How to care for a poinsettia – expert tips and advice on how to look after everyone’s favourite Christmas plant

Follow our rules for keeping poinsettias alive and healthy for longer
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  • Wondering why you can’t keep your poinsettia alive? Our guide to how to care for a poinsettia could save your plants from an early demise this Christmas.

    Get every aspect of your festive decor on point with our Christmas ideas

    The poinsettia – AKA the Mexican Flame Tree or Christmas Star – is synonymous with the festive season. Yet for many of us, 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.

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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 to care for a poinsettia

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    Image credit: Polly Wreford

    1. 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.

    2. Check the compost before you buy

    If possible, check your poinsettia’s compost before buying. It should be neither dripping wet nor totally dry.

    3. Look at the leaves and flowers

    Dense foliage and yellow-green budding flowers in-between the coloured bracts are a sure sign of quality.

    4. Get it home quickly

    Protect your poinsettia from the wind and cold and transport it quickly to its warm new home.

    5. 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.

    6. Don’t overwater

    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.

    7. Display in a vase

    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 dying Poinsettia?

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    Image credit: Polly Wreford

    1. Remove dead leaves and stems

    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.

    2. Change its position

    Place the poinsettia near a bright, south-facing window. Poinsettias are tropical plants that benefit from plenty of light.

    3. 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.

    4. Add fertiliser

    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.

    5. Cover overnight

    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 can you keep a poinsettia alive?

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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.

    Related: Christmas hanging basket ideas – planting ideas to add festive cheer to exteriors

    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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