The poinsettia plant has come to represent the holiday season in much of the world. Knowing how to take care of a poinsettia plant can mean years of growth and blooming.
I’m sad to say I always just threw the poinsettia plant in the compost heap after its pretty leaves and flowers fell off. But you can actually keep poinsettia plants for years. They’ll even turn into large tree-like plants!
One of the Christmas traditions of the south is to put poinsettia plants in the church auditorium in honor of a loved one who has passed on. The room will be full to overflowing with poinsettias of every color available but mostly red. The service before Christmas, you are invited to take your poinsettia home for the holidays.
About six years ago, we were preparing to clear out the auditorium and one of the little old-timer 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 told me how to take care of a poinsettia plant for years of luscious loveliness.
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The First Step is in Selecting the Poinsettia Plant
When you go to purchase your poinsettia, look for dark green foliage. The colors of the leaves should be bright and vibrant and in proportion to the size of the pot and plant stem. The flowers, the center of the colorful leaves, should not be showing any pollen but should be in tight, yellow clusters.
Avoid any plant which doesn’t meet these standards of a healthy plant. Also, if you see drooping leaves or plants which just don’t look “right” avoid them. They may already be damaged too much to recover well.
Don’t purchase or use an unhealthy plant or a plant with a bug problem for keeping over. Be sure to protect your plant on the way home. It shouldn’t be exposed to wind or freezing temperatures.
Is it Worth the Work to Keep a Poinsettia?
There are two schools of thought on this. Some people like to keep them over and enjoy the challenge. Others say it’s not worth the work and they should be treated like a Christmas tree and thrown out.
You have to decide for yourself. I have to say there is no guarantee they will re-bloom the next year even if you do everything right. As a gardener, I know this is possible with anything I plant. There’s always a certain amount of work and risk-reward in the process.
How to Take Care of a Poinsettia Plant Through the Holidays
Your poinsettia will bloom from late November through February so it’s important to pick out a healthy plant. Once you get your poinsettia plant safely home, display it for the holidays by placing it where it will receive plenty of natural light while avoiding direct sunlight. You want to avoid placing it in high traffic areas, drafty spots or near ceiling fans and heat sources. Any of these can irreversibly damage your plant.
You don’t want to put the poinsettia close to cold windows. Since the poinsettia is a tropical plant, it likes temperatures ranging from 60 to 70ºF. Just like many of the best houseplants for clean air indoors, the poinsettia doesn’t do well in high temperatures.
The poinsettia likes to be dry between waterings. Don’t water yours unless it is dry. If you leave your poinsettia in its colorful holiday foil wrap, you have to remember to drain the foil by cutting or punching holes in the bottom so the plant doesn’t sit in water. Over-watering is the most common cause of poinsettia death.
When you water the poinsettia, soak the soil so that the soil is saturated all the way through. Let the pot drain well so that there’s no excess water. You can judge your watering efforts by the leaves. Too much water and the bottom leaves will turn yellow and drop off. Too little water and the leaves will wilt and the poinsettia plant will drop its middle and lower leaves.
How To Take Care of a Poinsettia Plant For Reflowering
If your climate allows it, the poinsettia prefers outdoors to indoors. If your climate doesn’t allow for outdoor living, at least put your plant outdoors as soon as weather permits. Don’t expect your poinsettia to ever look like the one you bought.
To get that store-bought look, you can use the pruned cuttings to start new plants. This is because the poinsettias we buy at the store are just that. Pruned pieces from a sapling. Now you know!
If you want to keep your poinsettia over for reflowering, there are some special steps you’ll need to take. Remember, while there’s no guarantee the plant will reflower even after all your care, there is a good chance it will. You can also help it grow into a poinsettia “tree.”
Pruning for Shape
If you want to keep the small bush look, trim the plant down to about 6” above the main stem. You can root the shoots you cut off and get more poinsettias.
If you want a larger bushy poinsettia, remove the tops of each main shoot. If any new growth starts, pinch it off until mid to late July. This goes for all the poinsettia plant shapes.
For a “tree-like” poinsettia, remove all of the shoots from the main stem. Leave the top of the main stem in place. Do not prune this stem except to remove all side shoots. Keep any new growth trimmed off until mid-late July.
Light Needs Before Flowering Season
Once the flowering season is over and you’ve pruned the plant to the shape you want, don’t give it full sun. If you do, you’ll cause the leaves remaining to be scorched and the plant damaged.
