Answering Your Questions About Poinsettias

With the Christmas holiday approaching, you might be starting to see poinsettias pop up for sale at your local nurseries and grocery stores. Poinsettias have long been a symbolic plant of the Christmas season, with their bright red bracts and star-shaped leaves. At this time of year, we get questions about poinsettia care and answer them here for you.

As the market for poinsettias has grown so has the variety of colors. At our local nurseries, we can find a sea of almost every color. It’s fun to just pop in for the sight of it, even if we don’t take home the rainbow of colors that are available.

Since many of our readers will be purchasing a poinsettia this holiday season, we want to help you out by answering the most commonly asked questions.

Most of you will be enjoying this plant just for the holiday season and that’s what this post is geared towards. In case you want to grow it for the long haul, we’ll be covering a few of those growing points here also.

Our Q & A series is a monthly installment where we answer your most common questions on caring for specific plants. Our previous posts cover Christmas Cactus, Poinsettia, Pothos, String Of Pearls, LavenderStar Jasmine, Fertilizing & Feeding Roses, Aloe Vera, Bougainvillea, Snake Plants.

Common Questions About Poinsettia Care

masses of different sizes of red poinsettias in a greenhouse
A sea of poinsettia plants at Green Things Nursery here in Tucson.

Flowers

How do you get a Poinsettia to rebloom? When should I put my Poinsettia in the dark? How do force a Poinsettia to bloom for Christmas?

Getting them to rebloom can be tricky. Poinsettias need an equal or slightly greater amount of darkness vs light to bloom, just like Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus. For instance, they require 12-14 hours of darkness per day for 6-8 weeks to set color and produce flowers.

It depends on when you want it to bloom. Early to mid-October is generally the time to do it.

You need to put it in a closet every night for that prolonged darkness and then bring it back out every morning for the light. A room in your home that is dark for 12-14 hours, has windows, and isn’t used on a regular basis (like a guest room) would work also.

Are you looking for other Christmas Decor? Check out Natural Christmas Wreaths & How To Make A Holiday Wreath Using Plants From Your Yard.

a tall, leggy red poinsettia plant growing in a garden in santa barbara, ca
My neighbor’s poinsettia growing in their front yard in Santa Barbara, CA. As you can see, it’s very colorful but very leggy & lacking in foliage. As for the form, I’d call it a wild bushy tree!

Location

Where should Poinsettias be kept? Will Poinsettia grow outside? Can poinsettias be outside in the cold?

You can enjoy poinsettias almost anywhere in your home. They love a bright location and to be kept away from heating vents and cold windows as well as out of cold drafts.

Yes, poinsettias will grow outside year-round in temperate climates, zones 10-11. When I lived in Santa Barbara, CA my neighbors had a 10′ poinsettia tree (see photo above) growing in their front garden.

No. Poinsettias sold for the holiday season are hothouse or greenhouse grown. They don’t like temps below 50-55F. Cold rain and cold wind can cause some of the leaves and flowers damage and/or fall off.

Here’s a more comprehensive guide to Poinsettia Care. It covers 6 tips on keeping yours healthy all holiday season.

Colors

How many colors of poinsettias are there? How do poinsettias change color?

There are many colors of poinsettias on the market now. Red is the old standby and still the most popular. White and pink are favorites too. These days, poinsettias are available in yellow and orange. You can also find them in bi-colors as you’ll see in some of the images here. If you find a blue or purple poinsettia, just know it’s been dyed.

They change color in reaction to increased and prolonged periods of darkness. I more into detail about this under “Flowers”.

In case you don’t know, the small yellow-red centers are actually the flowers. The uppermost parts that resemble leaves (technically called bracts) are what provide that holiday color we love.

Light/Exposure

Do Poinsettias like sun or shade? Can Poinsettia live inside all year? Can Poinsettia get too much light? Can Poinsettia survive in low light?

This question tells me that the poinsettia is growing outdoors. Poinsettias like full sun or part sun. Two of my neighbors in Santa Barbara had them growing outdoors, one in the ground and one in a pot. Both were in sunny locations but might be considered part sun because of the coastal fog.

They can live inside all year long but do drop their leaves and look like sticks for many months. Plus, it takes some effort to get them to rebloom so most people enjoy them only for the holiday season.

Poinsettias are succulents and can burn in the hot sun which generally isn’t an issue in our homes in late fall/early winter. Cool sun is just fine.

When you buy your poinsettia and bring it home, it can survive in low light for a few weeks. I always keep mine in bright light (moderate exposure) to keep it looking good. If you’re trying to grow one for the long haul, low light won’t do.

looking down on pink & white pink champagne poinsettias
Pretty in pink – Pink Champagne Poinsettia.

Water

How much water does a Poinsettia need? Can you overwater a Poinsettia?

Because poinsettias are succulents, they like to be kept on the dry side. I don’t let mine go completely dry when blooming – about 3/4 of the way dry. Poinsettia leaves curl and/or drop when kept too wet. More on Watering Poinsettias here.

You sure can overwater a poinsettia! They’re succulents after all.

Some Of Our General Houseplant Guides For Your Reference: Guide To Watering Indoor Plants, Beginner’s Guide To Repotting Plants, How to Clean Houseplants, Winter Houseplant Care Guide, Plant Humidity: How I Increase Humidity For Houseplants, Buying Houseplants: 14 Tips For Indoor Gardening Newbies

Leaves

Why does my Poinsettia drop its leaves? Why are my Poinsettia leaves not turning red? Why are my Poinsettia leaves curling?

Your poinsettia could be dropping its leaves due to a lack of water or a reaction to cool temps or drafts. When I buy my poinsettias, I look in the grow pot to make sure there’s not a build-up of fallen leaves. If you buy a less-than-healthy, happy plant, it probably won’t get better when you bring it home.

The leaves (technically called bracts) aren’t turning color because they’re not getting the amount of darkness and light that they need to do so. More details on that in “Flowers”.

Just like with leaves dropping, it’s hard to say exactly why the leaves are curling. It could be due to too much water, too little water, and/or cool temps and cool drafts. I’ve found that the poinsettias I’ve enjoyed for the holiday season started to lose their leaves (some of them curl) in January/February as part of their natural growth cycle.

Click the link and you can see how to Pick The Perfect Poinsettia (and make it last!).

looking down on many colorful red poinsettias
There are so many shades of red poinsettias now!

Growth

How do you keep a Poinsettia alive throughout the year? Do Poinsettias come back every year?  How long do Poinsettia plants last? Can a poinsettia plant turn into a tree?

One thing to know about poinsettias is that they’re deciduous or semi-deciduous. For a good part of the year, they won’t have any leaves and look like stick plants. For that reason along with the “getting them to flower” process, most people don’t keep them as houseplants from year to year. If you decide to, keep them in bright light (the cool sun is fine) and let them almost dry out in between waterings for most of the year.

Yes, poinsettias will come back every year. Depending on the environment they’re in, they’ll lose most or all of their leaves.

Poinsettias are euphorbias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and when grown outside in a suitable climate will live for years. My neighbors in Santa Barbara had one growing in their front yard that was at least 15 years old (see the image above “Location”.

Yes. Some of the growers train them that way. Green Things Nursery here in Tucson sells some beautiful poinsettia trees. That poinsettia in the front yard of my Santa Barbara neighbor had turned into a 10′ low branching rangy tree.

Here’s a more comprehensive guide to Poinsettia Care. It covers 6 tips on keeping yours healthy all holiday season.

Soil

Do Poinsettias like wet soil? Can you use cactus mix for poinsettias?

No, poinsettias are succulents and don’t like consistently wet soil. I let the top half dry out before watering again.

Yes, because poinsettias are succulents, some succulent and cactus mix would be fine. If I were repotting a poinsettia, I’d use a mixture of 1/2 Succulent & Cactus Mix with 1/2 potting soil.

We’ve also done posts on Holiday Plants For Christmas and Blooming Christmas Plants that you might want to check out. All with images!

looking down on tapestry poinsettias with red flowers & variegated foliage
If you like variegated foliage, then the Tapestry Poinsettia’s for you.

Pet Safety

Are Poinsettia plants poisonous to cats?

You’ll get varying opinions on this. Years ago, they were billed as being highly poisonous. Now, most say they’re mildly toxic. Even the ASPCA says poinsettias are generally overrated in terms of toxicity.

The leaves and stems emit a sap that could make them sick. I’ve had kitties my whole life and none of them have paid any attention to my poinsettias. If yours chew on plants, keep the plants out of their reach.

We have more on Christmas Decor and DIY Crafts: Christmas Succulent ArrangementsHomemade Christmas Decorations Using Fruits & Spices7 Christmas Centerpiece Ideas2 Easy Last Minute Christmas Centerpieces3 Easy DIY Ornaments

Hopefully, I’ve answered your questions about Poinsettia care. This, along with all our posts, will make you a more confident indoor gardener!

Happy Gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

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