Poinsettias 101

Everything you need to know about everyone's favorite Christmas flower.

Poinsettia 'Christmas Feelings' Red

Poinsettia 'Christmas Feelings' Red

The colorful parts of poinsettias are modified leaves, called bracts, not flowers. This variety is 'Christmas Feelings'.

Photo by: Selecta

Selecta

The colorful parts of poinsettias are modified leaves, called bracts, not flowers. This variety is 'Christmas Feelings'.

Legend says that a handful of weeds, picked by a poor Mexican girl, burst into bright red blooms on Christmas Eve. We’re still growing these beautiful plants-—poinsettias—to celebrate the holiday season.

Of course, no one would mistake poinsettias for weeds now. With over 100 varieties to choose from, you'll find colors like salmon, white, cream, yellow and pink in addition to the traditional Christmas red. While poinsettias can also be marbled or speckled, those blues and purples you see are artificially colored. 

These seasonal beauties don’t demand much care, as long as you begin with healthy plants. Here’s the 101 on what to know before you buy:

Poinsettia 'Marbella'

Poinsettia 'Marbella'

'Marbella' is a novelty poinsettia with pink bracts edged in white.

Photo by: Selecta

Selecta

'Marbella' is a novelty poinsettia with pink bracts edged in white.

The soil shouldn't be too soggy or too dry. Stick your finger in the pot, if you can't tell by looking. Wilting is also a sign of too much or too little water. The soil should be evenly moist.

Check the leaves and stems. Some stores pack Christmas plants onto their shelves. Make sure your poinsettia doesn’t have broken stems and that the leaves at the bottom aren't turning yellow or falling off.  

Choose a fresh plant. First, a little botany lesson: the colorful, leaf-shaped parts of a poinsettia are actually bracts. The flowers start out as round, green buds in the middle of the bracts and open to yellow. Look for a plant with green buds or bright yellow flowers. Leaves should be evenly green all over, with no yellowing or brown tips and margins. 

Poinsettia 'Christmas Feelings' Pink

Poinsettia 'Christmas Feelings' Pink

Your poinsettias should hold their colors for several weeks. Enjoy them as green houseplants after the holidays.

Photo by: Selecta

Selecta

Your poinsettias should hold their colors for several weeks. Enjoy them as green houseplants after the holidays.

Watch the temperature. Are you buying from a store that keeps its plants outdoors? Buyer, beware. These tropicals do best at 65 to 75 degrees F. during the day and 55 to 65 degrees at night. They won’t last as long if they’re exposed to extremes of cold or warmth. 

Wrap it up. Buying poinsettias kept indoors is a better bet. If it’s chilly outside, ask to have the plant wrapped in plastic or newspaper before you carry it to your car. Sudden temperature changes can cause the leaves to drop. Don't leave your plant in the car for too long when the temperature is near freezing. 

When you get home, keep your poinsettia away from air vents and drafty windows and doors. Give it bright, indirect light.

Poinsettia 'Christmas Beauty North Pole'

Poinsettia 'Christmas Beauty North Pole'

After all chance of frost has passed, 'Christmas Beauty North Pole' poinsettia can be moved outside. It performs especially well in warm, Southern gardens.

Photo by: Selecta

Selecta

After all chance of frost has passed, 'Christmas Beauty North Pole' poinsettia can be moved outside. It performs especially well in warm, Southern gardens.

Keep the soil moist, but don’t overwater, and dump any excess. If the plant is in foil, make some holes in the bottom for drainage and use a saucer underneath to protect your furniture. 

Coax Your Poinsettia to Rebloom

Now the tricky part: will your poinsettia re-bloom? Yes, if you put some effort into it. 

  • First, gradually reduce watering until the blooms and leaves shrivel and fall. This gives the plant a rest period.
  • In early spring, cut the stems back by half. When new growth appears, resume watering, and start feeding with a houseplant fertilizer as directed on the label.
  • When nighttime temperatures stay reliably above 55 degrees, move your plant outside to a spot that gets bright light, but not direct sun.
  • Plant the poinsettia in your garden or leave it in the pot. (It's fine to repot if it outgrows its original container.) Pinch back new growth for a bushier plant. Stop pinching by August. 
  • Bring the poinsettia indoors around Oct. 1, or before the temperatures drop in fall. Give it 13 to 16 hours of complete darkness every day for 8 to 10 weeks; you can do this by covering it with a box or bag or keeping it in a closet. The bracts should show color by late November to early December.

If this sounds like a lot of work, give the poinsettia a guilt-free toss into your compost pile and buy a new one next year, or enjoy it as a houseplant after the colorful bracts drop. 

Poinsettias

Poinsettias

Costa Farms recommends ivy, Christmas cacti and Boston ferns as companion plants for poinsettias.

Photo by: Costa Farms

Costa Farms

Costa Farms recommends ivy, Christmas cacti and Boston ferns as companion plants for poinsettias.

Try Something Different

Use your poinsettias as cut flowers. Simply snip the stems, remove most of the leaves and display them in clear containers. Drop a few red berries in the bottom for extra color, and change the water often.

Put poinsettia stems into flower water tubes and slip them between the branches of your Christmas tree. Replace them as needed.  

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