Festive red and green poinsettias have begun popping up in grocery stores and flower shops across the country which can only mean one thing—the holidays are near. This cheerful plant is basically everywhere (including in our own homes) over the winter months, and for good reason. After all, the colorful foliage on these beauties is sure to bring joy to any room...so long as you know how to keep this popular holiday plant alive, that is. Read our guide on how to care for a poinsettia to ensure your holiday decor survives until the New Year and beyond.
How to Care for a Poinsettia so That Your Holiday Shrub Survives Beyond the New Year
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What Is a Poinsettia?
A member of the Euphorbia family, poinsettias are common fixtures on the Christmas scene thanks to short winter days that provoke these ‘long-night’ plants to bloom and don their vibrant, and most often red, hue. (It’s also worth noting that you can change up your holiday color scheme if you so choose—there are white, pale pink and even bright orange varieties of poinsettia to be found.) Native to Mexico (the poinsettia is also known as Mexican flameleaf), this holiday plant is actually a shrub. And if you’re considering buying a poinsettia for a houseplant, you should know that despite the rumors, this plant is not toxic to people or animals. It can, however, irritate a dog or cat’s mouth and esophagus and potentially induce nausea or vomiting if ingested, although Purina notes that your pet would need to ingest a significant amount to cause a more serious reaction (and Fido is unlikely to consume more than just a little because of the irritation it causes).
How to Pick a Poinsettia
Before we get into the basics of caring for a poinsettia, we should probably mention that if you bring home a sickly one, you don’t stand a chance. To pick the perfect poinsettia it’s important to turn your attention to the green foliage, the colorful leaves known as ‘bracts’ (i.e., the red part), and the flowering buds that grow at the center of the bracts. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for when you’re shopping for a poinsettia plant:
- Robust, dark green foliage is a sign of a healthy plant. Take a hard pass on a poinsettia that has pale green or wilted leaves.
- Vibrant bracts are a no-brainer. Still, it’s particularly important that those colorful bracts don’t have any hint of green. Consider this a reminder that you need not settle when shopping for a show-stopping centerpiece.
- Wilted leaves are bad news. Don’t take a poinsettia home expecting it to change.
- Inspect for bugs. Itty bitty aphids can wreak havoc on a poinsettia, so be sure to search the plant for insects before you hit the cash register.
- Check out the flowers. These guys can be found at the center of the bracts, close to the stem. The poinsettias with the most longevity—those that aren’t too mature—will have plump green buds with no sign of yellow pollen at the time of purchase.
How to Care for a Poinsettia
You made it this far, which means you just brought home the creme de la creme of holiday houseplants. The bad news is that, for a wintertime staple, the poinsettia is a tad bit fussy about cold weather. Don’t worry though—you can keep your plant happy by following these simple poinsettia care tips, courtesy of the experts at the University of Minnesota.
Poinsettias might come into their own when the days are short—but, oddly enough, they really like sunlight. The pros suggest putting your indoor poinsettia in a “south, east or west window” where the plant can get as much bright daylight as possible.
Given that poinsettias typically make an appearance during the winter months, you might be surprised to learn that this plant actually prefers moderate temperatures of 65 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and will die when exposed to freezing temperatures. (In fact, they can’t handle anything below 50 degrees.) The takeaway? Keep your poinsettia indoors where it’s nice and cozy.
Moisture is key to maintaining a healthy poinsettia, so it’s important to keep your poinsettia away from radiators, space heaters and other elements that may dry it out, and to water the plant whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Don’t overdo it, though, because poinsettias are susceptible to rot if they’re kept too wet. To avoid this scenario, just be sure to allow the soil to drain well after each watering.
How to Keep a Poinsettia Alive After Christmas
Keeping a poinsettia healthy after the holidays is no small task, but there are some things you can do to increase your chances of success. In order to get a poinsettia to rebloom, you need to know when to give it light, and when not to. Here’s what the experts say:
1. Keep your poinsettia indoors and ensure that it gets plenty of light from New Year’s until the start of summer.
2. Once summer is in full swing, move the plant to an outdoor area and give it plenty of sun.
3. At the start of fall, bring the plant back inside and give it 16 hours of total darkness and eight hours of bright light every day. Note: Total darkness means stashing your poinsettia in a closet you never open for 16 hours a day. (So yeah, these guys are a little high maintenance.)
4. Come Thanksgiving, discontinue the routine described above and relocate your poinsettia to a spot where it gets plenty of indirect light.
5. That’s it! If you followed the above advice and continued to prune and water your plant adequately throughout the year, it may just re-bloom in time for Christmas.