In Mexico and Central America, where the poinsettia plant is indigenous, the mountainsides blaze with bright color, the plants often reaching 16 feet in height. The first missionaries in these areas were so enchanted by the poinsettia, they incorporated the plants into their Advent ceremonies leading up to the celebration of Christmas.
Today, in America, poinsettias are light years ahead of other indoor flowering potted plants in sales, including spring-flowering bulbs such as Easter lilies and roses. Following the holidays, many poinsettias are discarded, but with proper care, you can enjoy yours year-round.
At the store, look for plants that have lush, dense foliage that’s dark green. The yellow, central buds are actually the poinsettia flowers, so if they have already begun to drop off, the plant is old — avoid taking that one home.
Check the smallest leaves that surround the center buds: ensure they are fully colored and check them for insects or diseases. To avoid damage from cold wind and temperatures, ask the store to bag the plant before you take it to your car.
Since poinsettias are usually a holiday plant, they tend to come in a pot they can remain in for the winter season.
Transplant it in the late spring or early summer into a container that's between two and four inches bigger than its current pot. Adding in some peat moss with the soil mix helps provide better drainage. Once you've transplanted the poinsettia, water thoroughly, allowing any excess water to seep out through the pot's drainage holes.
Indoors, poinsettias thrive with access to six to eight hours of bright, indirect light in a south, east, or west window. To bloom well from mid-September through late November, the poinsettia needs around 16 hours of complete darkness each day and eight hours of bright light. This reduction of light prevents chlorophyll production and allows the red, pink, or white blooms to emerge.
During the summer months, starting around mid-June, you can move your plant outdoors, with access to indirect light. Then, in early July, find a spot where the poinsettia will get full sun. Move the plant indoors again around Labor Day.
Poinsettias are finicky plants and they're very particular about their watering schedules. Too much water is just as damaging to the plant as too little.
The soil should feel moist to-the-touch, but should never reach the point of being saturated or dripping wet. From January through March, water as needed. Then, when the plant starts to drop its leaves and bracts — the so-called flowers — decrease watering to once every two weeks. In the summer, you should increase the amount of water.
Humidity levels of between 60% and 70% are best for poinsettia. During the winter, lack of humidity can be a problem. If the air in your home tends to dry out during certain times of the year, run a humidifier to increase the moisture in the area surrounding your plant. Adding humidity not only makes the poinsettia healthier but also makes its color last longer.
Never fertilize your poinsettia while it's blooming, but once you start to see new leaf growth, you can fertilize every two to three weeks. Continue through the spring and summer with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer that you've diluted to half-strength. Worm compost tea is another option.
In late September, reduce the amount of fertilizer to one-quarter strength.
Get snippy with your plant in the spring. In May, foster a full, more lush poinsettia in the winter by pruning 4 inches from each stem and begin fertilizing. In June, treat your plant to some moderate outdoor sunshine in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon.
Poinsettias do very well on the patio or under a shaded tree. As new branches develop, pinch off the stems, an inch at a time. Use full-strength fertilizer once a month, always when the soil is moist to prevent root burns. Be on the lookout for aphids and whiteflies that gather on the underside of the leaves. Make your own insecticide with one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid in one gallon of water and leave a spray bottle next to your plants for easy application.
While just about anyone can keep a poinsettia alive indoors for years, replanting them outside can be tricky in most U.S. climates. However, if you live in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12 (Southern California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida, generally), you're lucky enough to have a shot at cultivating these bursts of color in the ground.
Look for a spot with similar attributes to what your plant experienced indoors. Alternatively, move your indoor plant to an outdoor-esque environment a couple of months before you plan to plant it. Check the soil to ensure it's slightly acidic and well-draining, then plant after any risk of frost is past. If you're in the right climate, your plant should return the following spring!
You can propagate poinsettia plants by using the seed pods or through a cutting. Once the blooms fade, the pods that sit in the middle of the colored bracts turn brown and the seeds pop out. Collect them, store them in a paper bag, and allow them to dry. No chilling is necessary. Sow seeds just below the surface, preferably indoors.
To root a poinsettia cutting, take three to six-inch cuttings from healthy, newer stems on the plant in the early summer. Dip the cut end in rooting powder and insert the cutting into potting soil or fine sand. Repot once the root system is well-established.
These plants seldom suffer from disease, but some issues can occur. Bacterial leaf spot thrives in warm, humid conditions. If your poinsettia develops the problem, you'll see yellow or tan lesions on the leaves. Make sure your plant gets plenty of ventilation to prevent it.
Poinsettia scab is a fungus that appears as small yellow spots along the main leaf vein. Once the disease progresses, the spots may become raised and brown with yellow halos around them. Plants whose leaves have been sprayed with water are more susceptible.
Poinsettias can be attacked by mealybugs, fungus gnats, or aphids. Remove light infestations of both aphids and mealybugs with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Heavy infestations of mealybugs can kill a plant, however, and spread to other houseplants. If the problem is severe, it may be best to dispose of the plant.
Get rid of fungus gnats by using yellow sticky traps, which will capture the adults and prevent them from laying eggs in the potting soil.
If your poinsettia begins to fade before the huge holiday gathering, it’s easy to preserve it and add it to a floral arrangement with ivy or holly sprigs. Simply trim off the stems that are below the colorful leaves then, to remove the white sap, dip the cut ends into boiling water for 20 seconds, followed immediately by an ice water bath. Those vibrant leaves stay healthy and colorful for up to a week.
In addition to a show-stopping table centerpiece or mantle-topper, poinsettias make an impactful addition to your yard or garden, if the conditions are right.
If you're a fan of poinsettia, you may also enjoy growing a few of its relatives. The unusual baseball plant, or Euphorbia obesa, is a round, blue-green plant with a surface that looks like a patchwork quilt. Although it only flowers occasionally and is slow to grow, it's an interesting addition to your houseplant collection.
The crown of thorns plant, or Euphorbia milii, is a succulent that blooms throughout most of the year. It has small green flowers but its bracts can be orange, red, pink, yellow, or white.
Unfortunately, the poinsettia is not a pet-friendly plant. The milky sap contains a low-toxicity chemical that can cause furry friends to experience diarrhea, vomiting, or drooling, as well as itchy skin. Ideally, pass on this plant if you have adventurous cats, or keep it well out of the way of the family dog. If your pet does ingest any stems or leaves, gently rinse their mouth with water, or wash their skin with a gentle soap.
Though the risk is low, some garden centers also use pesticides on plants before you bring them home, and these can make your pets sick, as well.
Most people know what a poinsettia looks like, but they may not be aware of how many varieties of the plant exist. The bracts range in color from vivid, bright reds to lighter pinks, creamy shades of green and peach, intense whites, and brilliant yellows in single and double tones.
The Freedom Marble has light green and cream bracts with raspberry blotches, while the Jingle Bell Box presents creamy yellow and bright red bracts surrounded by darker, glossy green foliage. The two-toned Princettia Pink is perfect for those who love pink. Its bracts emerge in a lighter hue on the lower petals, with the smaller, upper petals taking on a darker shade of pink.