t fear, as we’ve got some advice to help you keep these stunning plants looking tip-top right through the seasonal period.
1. Choose carefully where you buy from
It’s important to buy your poinsettia from a reputable store or garden centre, where the poinsettias will be cared for correctly. Be wary of outside shops or stalls as lower temperatures will reduce the shelf life of the plant. Inspect it carefully before buying; poinsettia are tender plants and will not last if they stand in the cold for any length of time.
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.
Transport it home quickly and keep it in a bright, warm spot. Your poinsettia will be happy at a temperature of 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.
Lastly, 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.
2. Remove dead leaves
If your poinsettia is looking a little worse for wear, there are a few things you can try to help bring it flourish again. 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.
3. Reposition your poinsettia
You could also try changing its position. Place the poinsettia near a bright, south-facing window – as they are tropical plants they benefit from plenty of light.
4. Water enough, not too much
Monitor how much you are watering your poinsettia, too, as it 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.
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.
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.
How do you care for a poinsettia plant indoors?
‘Arguably one of the most famous Euphorbias, Poinsettias are easily identified by their large, red, star-shaped bracts, often mistaken for its flowers. The flowers are actually the tiny yellow berry-like structures at the centre of each leaf bract, which are called cyathia.
‘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.’
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.’
Will you be displaying some striking poinsettias in your home this Christmas?
Why do the leaves on my poinsettia keep falling off?
‘Leaf drop occurs as a result of overly warm or dry growing conditions,’ says Kiera. ‘To fix this, prune back any spent leaves and move it to a slightly cooler location, make sure it has enough water and mist it using a spray bottle to replicate humidity.
Top Tip: Keep poinsettia plants away from pets
The poinsettia plant’s brightly coloured leaves contain a sap that is irritating to the tissues of the mouth and oesophagus, so if the leaves are ingested by your pet they can cause nausea and vomiting. However, it would take a large amount of the plant’s material to actually cause significant poisoning.