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Poinsettias are classic holiday houseplants: How to plant and grow them

Whether you know the name or not, chances are you’re familiar with poinsettias. They’re one of the most popular plants during the holidays, both as a gift and as a decoration around your home. Native to Mexico, these beautiful plants are known for their bright red, festive blooms. Over the years, hybridizers have created poinsettias with cream, pink, salmon, yellow, and white blooms, too!

But why are they so closely associated with the holiday season? It has to do with where they grow natively. Their bloom time in their native region aligns with the winter months (and thusly the holiday season) in colder regions. Poinsettia blooms symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and have a significant place in Mexican culture, so much so that legend has it that a girl was told by an angel to bring a weed to her church’s Nativity and it bloomed into a red poinsettia.

Although poinsettias are popular in colder regions during the holidays, many people treat them as once-off plants and dispose of them after the blooms die back. But would you believe that with proper care, you can keep your poinsettia alive and encourage more blooms the following year?

A beautiful poinsettia display

How to care for poinsettias at home

Poinsettia care is rather simple during the blooming season, especially because they often come potted right from the nursery. You don’t need to worry about repotting this plant right away (and shouldn’t plant it outdoors unless you live in hardiness zones 9 through 11).

Poinsettias are only available for a short period during the holiday season, so to keep them in bloom for as long as you can, keep them in an environment that’s consistently between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure your poinsettia isn’t exposed to cold drafts or so close to a window that the leaves are touching the glass.

Because you’ll be growing your poinsettias indoors during the winter, you’ll need to be mindful of the humidity. Since poinsettias are native to Mexico, they need a humid environment to survive in. If your house is dry during the winter, consider getting a humidifier to place in the room with your poinsettia or put your plant on a tray of pebbles filled with water.

Light needs: Roughly six to eight hours of bright, diffused light per day; direct sunlight can burn the plant
Water needs: Water when the surface is dry to touch; saturate until water comes through the drainage hole
Soil needs: Well-draining, peat-based potting mix (although many poinsettias are already potted from the nursery)

Are poinsettias toxic?

While poinsettias aren’t deathly toxic to people or pets, they can make your furry friends sick if the plant is eaten. To avoid any problems, if your pets are known to chomp leaves once in a while, make sure to keep the poinsettias on a shelf or a table that they can’t easily access.

What to do if the leaves start to fall

If the leaves on your poinsettia start to yellow or drop, it’s an indication of a problem. Most likely, it’s due to root rot caused by under-watering, overwatering, or over-fertilization. Some leaves will also fall because of inadequate lighting.

Low light environments are obvious, so if that’s the case, move your poinsettia to a brighter location. If it isn’t the sunlight, check the soil to see if it’s dry or soggy. Dry soil is easier to fix with a little water; however, if you notice the soil is soggy, you’ll want to repot your poinsettia into a new container with fresh soil. Wait a few days before watering to give the roots time to air out.

Encouraging your poinsettias to rebloom

After the holiday season when the blooms die back, many people dispose of their poinsettia thinking they’re a once-and-done kind of plant — but they aren’t a lost cause! Before you get rid of that gorgeous gifted plant, consider keeping it around for another year to see if you can encourage it to bloom again. Diligent poinsettia care combined with a specific process is the best way to get your plant to rebloom the following year.

From December to early spring…

Throughout their blooming season and up until early spring, you should regularly water your poinsettias, taking care to keep them from being soggy. Once spring hits:

  • Gradually decrease the amount of watering and let the soil dry out before watering again. If the stem starts to shrivel, the plant is getting stressed from lack of water.
  • After a couple weeks of decreased watering, relocate your poinsettia to a cool spot where it’s around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

In mid-May…

Come May, you’ll want to cut back the poinsettia stem to about four inches and repot it (with fresh potting soil) into a container the next size up. From there:

  • Water and place the poinsettia stem in a bright window with diffused light, keeping the temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When the surface of the soil feels dry, give your poinsettia some water. Once new growth begins to appear, fertilize every two weeks with a poinsettia-specific liquid fertilizer.

Once summer hits…

Potted poinsettias should be moved outdoors at the onset of summer to a partially shaded area. Maintain the consistent watering and fertilization you’ve been doing. There are two steps to keep track of during the summer:

  • In early July, you’ll pinch the stem back to one inch to encourage a well-branching plant. If unpinched, the plant will grow leggy.
  • In mid-August, once the stems have branched and grown leaves, pinch the new stems so that three or four leaves remain on each. Bring your poinsettia indoors, putting it back in the bright window.

At the start of October…

Poinsettias are affected by the length of the days and come October, we’re nearing daylight savings time and shorter daylight hours. To successfully rebloom, your poinsettia will need about 10 weeks of 12 to 14 hours of darkness per day. This is where things get a bit tricky because chances are, you’ll need to artificially simulate those conditions. To do this, you should:

  • Move the poinsettia into complete darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. Any light exposure, even the smallest amount, will delay blooming.
  • If you choose to place your poinsettia in a closet during this time, make sure no light can get in through the cracks.
  • The poinsettia should be moved to the sunny window at 8 a.m., where you’ll resume watering and fertilizing per your schedule. Then repeat.

And during the last week of November…

Finally, during the last week of November, you can stop moving your poinsettia to complete darkness and allow it to stay in its happy, sunny spot. If done successfully, you should start to see flower buds growing!

You can stop fertilizing around the middle of December, and keep watering your poinsettia as normal. If you want to keep it alive to bloom for the next year, simply start again from the top.

Using poinsettias as holiday decorations

Poinsettias are one of the boldest, brightest holiday decorations — even more so because they bring natural, beautiful blooms to the equation. They can be used as minimally or as extravagantly as you want. A simple way to incorporate poinsettias as decor is to replace some of your houseplants on plant stands or tabletops (of course, you’ll be moving your houseplants to a temporary location as opposed to disposing of them).

You can also take fresh poinsettia bloom cuttings and use them in flower arrangements, centerpieces, and wreaths. They make a great pair with scented pinecones and glittery ornament balls, balancing out fresh fragrances with festive decor.

You can find more poinsettia decor ideas here!

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