By taking proper care of a euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly called Poinsettia, you can keep this popular holiday plant alive for years. Learn how to successfully keep your poinsettia growing, and reblooming with colorful bracts and colorful leaves for years to come!
The poinsettia has come to represent the holiday season as much as the Christmas star does in much of the world.
Did you know that with care, they can grow into tree-like plants? I didn’t until I learned how to take care of a poinsettia year-round. Let me share what I’ve learned with you so your poinsettias will keep blooming to brighten all your holiday traditions!
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO TAKE CARE OF A POINSETTIA
Here in the South, we have a Christmas tradition of putting poinsettias in the church auditorium in honor of a loved one who has passed on. Poinsettias of every color fill the room to overflowing. After the last service before Christmas day, everyone is invited to take their poinsettia home for the holidays to represent the memory of the loved one on the day. It really is a lovely tradition.
A few years ago, as I was helping some of the elderly members gather their poinsettias, one of the ladies asked me if I wanted to take some of the extras home to keep for next year. I must have looked confused because she said, “Honey, you know you can keep them for years, don’t you?” I had to confess no, I’d never heard that before. She graciously introduced me to taking care of a poinsettia year-round.
WILL A POINSETTIA REBLOOM WITH PROPER CARE?
Even if you do everything to take care of a poinsettia so that it reblooms, there are no guarantees. However, by taking some special steps, you can do all that your poinsettia needs for the best possible chance to live, grow, and bloom for years.
I should tell you now, your poinsettia will never look like it did when you purchased it. There’s a good reason for this though. The poinsettia we are accustomed to seeing and purchasing is actually a cutting from a sapling.
The best way to grow your own poinsettias with that “store-bought” look is by using pieces you prune, as we discuss later, to start your new plants.
How to Select a Poinsettia
The first step in being able to take care of a poinsettia so it is alive for years is in the selection process at the garden center. You want to look for dark green leaves. If it has its colored leaves already, the color should be vibrant.
Check to be sure the height and width of the poinsettia are in proportion with the pot it’s in. This is a good indication it is not root bound. Another way to be sure the poinsettia is not root bound is to loosen the dirt around its edges or the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes to see if the roots are clumped up around the top of the soil.
Next, check the flower clusters. You want them to be tight clusters of yellow with no pollen showing.
If the plant has leaves that are drooping or look lifeless, it may already be too late for recovery so don’t buy it. Avoid purchasing any poinsettia that doesn’t fit these guidelines unless you have a passion for trying to rescue near-lost causes in house plants.
Once you’ve picked out the perfect poinsettia, protect it on the ride home. Avoid exposing it to cold drafts or freezing night temperatures.
One reason we are so careful in picking out a healthy plant is because of the long blooming season of Poinsettias. They begin to bloom in late November and will usually bloom until February.
What is the best place to keep a poinsettia?
When your poinsettia is safely home, put it in a spot where it can receive plenty of light but not in direct sunlight.
Placement Tips for Care of a Poinsettia During the Holiday Season
- Avoid high traffic areas to a prevent your poinsettia being bumped or knocked over
- Avoid drafty areas where temperature changes can confuse it or cause damage – like next to a cold window
- Don’t put it near a heat source
- Because it is a tropical plant, it likes to be 60-70 degrees F at all times during the holiday season. Care must be given because during this time temperatures in Central America may be too low.
How to Water Your Poinsettia During the Holiday Season
Poinsettias like to dry out between waterings. Make sure you do not give it too much water by letting the soil become dry like you would with an Aloe plant or African Violet.
If you decide to leave the poinsettia pot in its holiday-colored foil, you will want to poke holes in the bottom of the pot foil so water will drain properly. The most common cause of poinsettia death is over watering.
Take care of your poinsettia when you water by soaking only the soil, not the plant itself. You can do this in the kitchen sink by thoroughly saturating the soil and let the pot drain all excess water.
