Poinsettias, Euphorbia pulcherrima, are attractive house plants with dark green leaves and leafy red 'bracts' that surround the green-yellow flowers in December and January. They're commonly used to decorate the home at Christmas. Native to Mexico, poinsettias can be tricky to keep alive after Christmas and most are thrown away after the red bracts have faded and the festivities have ended. However, with a little care and attention it's possible to keep your poinsettia alive throughout the year and even encourage red bracts and flowers to form in time for the following Christmas.
Look after your poinsettia by keeping it in bright, indirect light, in a draught-free spot with a temperature of around 13-15°C. Water sparingly, typically when the surface of the compost has started to dry out. Mist regularly to increase humidity and keep the colourful bracts looking their best for longer. After Christmas, feed monthly with a high potash liquid feed, such as a tomato feed.
If buying your poinsettia from a garden centre or supermarket, make sure it's in good condition and that no leaves are wilting, as wilting leaves can be a sign that they've been stored in too-cold conditions. Avoid buying poinsettias that have been displayed near a door or even on a petrol station forecourt – they simply won't last.
Take care to ensure it's well protected on the journey home, making sure its delicate leaves aren't exposed to freezing temperatures – ask the shop assistant to wrap it up or cover it in a plastic bag if you need to. Don't leave your poinsettia in the car for longer than is absolutely necessary as temperatures can quickly tumble and your poinsettia will suffer.
Best place for a poinsettia
Place your poinsettia in a bright, draught-free spot out of direct sunlight, ideally 13-15ºC. Keep it away from windows, where temperatures can drop significantly at night, and from doorways and open fireplaces, which can be draughty.
Water only if the surface of the compost is dry, and continue to water sparingly. Increase humidity by spraying gently with water every few days. This will help keep the leaves and bracts in tip-top condition. Dust the leaves as and when you need to.
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How to encourage poinsettias to flower again
It's not easy to get your poinsettia to flower again, but if you're up for a challenge, follow these instructions carefully:
After Christmas, start feeding your poinsettia with a liquid plant food that's high in potassium, such as tomato food.
In April, prune your poinsettia back to about 10cm, and keep at a temperature of 13°C. In early May, repot your poinsettia into a slightly larger pot with fresh, peat-free, loam-based compost, and then keep it in a draught-free spot out of direct sunlight, ensuring the temperature doesn't exceed 18ºC.
Poinsettias develop flowers and colourful bracts when day length decreases. This occurs naturally in December, but to encourage flowering by Christmas, you'll need to mimic short day length by moving your poinsettia into a dark cupboard for 12 hours each day, from November. Keep an even temperature of around 18ºC and make sure it's not exposed to artificial light during this time.
Once your poinsettia has started flowering, mist leaves daily to keep them looking their best for as long as possible.
How to propagate poinsettias
Propagate your poinsettia from softwood cuttings in May. Make sure you wear gloves when doing this – like all members of the euphorbiacea family, poinsettias have milky sap that can irritate the skin.
The most common problem when growing poinsettias is that the leaves wilt and drop off. This is a sign of cold conditions. Remember poinsettias are from Mexico and need to be kept at a minimum temperature of 13ºC, away from draughts (including near doors, fireplaces or single-glazed windows). Unfortunately, some poinsettias are kept in poor conditions in the shop or garden centre, and the leaves start to wilt when you get them home. Sadly there's not much you can do for your poinsettia at this stage. Always buy your poinsettia from a reputable supplier and remember to protect it from cold conditions on the journey home.
Other problems, such as grey mould, can result from over-watering. Make sure you water your poinsettia only when the surface of the compost is dry, and mist the leaves regularly to maintain humidity around the plant.
Advice on buying poinsettias
- Make sure it's in good condition and that no leaves are wilting, as wilting leaves can be a sign that they've been stored in too-cold conditions
- Avoid buying poinsettias that have been displayed near a door – they simply won't last
- Ask the shop assistant to wrap it up or cover it in a plastic bag to protect it on the way home
Where to buy poinsettias
Poinsettia varieties to grow
- Euphorbia pulcherrima ‘Silver Star’ - dusky pink bracts and variegated leaves
- Euphorbia pulcherrima ‘Lemon Snow’ - pale yellow bracts
- Euphorbia pulcherrima ‘Cortez Burgundy’ - deep plum bracts