How to Care for Poinsettias So They Last All Season Long

·4 min read

Poinsettias are an essential part of many people's Christmas traditions. Native to Mexico and Latin America where they grow as flowering shrubs, these plants were brought to the United States by an amateur botanist in the 1800s and first bred at a family farm in Southern California.

"In the 1950s, the Ecke family began modernizing breeding so poinsettias would be more suited to growing in pots," says Rebecca Siemonsma, North American product manager for Dümmen Orange, one of the largest poinsettia breeders in the world. "In the 60s and 70s, they marketed them on popular TV shows so that Americans soon began associating poinsettias with Christmas."

Nowadays, alongside Christmas trees, it’s truly not Christmas without these cheery winter flowers! Here's everything you need to know to about poinsettia care so they’ll last all season long.

How is poinsettia pronounced?

Is it "poin-sett-ah" or "poin-set-tee-ah?" Good news! Both ways are acceptable, says Siemonsma.

How do I pick a poinsettia?

Look for bright yellow centers on poinsettias. The colored parts of the plant are modified leaves called bracts, and the tiny yellow flowers in the center are called cyathia. Look for a plant with tons of bright yellow cyathia, which is an indication of how fresh it is. Also, pull back the plastic sleeve and inspect the whole plant. Avoid those with wilted or yellow leaves, which will not grow back by the holiday.

Photo credit: DigiPub
Photo credit: DigiPub

"What you see is what you get, so choose the healthiest plant," says Siemonsma. "If you pick one that’s in good shape, it typically will last until the middle of January."

What temperature can poinsettias live in?

You'll definitely want to protect your poinsettia from the cold. If it’s colder than the 50s when you buy your poinsettia, wrap it up as you transport it home, and don’t leave it in the car while you run errands. Then, it's your best bet to keep this Christmas flower indoors.

"It’s a tropical plant, so they don’t tolerate cold at all," says Siemonsma.

How do I care for a poinsettia?

Once you get it home, pull your poinsettia out of the protective plastic sleeve and foil pot cover. Drop it into a decorative pot, or poke holes in the foil cover for drainage and put a saucer underneath to catch excess water. But don’t let it sit in water—because no plant likes wet feet! Check the pot every 5 to 7 days, but water only when the soil surface is dry to the touch, says Siemonsma.

Photo credit: Kathrin Ziegler
Photo credit: Kathrin Ziegler

You won’t need to fertilize. It’s also fine to place it anywhere in the house. Don't worry about light levels, because it’s meant to be enjoyed and discarded or composted—not kept as a long-term houseplant.

Are poinsettias poisonous?

Poinsettias are not poisonous, though the sticky sap can be irritating to people if you have a latex allergy, says Siemonsma. And though they’re not seriously toxic for pets, according to the ASPCA, anything your pet ingests to excess can cause GI upset and vomiting—so keep this plant out of your furry friend's reach.

How do you get a poinsettia to bloom again?

If you’re up for a challenge, you can try to get a poinsettia to bloom again.

"Poinsettias are photoperiodic, which means they need long nights and short days to initiate flowers," says Siemonsma. If you’re willing to give it a shot, let it dry out a little after the holidays. The plant will drop leaves and go into a resting period. In March or April, plant it in a pot one size up; that is, if it’s in a 6-inch container, transfer to an 8-inch. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. Use regular or succulent potting soil, cut the poinsettia back by 2/3 of its size, and place in a south or east-facing window. After the danger of frost has passed, put it outdoors.

Photo credit: SurkovDimitri
Photo credit: SurkovDimitri

During the summer, feed it every other week with any houseplant fertilizer. Bring it indoors before nighttime temperatures drop below 60 degrees. By the end of September, start mimicking the daylight cycle by keeping it in bright window during the day with zero nighttime light, even from streetlights or computer screens. Or put it in a closet, then pull it out again in the morning. Your plant should start blooming in 8 weeks or so, though it will never look the same way it did when you first got it because of changes that occur as the plant matures.

"But consider it a 'win' if you get it to flower at all," says Siemonsma. If this seems like too much effort, treat yourself to a new poinsettia next holiday season!