Many people, myself included, will either give or receive at least one poinsettia plant during the festive period. Like the Christmas Cactus, this is one of the most popular and recognizable flowers of the festive period.
But once the holiday is over and the decorations have been taken down, what do you do with your poinsettia? Well the answer is that you need not put it in a quiet corner of your garden and allow it to wither away. With a little time and care, you can keep your poinsettia healthy before enjoying its colorful blooms again the following Christmas.
This is your complete guide to poinsettia care.
A popular winter flower, the Christmas Star is not just an annual plant. With a little care it can be encouraged to return year after year.
Warning poinsettia foliage contains a sap that can irritate the mouth and esophagus tissue if ingested. Consuming a significant amount can lead to feelings of nausea and vomiting.
If you accidentally consume the plant seek medical advice immediately. However a large amount of foliage would have to be consumed to cause significant poisoning.
Take care and always wear gloves when handling the plant.
The plants can also be mildly toxic to pets. Keep them high up, out of the way of inquisitive animals.
What is a Poinsettia?
Also known as the Christmas Star or the Mexican Flame Tree, the poinsettia (Euphorbia Pulcherrima) is a popular festive houseplant.
Indigenous to Mexico, in the wild the Christmas Stars can reach a height of 16 ft. During December the plant can turn entire mountainsides crimson in color.
Missionaries travelling into Mexico noticed the eye catching crimson plants and introduced them to their Christmas festivities. Ever since, the Christmas Star has been a key, colorful part of the advent season.
Like the missionaries before him, Joel Poinsett, the first US Ambassador to Mexico also noticed the colorful plants. Poinsett introduced the poinsettia to America in 1828. It is from him that the plant gets its common name. National Poinsettia Day, the 12th of December, commemorates Poinsett’s death.
How to Select a Good Poinsettia
If you are purchasing the plant for yourself or as a gift, make sure that you buy the healthiest plant available. Selecting a healthy plant makes care a lot easier.
When selecting your plant, try to choose the healthiest available specimen. This makes care a lot easier.
Always purchase from a garden center or reliable store. Do not buy your plant from an outside store or stall. Avoid purchasing from anywhere where the plant may have been exposed to low temperatures for a prolonged period. Consistent exposure to low temperatures can reduce the lifespan of the plant.
Take care to inspect the entire plant before purchasing. The soil should be moist, not soaking wet or overly dry. The foliage should be healthy and dense with plenty of yellow-green flower buds emerging between the colored bracts. The buds should also be tightly clustered together.
Your chosen Christmas Star should look healthy and robust. Avoid selecting plants with lots of yellow or green-white foliage. Also avoid plants that have faded, discolored or damaged bracts.
Finally, the plant should be free from pests and disease.
Care begins long before you get the plant home. After purchasing your poinsettia make sure that it is protected as much as possible from the cold or wind while you transport it home.
Where to Position Your Plant
As I have already mentioned, care begins the moment you get your plant. While this may make the poinsettia seem a high maintenance houseplant, it really isn’t.
Place the plant in as light a position as possible. A south facing window is ideal. The plants also thrive in east or west facing windows as long as there is enough light. Your Christmas Star should receive about 6 hours of bright light every day.
Don’t worry if you struggle to provide enough natural light. You can still successfully care for the plant. Simply place it under a grow light. Many people who care for houseplants find that artificial light is just as beneficial as natural light.
The temperature should be consistently between 65 and 75 ℉. Anything colder than this can cause leaf drop. An indoor thermometer such as the ThermoPro Digital Indoor Thermometer provides an easy to read, accurate measure. Keep the plants away from drafts and cold air.
Select a light, draft free position. This helps to keep the temperature around your plant stable, enabling them to thrive and preventing issues such as leaf drop.
Watering your Plant
Keep the soil moist when the plants are in flower. The easiest way to do this is by immersion. To immerse your plant, remove it from its regular position and place it in a bowl containing a few inches of water.
Leave the plant in the bowl for about half an hour. During this time it will soak up as much moisture as it needs. If the plant absorbs all the moisture don’t be afraid to add a little more.
Remove the poinsettia from the bowl and allow the excess water to drain away before returning it to its usual position. Don’t allow the plant to sit in water for a prolonged period of time.
Post Christmas Care
After Christmas, continue to care for your plant as before. Continue to water the plant until about the start of April.
Keep it in its light, warm position. The temperatures should remain between 65 and 70 ℉. At night the temperature can be allowed to fall slightly lower. Take care not to expose the plant to temperatures that are too cold. Prolonged exposure to anything below 60 ℉ can cause leaf drop.
From mid spring onwards how you care for the plant will change. Cease watering in early April, allowing the soil to dry out.
By the middle of April or early May the soil should have dried out completely. At this stage the plant is ready to be cut back. You can cut your Christmas Star back earlier than this if it becomes leggy.
Use a clean garden scissors to cut the stems down to about 4 inches above the soil
Once the soil is dry, you should also repot the plant.
Repotting Your Poinsettia
Repotting is a key part of correct houseplant care.
The new pot should be roughly the same size, or slightly larger, as the original pot. There should also be drainage holes in the bottom. If you are creating an easy to care for houseplant collection, plant in a self watering pot.
Carefully remove the plant from its pot. Brush away any old soil from the root system. Inspect the root system for signs of disease. Use a clean, sharp garden scissors to cut away damaged sections. This stops the disease from spreading. Spotting signs of disease such as root rot early helps to make plant care a lot easier.
Place a layer of sterile potting soil in the bottom of the new pot. A soilless mix can also be used. Position the poinsettia in the pot. It should sit at roughly the same level as in its original pot. You may need to add or take away some soil to get your level right.
Repot your plant every year in a clean pot filled with fresh potting soil. This helps to keep the plant healthy.