Poinsettias have become synonymous with Christmas, but did you know those vibrant Christmas colors require specialized care? For a poinsettia to thrive or even be revived, there are many requirements, and some are not consistent throughout the year. Whether you are getting your first poinsettia or reviving last year’s plant, we have the tips to keep them in tip-top shape.
The Christmas Connection
Originally cherished by the Aztecs, poinsettias came to the U.S. from Central America with an American diplomat named Joel Roberts Poinsett in the 1830’s, which is how these plants got the name we recognize today. In Mexico, the plant is known as "La Flor de la Nochebuena,” which means Flower of the Holy Night or Christmas Eve.
Poinsettias and Christmas were originally brought together by a folk legend about a poor Mexican girl who had no gift for the baby Jesus. This girl was told that even a small gift given in love will be received with gratitude. She picked some weeds and placed them at the nativity scene, and the weeds blossomed into breathtaking red poinsettia blooms in what was considered a miracle.
A less enchanting but perhaps more realistic story of the association between Christmas and poinsettias is the marketing maneuver of a German family named the Eckes in the 1900’s. Noticing the plant growing along the road, the family saw potential and set out to give poinsettias an identity as Christmas flowers and grew the plants off-season.
In the 1960’s, Paul Ecke Jr. began to give the plants to popular TV hosts at the time, and the tradition was solidified.
This all goes to show that the poinsettia sitting pretty in your home didn’t get there by accident. The presence of that plant in your home was the result of several separate stories, but regardless of how it got there, let’s make sure it stays pretty.
Deprive to Revive
If you already have a poinsettia from a previous year and have managed to keep it healthy, it is probably green. To make your poinsettia red again, it will need to be deprived of light. It sounds cruel, but poinsettias need total darkness for 14 hours each night beginning sometime around September.
Total darkness means the complete absence of light. Even a nightlight or a crack of light under a closed door can disrupt the process. Some people place a cardboard box or dark bag over the poinsettia every night to ensure it receives 14 hours of uninterrupted beauty rest.
During this time, it is not all doom and gloom. During the day, the poinsettia needs plenty of light along with the regular care it requires, which includes a humid environment.
Once you begin the process of 14-hour darkness, the leaves, also known as bracts, will begin to turn closer to the desired color. Within about eight weeks, they should be the vibrant red we all desire. Once you have obtained the bright red color, you can stop the dark hours. The plant should stay that red color throughout Christmas and a little beyond.
Care Requires Flair
If your poinsettia is a little past the healthy green stage and edging closer to signs of decay, more care will be required to bring it back to health. Remove dead leaves both underneath the plant and any that fall off when you touch it.
If there is evidence of rot beginning on the stem, cut the stems back to remove the decaying areas.
Your poinsettia will need ample light. A bright window that lets in plenty of direct light is perfect. Water is a little tricky as the soil needs to remain moist but not soggy. Over-watering commonly leads to wilting and leaf drop. You should only water the plant when the soil around it feels dry. Water it until the water drains out and don’t leave the plant sitting in water.
Keeping your poinsettia in a loose potting soil that drains well is important. Gravel at the bottom can prevent water from overwhelming the plant. You can always gently remove the plant to soak it then place it back in the pot to prevent oversaturating the plant. If your poinsettia is already wilted, it may take another entire season of care to improve the appearance.
Sensitive Through the Seasons
If you are starting with a new poinsettia, we will provide you with a seasonal care guide to extend through the seasons and ideally, bring you and your beautiful red poinsettia full circle into next Christmas.
When selecting a poinsettia, pick a colorful plant with dark green leaves without any wilting, decay or yellowing. If you are bringing your poinsettia home when it is cold outside, wrap it well when you take it and keep it indoors. Avoid buying a plant that has been kept outside in the cold.
The reason for the advice about avoiding the cold is that despite their wintery appearance, poinsettias are a tropical plant.
If you would like a poinsettia in the peak of health, consider reaching out to our florists at Gifts by Gail in Fort Worth, TX for help finding the perfect poinsettia.
Once you have your beautiful blooming plant, keep a moderate temperature between 65 and 75 degrees, and poinsettias do enjoy a slightly lower temperature at night. The temperature requirements cause many people to keep poinsettias indoors. It is also important to keep them away from drafts. Since their favorite place is by a sunny window, do not allow your poinsettia’s leaves to touch the cold glass of windows during winter because this can injure the leaves.
While it is cold outside, your home can lack humidity due to running the heat. During the cold months, you may need to water your poinsettia more frequently. During this winter-blooming period, you will not need to fertilize.
From this point to April, it is important to maintain the moisture without oversaturating your plant. Beginning in April, gradually decrease the water without allowing the soil to get too dry or your plant to get stressed.
Once your poinsettia is accustomed to being in drier soil, it can be moved to a spot that is a bit cooler, ideally to keep it at a temperature closer to 60 degrees.
After this relocation takes place, you can cut the stems back and fertilize. You can also repot in a larger container with new potting soil and place your poinsettia back in the bright window at the original temperature of 65 to 75 degrees.
Continue watering as your plant needs it by feeling the soil to see if it is dry. This is a good time to begin to fertilize on a schedule determined by the size of your plant and the fertilizer label’s schedule recommendations.
In July, you can pinch back the stems to encourage a robust, round shape to your plant. Continue watering and fertilizing and maintaining that sweet temperature range, but approaching the end of September, start the process of 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness for your plant to begin its transformation to become the bright, bold red poinsettia that represents Christmas so well.
If everything happens as it should, December should see those leaves looking like they did when you first brought your plant home. This will mean your poinsettia has come full circle throughout the year, and now that you know it can be done, you and your poinsettia can stay on point going forward.
Pets and Poinsettias
Poinsettias have acquired a bad reputation when it comes to children and pets, which may have some of you living with little ones with tiny feet or paws reason to pause. However, poinsettias are not poisonous.
According to Michael Wahl, M.D., medical director of the Illinois Poison Center in Chicago reported on WebMD, “There haven’t been any deaths reported due to eating poinsettia leaves.”
The same article states that if a child eats several leaves from a poinsettia, he or she may become nauseated or ill, but it won’t cause death. The leaves are said to taste quite unpleasant, so eating very many leaves would be unlikely. To cause death, a child would have to eat about 500 leaves.
The website for Poison Control reports that eating poinsettia, whether it is consumed by a pet or a child, can cause nausea and stomach upset. Less common signs can include vomiting or diarrhea.
The same is true for smaller pets that may ingest leaves from the plant. According to Susan Konecny, D.V.M., the medical director of Best Friends Animal Society, “Often the signs are mild, and ingestion is generally not life-threatening. They most often cause mild to moderate gastric upset.”
The most common issue with poinsettias is that they have a milky sap in them that can cause irritation or a rash if exposed to skin, especially for people who are sensitive to it.
Of course, the best thing to do is to keep poinsettias away from children and pets to avoid the plant getting ingested. Also, wash your hands after handling it and avoid rubbing your eyes after handling it.
With the right precaution taken and the right knowledge of care, it is worth it to take a chance with these gorgeous holiday plants!