Poinsettia Plant Care

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
December 26, 2003

More poinsettia plants are sold during the holiday season than is any other houseplant throughout the entire year. Various colors, shapes, and sizes have been developed.

Select and purchase a poinsettia with small, tightly clustered yellow flower buds in the center, healthy-colorful bracts, and green foliage. Also avoid those displayed in a cold or hot drafty area. Then carry the poinsettia home in a large shopping bag to protect it.

In nature, poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that can grow to ten-feet tall. The showy, colored part of poinsettias that most people think of as flowers is actually comprised of colored bracts (modified leaves). The flowers, or cyathia, of the poinsettia are actually in the center of those colorful bracts.

Dos & Donts of Poinsettia Care

In order to keep these plants attractive, here are some do tips for their care at home.

Poinsettias should be placed in a room with enough indirect sunlight for at least six hours per day that you could comfortably read a newspaper. Room temperature should be 60 to 70 degrees F. When the soil feels dry, apply water until the excess drains out.

To prevent common problems, there are several dont tips for the holiday season.

Do not place the poinsettia on a TV set,  adjacent to appliances and heaters, or in a cold or hot draft. Do not set the poinsettia in water, or leaves will drop. Do not fertilize when the bracts are in bloom.

These tips should help the plant to remain colorful for many weeks.  If you are serious about keeping the poinsettia for the next season, try the following care:

  • New Years Continue to apply water, as needed.
  • Valentines Day After the bracts fade or fall, prune to five inches high and set the plant where it will receive indirect light, with temperatures at 55 to 60 degrees F. Water just enough to keep the stems from shriveling and apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer.
  • St. Patricks Day Remove dried stems and leaves, then apply a water-soluble balanced-houseplant fertilizer.
  • When new growth appears, transplant the poinsettia to a larger container with fresh potting mix and gradually move it to full sunlight. During the warm months, the plant will grow best in moist-rich potting mix, and in a bright sunlit area that is free from drafts.
  • Memorial Day Prune the new growth back to force several stems.
  • July 4th Prune the new growth back and increase the fertilizer.
  • Labor Day Move the poinsettia indoors so it only has six hours of sunlight. Reduce the fertilizer and prune but no more after Labor Day.
  • First Day of Autumn - The plant should receive only 10 hours of full sunlight during the day and 14 hours of total darkness each night, with night temperatures at 65 to 70 degrees F. Once the bracts start to change color, it can be moved back out to regular daylight hours.
  • Thanksgiving Discontinue day/night treatment, move the plant into a sunny area, and reduce water.

Enjoy your rejuvenated poinsettia!

Poinsettia Facts

  • Poinsettia plants are native to Mexico. Joel Poinsett imported poinsettia cuttings and seeds into the United States in 1820s.
  • National Poinsettia Day is December 12.
  • Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the United States, representing 85% of all plants sold during the holiday season.
  • Poinsettias are by far the most popular Christmas plant, even though most of them are sold in a six-week period.
  • Poinsettias are commercially grown in all 50 states, but  California is the top poinsettia-producing state. The Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California grows over 80% of the poinsettia plants in the United States for the wholesale market and starts 90% of the flowering poinsettia plants in the world.
  • There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias available. The number of colored bracts on a poinsettia plant determines the price.
  • $220 million worth of poinsettias are sold for the holiday season. In 1997, 60,000,000 pots of poinsettia plants were grown.
  • The color of "flowers" that Americans prefer are: red (74%), white (8%), and pink (6%).
  • Women purchase 80% of all poinsettia plants. 80% of those women are over 40.
  • Poinsettias are not poisonous. A study at The Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child who ate 500 bracts might have a slight tummy ache.

Poinsettia History & Lore

The Aztecs called poinsettias "Cuetlaxochitle." During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, poinsettia sap was used to control fevers and the bracts were used to make a reddish dye. Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, placed poinsettia plants placed in for decoration.

William Prescot, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give the plant a new name as it became more popular in the United States and Europe. So he named it after Joel Poinsett, who imported the plant and grew it in his greenhouse in Charleston, South Carolina.

In the early 1900s the Ecke family of Southern California grew poinsettias outdoors for use as landscape plants and as a cut flower. Eventually, the family grew poinsettias in greenhouses and today is recognized as the leading producer of poinsettias in the United States.

More on Poinsettias

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.