How to Care for Your Poinsettia in 3 Simple Steps

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Poinsettias are the quintessential Christmas flower as they ring in the holidays like none other. They also have a tendency to really mess with people as they can check out and die without any forewarning. Poinsettias offer big, beautiful blooms that brighten any room, but many people worry that caring for poinsettias can be too difficult or finicky.

In reality, Poinsettias are quite simple to care for as long as you consider where they come from. Poinsettias are tropical plants native to Mexico, so their needs are unique, but not complex.

Taking care of Poinsettias is easy as 1-2-3. The first two steps will get you to a 90% success rate, and, hopefully, step 3 will ensure a home run. So, let’s talk about that now.

1.  Avoid Freezing Your Poinsettia on the Way Home

An icy ride home will do Poinsettias in.  Remember, these kids are from the topics.

Just like leaf lettuce can freeze on the way to your vehicle in central Alberta’s December, so will the leaves on a Poinsettia.  You can tell your Poinsettia has been chilled by their wilted appearance, especially if they initially appeared robust and beautiful upon leaving the store.  Unfortunately, this kind of wilt won’t resolve with a drink of water.

There are a couple of things you can do to protect them from our wintry temperatures.  One has to do with when you pick them up, and the other has to do with how they are packed for travel.

To avoid Poinsettias getting too cold, make sure they are dressed in two layers (like us) when they enter the frosty outdoors.  The best wrap for them is in a paper sleeve folded at the top with a sealed plastic bag over the top.

What if the establishment doesn’t have this kind of wrap? What if they just have one single plastic sleeve and no more wrap?  

I think it’s always a good idea to carry a large plastic garbage bag along with you for every Poinsettia that you are purchasing. You can slip the bag over the plant and tie a loose knot at the top before you leave the store. I would recommend that you use clear garbage bags so that you can get out of the store without anyone thinking you are stealing anything, and you can also see the Poinsettia to get it situated right in the vehicle as you leave. Poinsettias can, and should, be fastened in with seatbelts, just like children.

Make picking up your Poinsettia the last stop of your day so it can go into a warm vehicle and doesn’t have to sit in the cold during other errands.

A combination of no more walking through parking lots with open plastic sleeves exposing poinsettias to ice-cold temperatures, and no more leaving your poinsettias out in the cold will do wonders for caring for your poinsettia.

2.  Hold the Water, Your Poinsettia Isn’t Thirsty

Overwatering can be fatal for poinsettias.  This is the second most common cause of death when caring for poinsettias.

Who had the best success growing poinsettias in my house?  My kids. Why? Because they neglected them and never watered them!

Poinsettias don’t need to be watered often.  As a rule of thumb, poinsettias only need water every week or ten days, but remember to check them daily as each home is different.

Before you water, always check if the poinsettia soil is dry.  My favourite way to check the water status of a poinsettia is to pick up the pot and check its weight; you don’t need to stick your finger into the soil.  Full disclosure…even after all these years as a greenhouse and gardening girl, I still hate that first sensation of dirt packing under my fingernails.

When the poinsettia pot is very light, it’s time to give it a drink.  Remember, Poinsettias are from the rainforest, where the shallow soil dries out quickly.  They are used to being dry. Bring the poinsettia close to the doorstep of wilt, just up to the edge, but not to a full-on dry and stressed  flagging. This kind of wilting is not good for plants.

When the Poinsettia is dry, water it thoroughly until water drips out of the pot’s drainage holes.  You can water Poinsettias a couple of different ways:

  1. Place the tip of your watering can or cup at the soil line to water thoroughly.  Avoid spilling water all over the leaves because this could cause another set of issues.
  1. Fill a shallow dish with about 2” (5 cm) of water, take off the Poinsettia pot cover if it has one, and place the Poinsettia pot in the dish to soak up water from the bottom for 15-20 minutes.

Take note of how much a thoroughly watered poinsettia weighs and keep this in mind as you check your poinsettia for water daily.

If a poinsettia is overwatered, it will get a sagging, wilted look, leading you to think that it needs more water, but it doesn’t.  Poinsettias have shallow, delicate roots because they never needed deep roots in the rainforest.  Root rot can settle in quickly if Poinsettia roots stay too wet.  You can tell a Poinsettia has root rot when the foliage collapses or looks droopy, and the soil is soaked.

When you first notice any wilting, we automatically think it needs water, and this is the juncture where the overwatering cycle can begin.  Therefore, it’s incredibly important to check the weight of the pot before you water so that you aren’t watering unnecessarily.

There is no need to fertilize Poinsettias once they are in full bloom.  They are in their glory and don’t have high nutrient demands at this point in their life cycle.

3.  All the Rest of the Creature Comforts, Poinsettias are Really a Plant Embodiment of Goldilocks

For the last 10% of poinsettia success, the grand slam, remember: ‘Not too hot and Not too cold.’

Keep your Poinsettia at average room temperature, in the high teens to mid-20° C; keep it from areas that are too hot or too cold, and avoid areas that have blasts of hot or cold air.

The most common areas that are too hot for poinsettias are those near furnace forced air vents (heat registers)  and fireplaces.  The hot moving currents will dry the leaves and flowers out and they will get dry and crispy like a potato chip.  

Spaces that are too chilly for poinsettias can catch us off guard.  Watch for areas that get drafts of polar air, like near the front entry with repeated door openings and closings.  Set poinsettias back from entrances where the cold air won’t hit them.

Drafty window ledges and cold window panes offer a similar scenario. When a poinsettia is chilled, it will look wilted – looking wilted is a Poinsettia’s universal sign of displeasure. Sometimes they recover, but other times they do not.

That’s all it Takes to Keep a Poinsettia Thriving

  1. Keep your Poinsettia from freezing in the car.
  1. Always check your Poinsettia before watering.   
  1. Find your Poinsettia spot with a nice, steady temperature. 

And that’s it!  If you’d like to keep your Poinsettia looking beautiful for the rest of the year, visit my blog How to Get Your Poinsettia to Rebloom and Stay Beautiful Year-Round.

Enjoy the festive splendor of your Christmas Poinsettia this season! If you’d like more tips and tricks on caring for live Christmas décor, be sure to check out my other two blogs, How to Choose and Care for a Real Christmas Tree and How to Select, Use, and Care for Live Christmas Greenery!

©Sharon Wallish Murphy ©Gardening with Sharon

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