Be sure your poinsettia is in full shade for the first two weeks. After two weeks of full shade, move it to partial shade for two weeks. Next, move it to partial to full sun. This is called hardening off your plant. This is especially important if you’re putting your plant outdoors.
How to Take Care of a Poinsettia Plant Late Winter through Early Spring
This is the time to do the pruning. Be sure you don’t leave any flowers on the plant as you shape it. This is usually February to March. You can “put it to bed” or let it bloom until it’s done, whichever you prefer. Most people put theirs to bed because they’ve tired of the holiday decoration.
Keep your poinsettia where it will get plenty of light and not get cooler than 60 or warmer than 70. At least, this is the ideal environment. My plants don’t get ideal. It’s not that I don’t try, it’s just that I don’t stop to pay attention to exactly how cool or warm an area is. Fertilize as needed every two weeks and water like we talked about before.
How to Take Care of a Poinsettia Plant Late Spring through Summer
Now is the time to re-pot your plant to a larger container. Be sure to use a well-draining soil such as succulent soil. You can mix your own if you like by including one part peat moss and one part vermiculite in your garden soil.
If you’re going to grow your poinsettia outside, you have two options. You can leave it in a larger pot or you can plant your pot in the soil up to the pot rim. Either way works fine. I don’t put mine in the ground.
Do not take your plant outside until your nighttime temperature is steadily above 50ºF. It’s a good idea to not take your plant outside until you’ve pruned it. Pruning is a shock to any plant so be kind and give it a few days to recover from pruning before you set it outside.
Your poinsettia will need to be fertilized about every two weeks. Use a houseplant fertilizer according to the directions on the bottle. For now, you’re just watering and fertilizing and letting your plant rest.
How to Take Care of a Poinsettia Plant During Fall
Watch for frost warnings. You’ll have to bring your poinsettia plant indoors before the first frost. Freezing will seriously damage or kill the plant. You can set it out during the day if you like, as long as the temperature isn’t below 50ºF. You can also just place it in a sunny window during this time.
Continue fertilizing your poinsettia plant and watering as usual.
At the end of September, put your plant in complete darkness just like you would a Christmas Cactus. No street light or any light can be allowed to enter the closet or room the poinsettia is in at night. Do this from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. or as close to these hours as your schedule allows. Do this until around the first of December.
During the day (after 8 a.m.) set your plant in an area where it will receive plenty of light. The temperature needs to be between 60-70ºF. Any nighttime temperature above 70 will delay the process of reflowering.
When you see the leaves begin to change color, you can stop the nighttime darkness and put your poinsettia in full light. Decrease the fertilizer to once a month and be sure to not overwater.
If you prefer to not move the plant in and out of darkness, you can use warm fluorescent lights during the day. Don’t use normal grow lights because the poinsettia needs warm white light. Use one 100 W bulb for every poinsettia plant. Place the bulb about a foot and a half above the plant adjusting as they grow.
You can use HPS lights but beware. The HPS light gives off a signature which law enforcement agencies track because it’s used to grow a particular plant which is illegal in most states. Just didn’t want you to get a knock on the door and be surprised by the number of officers there and a search warrant!
Tips for How to Take Care of a Poinsettia Plant
- Do not disturb your poinsettia during blackout hours. Most people say 14 hours of darkness is adequate, but everyone agrees 16 hours will ensure your best results. This is especially true if you use warm lights or expose it to bright sun during the “waking hours”.
- Watch for flower indicators. The first sign is known as “rusting out.” The top of the leaves begin to change color because they’ve received the signal that it’s fall.
- Once the poinsettia begins to flower, be sure it’s exposed to bright light, but not more than 10 hours a day. Either sunlight or artificial warm white light.
- The light exposure for at least 9 hours a day will keep your poinsettia flowering all the way through February and maybe even as late as May.
- If you should be ready to put your plant to bed before it has flowered itself out, put it under an artificial light source for 24 hours. This signals the plant spring or summer has arrived and it’s time to rest.
Now you know how to take care of a poinsettia plant so it will reflower. Is it too much work for you? Is it a challenge to your gardening skills?
It’s much more involved than say knowing how to care for a shamrock plant, but I’ve learned many people love the challenge and the results.
Do you have tips or tricks on how to take care of a poinsettia plant? Please share them with us in the comments below.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack