How to grow and care for a poinsettia plant?
Poinsettias are known as Christmas flowers for their red and green foliage.
What look like bright red flower petals are actually modified leaves called bracts.
Because poinsettias are native to Mexico, they prefer bright indirect light and slight humidity.
Visit Insider’s Home & Kitchen Reference library for more stories.
As winter settles in, we begin to decorate our home for the holidays with fresh greenery from Christmas trees to pine wreaths and garlands. No holiday plant, however, can match the color and beauty of the festive poinsettia. Like all houseplants, the poinsettia is more than a piece of decor that requires proper care and attention.
Karen Musgrave, marketing and e-commerce associate at the Long Island-based Hicks Nurseries, shares her best care tips for poinsettias so they can stay in bloom all holiday season long.
The poinsettia, also known as the Christmas flower or Mexican flameleaf, is a small shrub indigenous to Mexico and parts of Central America. In its areas of origin, it is known as Nochebuena, meaning “goodnight.” This is also the term for the day of Christmas Eve.
Most poinsettias can be recognized by their deep green foliage and vibrant cherry hue. Other varieties come in pink, orange, white, and purple, and can also appear speckled or variegated. While the red variety is the most popular, there are about 150 varieties. Poinsettias are also distinct for their flower-shaped leaves.
“What most people think are the flowers are actually modified leaves called bracts,” says Musgrave. “The flowers are actually tiny yellow berry-like structures in the center of the bracts.”
Only water when the soil feels dry, and drain any excess from the drip tray. Westend61/Getty Images
While poinsettias are used to a humid, tropical environment, Musgrave suggests only watering them thoroughly when the soil feels dry, pouring out any excess water released through the drainage hole.
Most poinsettias come in a pot wrapped in foil for the holidays, so be sure to poke a few holes in the foil or remove it completely to prevent your plant from sitting in water.
Potting and fertilizer
Poinsettias prefer a well-draining and slightly acidic soil, usually with a component like peat moss or perlite. If you don’t plan on keeping your poinsettia past the winter, it does not need to be repotted. Poinsettias will finish blooming in the spring, signified by their wilting or dropping leaves.
“Poinsettias do not require fertilizer while they are in bloom from the fall to the winter,” says Musgrave. “About four to six weeks after blooming ends in early spring, fertilize with a diluted all-purpose houseplant fertilizer monthly.”
Light and temperature
Several poinsettia plants on a wooden picnic table
Keep poinsettias away from drafts.
To keep your poinsettia healthy, Musgrave says that bright, indirect sunlight indoors is best given this plant’s sunny and tropical place of origin.
Keeping poinsettias away from any drafty areas — including windows, doorways, or fireplaces — will prevent leaf drop. Direct sunlight can also scorch the foliage, so maintaining indoor temperatures at 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for poinsettias, according to Musgraves.
Poinsettias can often fall prey to pests and diseases such as powdery mildew, gray mold, and fungus gnats. However, the most common poinsettia problem is overwatering which can lead to root rot.
“Overwatering can cause the leaves of a poinsettia to turn yellow, brown, or even drop off completely,” says Musgrave. “Make sure you only water when the soil is dry to the touch, about an inch down into the pot.”
“If you choose to keep your poinsettia for the holidays only, you do not need to prune them unless there is a broken branch,” says Musgrave. “If kept year-round, they can be cut back in late spring or early summer.”
Removing dead branches and foliage allows for new growth and gives the shrub a more tree-like shape. Always wear gloves when pruning a poinsettia, as the sticky sap released from its stem can cause irritation.
Poinsettias are beautiful and colorful additions to any home for the holidays. While this unique houseplant usually serves as decor for a few weeks, a proper care routine that includes bright, indirect light, minimal watering, and temperate conditions will allow your poinsettia to stay healthy and in bloom through the new year and beyond.