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Updated: Feb 14, 2022


At holiday time poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) appear just about everywhere — including in our offices, homes, churches, and favorite stores. That’s not surprising since they are the best selling potted plant in the U.S. and the most popular Christmas plants. Their traditional holiday red and green display scheme, combined with easy care, have made them a staple of the Christmas season.

A traditional red poinsettia welcomes a tiny young lizard onto its leaves.

Safer Than Most Other Houseplants

Contrary to popular myth, poinsettias are not poisonous, or toxic. The white milky sap they produce contains latex, so those with latex allergies should handle them with care, and, as with most house plants, pets should be discouraged from chewing on them, but they are otherwise as safe as any other houseplant. And when cared for properly, poinsettias usually will outlast your desire to keep them! 

Here’s our quick guide on how to choose and care for your poinsettias through the holiday season.

100 Shades of Christmas

A native of Southern Mexico, the poinsettia is bred for a tropical climate, where in the wild, it can reach heights of 12 feet, with leaves measuring 6 to 8 inches across.  What everyone loves about them are not the flowers, but the leaves (actually modified leaves called “bracts”), which typically start off green and gradually turn various shades of red, pink, white, or any of 100 other colors. The flowers are the tiny yellow buds you find clustered in the center of the stem (called “cyathia”).

Poinsettia “flowers” are actually modified leaves called “bracts.” The flowers are the yellow buds in the center of the stem.

When selecting a poinsettia, make sure its cyathia are intact and, preferably, unopened. On the way home, protect them from exposure to wind or cold. Their tropical genetics make poinsettias highly sensitive to cold temperatures. Even a few minutes of exposure to 50o F or lower temperatures will cause them to wilt — making them way too cold sensitive to grow outdoors in North Texas, so we recommend that you keep them inside. 

It’s common for a few leaves to turn yellow and drop off when you first bring the plant home. Don’t worry — it’s merely adjusting to its new environment.

Give It A Sunny Home

Poinsettias should be placed in a sunny, south-facing windowsill or bright filtered light and cool but not cold temperatures. Keep them at about 68o F during the day, and cooler at night, to prolong the display. Avoid hot or cold drafts, keep the soil moist not soggy. Water when the top layer of soil feels dry to the touch. Be careful the stem does not begin to shrivel. This is a sign the plant is too stressed and is dying. 

Fertilize your poinsettia every 2 weeks until the red bracts drop, using a fertilizer made for tropical plants, such as Espoma Palm-tone.

Forcing A Comeback

The most difficult thing about poinsettias is getting them to re-flower after their initial display. It takes a significant amount of work, especially during the fall. This is because they need a long, uninterrupted period of light-free nights for about about 8 to 10 weeks prior to Christmas to develop flowers. 

In early spring (February to March), you need to begin shaping the plant for the following Christmas season. Do this by cutting each of the old flowering stems back. Leave each stem about 4 to 6 inches in height with 1 to 3 leaves on each stem. Cutting the plant back will cause the buds to grow and develop. Keep the plant in a sunny window until all danger of frost has past and night temperatures are at least 50o F.

Moving Outdoors

Leaving the poinsettia in the pot, sink the plant (pot and all) into the ground outdoors. Moving it outside may mean it will need to be watered more often. Between July 15 and August 1, prune all shoots to about 4 inches, leaving about 1, to 3 leaves on each shoot. Keep fertilizing every 2 weeks.

Pinch back the stems again in mid to late summer as you did in the spring. Repot if necessary using peat moss, vermiculite or perlite based potting soils. Bring your poinsettia indoors as soon as nighttime temperatures drop below 50o F.

Plunging Your Plant Into Darkness

Around this time, you need to start keeping the plant in complete darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. daily. Keep doing this until the bracts begin to show their color in early to mid-December. You must be diligent about controlling the light or your poinsettia won’t re-bloom. You can simply put a box over top of it during the night, or place the plant in a dark closet. Be sure to move it back into the light during the day so the plant can absorb enough energy for flowering. Maintain a temperature of 60o F and 70o F.  

Display of red and white poinsettias in Marshall Grain’s nursery.

Around the last week of November when you begin to see flower buds, you can stop the darkness treatment and allow the plant to remain in the sun. Stop fertilizing about 2 weeks before Christmas. Keep watering and treat your plant the way you did when you first brought it home in bloom. If all has gone well, it should be back in bloom and ready to begin the process all over again.

For most of us, it’s cheaper and easier to buy new plants each year. When you do, we hope you’ll choose to shop with us!

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