It is not the amount of water as much as not letting the soil drain well which could cause root rot and death.
A good gauge of proper watering is to check the leaves. If its leaves turn yellow and drop off, you are watering too much. If its leaves wilt and the middle and lower leaves drop off, you are not watering it enough.
PROPER CARE OF A POINSETTIA FOR REBLOOMING
Once the holidays are over, the job of taking care of a poinsettia begins. After you’ve pruned your poinsettia, you can place it outdoors, if you live in an area with temperatures 60-70 degrees F. Poinsettias prefer living outdoors, remember they are a tropical plant. Not many places in the United States meet these conditions most of the year.
Your poinsettia should not be exposed to temperatures under 50 degrees F so be sure your night temperatures are at least 50 to avoid shocking it and risking permanent damage.
When you put your poinsettia outside, be sure it’s under shelter where it won’t be directly exposed to the sun, rain, or wind.
PRUNING A POINSETTIA FOR SHAPE
Remember I mentioned pruning earlier as part of the care of a poinsettia? Let’s talk about that.
There are three ways to prune your poinsettia. Each way gives the plant a different look.
- To keep the small bush look, trim the side shoots off the main stem down to about 6” above the base. You can use the pieces you cut off to grow more poinsettias by rooting the cut end in soil. Treat the shoots as you do the poinsettia plant.
- For a larger, bushy poinsettia, remove the top section from all the large side shoots. Use sharp pruning shears and cut at a 45-degree angle. Keep any new growth pinched off until mid to late July then allow it to grow into the bushy shape you’ve been developing.
- To grow a “tree-like” poinsettia, use your pruning shears to remove all the side shoots from the main stem. Leave the top leaves and any top flower cluster of the main stem in place. Remove every side shoot that tries to grow by pinching them off. Leave the top of the plant alone, do not trim the top. Do this until mid to late July then allow it to grow.
- Depending on the shape you choose for pruning, leave one to three leaves on each of the old stems or branches because new growth develops from buds that are located in the leaf axils.
- Allow your plant a few days to recover from pruning before you place it outdoors. Pruning is a shock to any plant.
LIGHT NEEDS OF YOUR POINSETTIA AFTER THE HOLIDAYS
Now that the holidays are over and you’ve pruned your poinsettia for the shape you want, it’s time to provide for its light needs by hardening it off for outdoor life.
- Do Not just place it in full sun. Sudden exposure to a sunny location will scorch any remaining leaves and permanently damage the plant.
- For its first two weeks outdoors, place your poinsettia in full shade.
- After the two weeks of full shade are over, put it where it will be in partial shade for two weeks.
- After two weeks of partial shade, move the poinsettia to a sunny spot with full sun.
TAKING CARE OF A POINSETTIA IN LATE WINTER TO EARLY SPRING
Late Winter to early Spring is the time to prune most everything, and this is true for your poinsettias as well. Pruning may seem harsh, pruning and thinning are my most hated gardening chores, but in reality, it’s good for the plants.
Once the Poinsettia is finished flowering, it’s time to prune. Choose the shape as discussed above and prune your plant.
In early March, begin fertilizing your poinsettia every two weeks.
Taking Care of a Poinsettia in Late Spring – Summer
In late April to early May, it’s time to move your poinsettia to a larger pot so it will have room to grow. Choose a well-draining soil such as succulent soil or make your own by adding a 1:1 ratio of peat moss and vermiculite to garden soil.
If your poinsettia is going to live outdoors, you have a couple of options.
- You can plant it directly into well-draining, loose soil if you live in an area with mild winter temperatures. Make sure the crown of your poinsettia is level with the surface of the soil when placed in the ground. I don’t have great success with planting directly into the ground, but I know some people who do. If you live in an area where you have hard freezing temperatures, this method will not work for you.
- You can re-pot the poinsettia into a larger pot designed to drain well and can be both outdoors and indoors.
