How to Care for Your Poinsettia

We’ve all seen the poinsettias arrive at grocery stores, garden centers, and big box stores looking absolutely beautiful and then, a few days later, looking like they needed to be thrown out. This isn’t because they’ve been neglected, it’s because they’ve been over-watered and are not getting enough light. A  Poinsettia is part of the Euphorbia family and its leaves should be soft and flexible before you water. The plant should fell light when you lift it. When poinsettias are over watered,  green leaves fall off and you’re left with ugly bare stems that have a few red bracts at the top. If your poinsettias already look like this go outside, cut a few small branches off of a fir or pine tree, and fill in the bottom of the plant. It’s an easy way to do a quick makeover.

Follow these simple care instructions, and you’ll have lovely poinsettias throughout the holiday season and into the New Year.

Light: Poinsettias need bright indirect light but no direct sun. The light from a north-facing window is not adequate. If you place your poinsettia close to a window, be sure none of the leaves are touching the glass. Poinsettias are easily damaged by the cold. 

Water: Allow at least the top 50% of the soil to dry out and the plant to  droop slightly before watering. (I like to water from the bottom so the plant  absorbs only the amount of water it needs.) Being careful with your water  prevents root rot, green leaves falling off, and bare stems. Severe under-watering, when the plant drastically droops, causes both green and colored leaves to fall off.  Avoid getting water on the leaves and “flowers.” Water droplets cause unsightly white marks on the foliage.

fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.: It is not necessary to feed a poinsettia when it is in “bloom.” Fertilize monthly in the spring and summer once the plant has finished flowering and you have pruned it back.

Temperature: Poinsettias last longer and look better when the temperature is between 65°-70°F (18.3°-21.1°C) during the day and about 60°F (16.6°C) at night. Temperatures that are too hot or too cold damage the leaves and cause leaf drop. Keep Poinsettias away from drafty doors and windows, fireplaces, heaters, and the tops of appliances that give off heat.

Pests: whitefliesLearn how to identify and treat the plant pest Whiteflies at how to identify and treat, Fungus GnatsThis small dark skinny pest flies and jumps around plants and people driving us all crazy. Fungus gnats develop in moist potting soil, feeding on root hairs and emerging as adults every 30 days. The best way to get rid of fungus gnats is to allow the soil to thoroughly dry out. This eliminates the eggs and gnats in the pot. Use yellow sticky cards to trap the gnats  that are flying around., Mealy BugsLearn how to identify and treat Mealy Bugs, a houseplant pest that leaves sticky, white, cottony residue on houseplants., spider mites. You can see a picture and learn how to treat these plant pests in the Glossary of the website.

Toxicity: Poinsettias, despite all rumors, are only very mildly poisonousPlants are a great addition to homes and offices, but it’s important to know whether your plants are dangerous to children, pets, or even adults. Some plants contain chemicals such as oxalates, solanine, glycosides, or alkaloid lycorine that may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, swelling and redness of the mouth, throat, and lips, and trouble breathing. Touching parts of certain plants, especially the sap, may cause various skin irritations. The weight and age of the human or pet involved, and the part and amount of plant eaten determine how severe the reaction to the toxins will be. Although plants may be listed as non-toxic, they can still cause individual allergic reactions. If there is any question after a houseplant has been ingested or touched, immediately call the Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222.  More poisonous houseplant information and pictures of common plants that are dangerous to children and pets can be found in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants. If quite a bit of the plant is ingested, some vomiting, drooling, or sometimes diarrhea may be occur. If the milky sap of a poinsettia gets onto the skin, redness, swelling, and itchiness can develop especially if someone is allergic to latex.

Check out our article on how to get a poinsettia to turn red again next year at: