Poinsettias care isn't very difficult, but there are few things to know about these Christmas favourites to help them last longer. This plant actually originates from the dry forests of Central America, which have a very different climate to the winters in the Northern Hemisphere.
This, in a nutshell, is why many poinsettias don't make it through the Christmas festivities, let alone through the winter. However, there are a few things you can do to make a poinsettia more comfortable, and, with a bit of luck, even enjoy a second flowering next year.
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1. Buy your poinsettia from a reputable garden centre
The reason why many poinsettias die almost as soon as they are gifted for Christmas is because they were kept in inappropriate conditions where they were sold. Supermarkets often display poinsettias right next to the entrance, which means these delicate tropical plants get blasted with cold draughts all day; by the time they've been bought, they've already begun dying.
This is why buying yours from a plant nursery or garden centre will pay off: it will have been kept properly by plant specialists.
2. Give poinsettias the correct amount of light
Poinsettias like a lot of light – but only during the day. These plants are used to bright, sunny days and pitch-black nights, so, for best results, place it on a bright windowsill during the day, and then put it away into a dark cupboard for the night (at least 12 hours is recommended). Too much electric lighting and insufficient darkness at night is confusing for this plant.
3. Keep poinsettias at a constant temperature
This is true of most tropical plants, and poinsettias are no exception: they like a constant, warm-but-not hot temperature, with no sudden fluctuations. That rules out placing them next to windows that are often opened, as well as next to sources of heat. Even having the leaves of the plant touch an overly cold window pane can make them ill. The ideal temperature for them is around 18 to 20ºC, so a bright spot in a living room or bedroom is best.
4. Don't overwater
It's important to let your poinsettia dry out completely between waterings; at the same time, if the root of the plant dries out, it will die. What this means in practice is watering a little every couple of days. Make sure the plant does not stand in water. You can also try the root-watering method: drench the root of the plant in water, then replace in its pot when the water's drained completely.
5. How to keep poinsettias alive year-round
It's perfectly fine to compost your poinsettia after the festive season, but it is a perennial, and, with proper care, will flower again next year. The main things to know about poinsettia care throughout the year is that they like being outside during the summer, and that you will need to keep it in complete darkness (while still occasionally watering) between mid-October and mid-November. Other than that, just follow the tips above, and you should have a healthy plant that will delight again and again.
By far the most common problem with poinsettias is leaves shrivelling up and falling off. This is usually quite simply due to underwatering; so, if your poinsettia is wilting, and the leaves are curling up, just water it. Watering poinsettias often is a good strategy, but don't let them stand in water – always grow them in pots with drainage holes.
The other common reason for poinsettias wilting and shrivelling up is fluctuating room temperature. Poinsettias do not tolerate large temperature differences, so never put them next to draughty windows, or windows that are often opened to air the room. They'll be much happier in a sheltered position with a constant temperature.
In rare cases, poinsettias can get fungal diseases and pests such as mealy bugs. If you notice white or brown marks on leaves, you can try to rescue the poinsettia by giving it a shower with very mild soap.
Are poinsettias toxic to pets?
Fortunately, poinsettias do not pose any serious risk to pets. The milky sap contained in their stems is an irritant, and is likely to cause drooling and vomiting in cats and dogs, but it certainly won't kill or seriously harm your pet.