- To avoid risking permanent damage to your plant, don’t put it outside until the nighttime temperatures are at least 50.
- Fertilize your poinsettia every two weeks with the houseplant fertilizer you prefer. For the time being, it’s resting, remember it worked all winter. All you need to do for these few months is water and fertilize it as needed.
Taking Care of a Poinsettia During Fall
It’s important to know your local frost dates. You will want to bring your poinsettia indoors before the first frost. Like most plants, if it freezes, it will die.
If you planted your poinsettia in the ground, deep mulch it and protect it from frost. Remember, if you live where you have hard freezing temperatures, don’t plant it directly in the ground.
As long as your outdoor temperatures aren’t below 50 degrees F, you can set it outside during the day if you like. If you’re like me and don’t always remember to bring them back and forth, you can set it in a sunny window instead.
During Fall, continue watering and fertilizing your poinsettia as you have been.
It’s Time to Put the Poinsettia in the Dark
At the end of September, move your poinsettia to complete darkness just like you would a Christmas Cactus.
- From 5 PM until 8 AM, for 15 hours of complete darkness protect the plant from all light. Not even the light from a street lamp should be allowed in the room or closet where the poinsettia is.
- Do this every day from the end of September until around the first of December. It’s important to keep as close to these times as your schedule allows.
- Between 8 AM and 5 PM, set your plant where it will receive plenty of light.
- During this time, keep the poinsettia between 60-70 degrees F. Any nighttime temperature above 70 will delay reflowering.
- When the leaves begin to change color, it’s time to stop nighttime darkness and allow your poinsettia exposure to full light.
- When nighttime darkness hours are over, only fertilize the poinsettia once a month and be certain to not overwater.
If you’re not able or prefer not to move the poinsettia in and out of darkness, you can use a 100w warm white fluorescent bulb from 8 AM to 5 PM.
Don’t use a grow light because it isn’t warm white light. Use one bulb for every plant, place the bulb 1 1/2 feet above the plant. Be sure to adjust the distance as the plant grows.
Some people like to use an HPS light, but be aware that this kind of light gives off a signature that is tracked by law enforcement. This is because HPS lights are used to grow a plant which is still illegal in most states.
Final Tips for Taking Care of a Poinsettia For Reblooming
We’ve made it a full year now. It’s almost the time of year for the poinsettia to be put out for display. Here are a few final tips for taking care of a Poinsettia so it provides you and your family a brilliant holiday display all winter long, again.
- During blackout hours, do not disturb the poinsettia. 14 hours of darkness is the minimum, but 16 hours of nighttime darkness gives the best results. Longer darkness hours are especially needed if you use light bulbs during the 8 AM to 5 PM daylight hours.
- Once the poinsettia leaves begin “rusting out” you know they believe it’s fall and time to start flowering. Rusting out means the tips of the leaves are starting to change color.
- Expose the poinsettia to sunlight once it begins to flower. It needs either sunlight or warm white fluorescent light for at least 9 hours but no more than 10 hours a day. This will keep your poinsettia flowering all the way through February and maybe even as late as May.
- If your poinsettia is still flowering and you are ready to “put it to bed,” expose it to light using 100w warm white fluorescent light bulbs for a full 24 hours. This will trick it into believing it’s springtime and time for it to rest.
Is Taking Care of Poinsettia Plant Needs Year Round Worth It?
That’s a good question and there are at least two schools of thought on it.
One school of thought comes from those who like the challenge of taking care of a poinsettia and seeing how it grows and develops.
The other school of thought comes from those who don’t see the point of all the work when they are only truly beautiful during the holidays. After all, you can do everything right and there is still no guarantee it will rebloom the following year.
I believe there’s a balance to all things. There is always a risk-reward element involved in gardening no matter how experienced you are.
How do you feel about taking care of a poinsettia from one Christmas season to the next? Too much work or challenge? Worth the effort or risk of wasted time?