Poinsettias are going to start popping up in stores soon, as these vibrant, leafy plants are a staple for the holiday season. Red and white poinsettias are especially popular around Christmas, but I’ve also pined after bright orange and pretty pink-hued ones, as well.
Speaking from personal experience, it’s so disappointing when you buy a gorgeous, lush poinsettia early in the holiday season, only for it to droop and wither before Christmas. These plants are actually native to Mexico, so they need fairly particular care to thrive—don’t fret, though. They’re really not hard to tend to once you know what to do.
Choosing the Perfect Poinsettia
Poinsettias are often given as gifts, so you might be at the mercy of someone else’s plant selection, but if you’re buying the plant yourself, there are a few things you’ll want to look for—and a few things to avoid.
First of all, stores often put these plants right by their doors to entice shoppers to scoop one up, but those particular plants probably won’t be the healthiest, as they’re subjected to the draft of a door that opens every 30 seconds. Avoid plants that are sitting in a drafty location, and choose one that’s over in the store’s floral section instead.
A healthy poinsettia will have dense, dark green foliage around the bottom, as well as tight yellow buds in the middle of the colored leaves. It’s also a good sign if the plant has fully colored small leaves around these buds, as these will grow throughout the holiday season.
Keep It Out of the Cold
Because these plants are native to a warm climate, they certainly won’t thrive if subjected to cold temperatures. Ideally, you should keep your poinsettia in a space that stays around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and it’s OK if the temp drops a little at night. However, temperatures below 55 degrees will cause irreversible damage to your plant—its leaves will likely turn black and die.
As mentioned, poinsettias also don’t like drafty spaces, so keep them away from doors, fireplaces, heating vents, or any other location that experiences dramatic temperature fluctuations. Where should you put them? A space with bright (but not direct) light is best, as they prefer at least six hours of sunlight each day.
Dry Out Between Waterings
You’re more likely to kill a poinsettia by overwatering it than underwatering it, so don’t be afraid to let it dry out before you water it. Your plant should feel really light when you pick it up, and the soil should be dry to the touch—that’s how you know it needs a drink.
When watering your poinsettia, make sure to remove any outer pot or wrapping to allow for proper drainage. You don’t want the plant sitting in water at any point, as it may develop root rot.
Place It Out of Reach from Pets
You may have heard that poinsettias are deadly to cats, but most experts, including the ASPCA, agree that the plant’s toxicity is overhyped. Yes, your cat will likely get an upset stomach if he munches down on the leaves, but it won’t cause any permanent harm.
All that to say: Keep your poinsettia away from pets, but don’t freak out if Fluffy manages to sneak a nibble. My cat is notorious for eating plants, so I fully understand the struggle of finding an out-of-reach spot to display them—I recommend a tall plant stand or on a high shelf!
Post-Christmas Care Tips
Most people (myself included) treat poinsettias like cut flowers, simply disposing of them when the holiday season is over, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, it is possible to keep them alive after Christmas—in fact, my plant-guru mother often has hers on display well into March!
When I asked her for tips on how to keep poinsettias going into the New Year, she said the key is to keep them in a warm, dry location, and you’ll need to cut them back when their leaves start to look raggedy. She said it’s not too hard to keep the plants alive, but getting them to bloom again is no easy feat—it’s not as simple as giving them some fertilizer and hoping for the best—my preferred method of plant care.
To get poinsettias to produce their signature red leaves, the plant will need 14 hours of continuous, uninterrupted darkness followed by 10 hours of bright light every day for two months (or more). Even the smallest amount of light can disrupt this cycle, so you may need to put the plant in a closet or under a cardboard box to ensure total darkness.
If that seems like too much work, don’t worry. There will be plenty of blooming plants in stores come November!
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