The poinsettia houseplant is an absolute must-have during the festive season. If you’ve been looking for a stunning decoration to celebrate Christmas or show off any time of the year then this plant is what you need.
You may have heard that it’s a tricky houseplant to care for, but have no fear because we’ll explain exactly how to grow a thriving poinsettia. This guide covers everything from caring for and growing this plant to reviving it.
The poinsettia has a few nicknames such as Mexican flameleaf, Christmas star, painted leaf, lobster flower, and flowers of the holy night. Its botanical name is euphorbia pulcherrima and it is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family which is also known as the Spurge family.
This houseplant is native to humid regions in Mexico and was first discovered around 1825 by a famous botanist; Joel Roberts Poinsett. As you may have guessed, the poinsettia’s name is derived from this botanist’s surname.
It’s well known for symbolizing the festive season due to its appearance. Nothing screams Christmas more than its colorful red and green foliage. You’ll also be gifted with stunning blooms towards the end of the year if you experience Christmas during the wintertime.
Today, you can find this shrub in an array of colors ranging from pink and creamy-white to yellow. Its bold foliage will vary across the many varieties which we’ll be discussing later on.
Fun fact: Poinsettia Day is celebrated on the 12th of December as it commemorates the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.
What Does It Symbolize?
Of course, the euphorbia pulcherrima represents the festive season, however, that’s not the only thing it symbolizes. Before we mention the other meanings associated with this houseplant, we need to touch on the Mexican legend surrounding it.
The story describes a poor child who collected several weeds located on the side of the road. He then placed them outside of a church on Christmas eve.
The congregation was then gifted with a Christmas miracle as these weeds miraculously transformed into bright red and green flowers, which is the poinsettia that we know today.
Apart from representing a Christmas miracle, it also symbolizes joy, cheer, and celebration.
Fun fact: The “flower” that blooms around Christmas time isn’t really a flower at all. It’s actually modified leaves that are regarded as a”bract”. This is then accompanied by a tiny yellow flower in the center.
Expert gardeners have created many hybrids, so you can decorate your home with a variety of poinsettia. Instead of merely producing the traditional red and dark green foliage, this plant now comes in an array of colors as there are around 150 different types.
We’ve briefly described five poinsettias, each with its own unique look and color scheme.
- ‘Classic white’: As its name suggests, this houseplant shows off bold white bracts with creamy centers that are complemented by dark green leaves.
- ‘Orange spice’: This is definitely one of the most striking and eye-catching types as its bracts are completely orange.
- ‘Princettia pink’: This variation has bracts with light pink edges that become a darker shade of pink towards the center of the leaves. You may also be lucky enough to grow ones with splashes of light green variegation too.
- ‘Euphorbia Christmas glory pink’: It produces more compact growth and a range of colorful and hardy bracts that don’t fade over time. These modified leaves come in shades of white and pink.
- ‘Polar bear’: It gives off a delicate appearance as its creamy-yellow bracts are complemented by light yellow flowers in the center.
How Big Do They Get?
The average poinsettia’s mature height is between 3 to 10 feet (0.9 – 3m) and its width is around 3 to 7 feet (0.9 – 2m).
How Fast Do They Grow?
It tends to have a fast rate of growth and can reach its mature size in one year. Typically, it can produce an extra 3 feet (0.9m) of growth a year until it’s mature.
How Long Do They Last?
The euphorbia pulcherrima’s lifespan will vary greatly depending on the care it receives and whether or not the owner continues to look after it once it has bloomed.
It will most likely live for around 2 to 5 years when given some good old-fashioned TLC.
The poinsettia has a milky sap that can negatively affect your pets or those with a latex allergy.
The houseplant tends to ooze a sticky, white sap which can potentially lead to a few bad side effects. We’ll quickly describe what may happen if either of your pets eats the sap or you come into contact with it.
Are They Poisonous to Cats and Dogs?
The poinsettia is mildly harmful when your pets ingest its sap, however, it must be noted that it isn’t formally classified as toxic.
If either of your fury friends consumes this milky sap then they may feel some gastrointestinal irritation. Your cat or dog may become nauseous or experience mild abdominal discomfort. These symptoms are short-lived and tend to last for a few hours.
It’s especially important to keep this houseplant out of your kitten or puppy’s reach. The sap may have a stronger effect when consumed by younger pets.
Although the sap isn’t classified as poisonous, if you are concerned about your pet’s health then seek professional advice from your local veterinarian.
Are They Poisonous to Humans?
Its sap will cause a negative reaction if you’re allergic to latex. If you come into contact with the sap you will experience skin dermatitis and a red rash. It is best to avoid touching the sap even if you are free from any allergies.
This houseplant may not be toxic but it’s best to wear a pair of gardening gloves while handling it.
It’s still important to contact a medical professional if the rash persists for a prolonged period of time.
How to Care for Poinsettias
The poinsettia needs to be looked after well and demands some special attention if you wish to keep it alive year-round. We’ve set out everything that you need to keep in mind in order to maintain its healthy and stunning appearance.
How Often to Water It
A euphorbia pulcherrima should only be watered once the soil is dry to touch. It’s important to feel the potting mix as the plant is susceptible to root rot and overwatering will kill it, and the same goes for other houseplants like the Dracaena.
The soil must be kept slightly moist throughout the year, however, the number of times you water it will change according to the season.
Typically, it should be watered three times a week or more during the warmer spring and summer months. As winter approaches you can water the plant once a week or less.
After your plant has been sufficiently soaked, you must allow some time for the water to drain out before placing it back in its home. This will prevent the plant from becoming waterlogged and developing a variety of fungal diseases.
Drainage is imperative as a waterlogged houseplant will become infected and develop root rot. The most effective way to ensure proper drainage is by choosing a container with ample drainage holes.
Furthermore, the plant must be grown in aerated and loose potting soil. This will allow any excess moisture to escape and prevent soggy conditions.
When and How to Prune It
In late spring and summer, you will need to prune back any leggy, discolored, limp, or unhealthy growth. The bracts must also be snipped off as they begin to wither away.
Follow the steps below:
- Clean a sharp pair of scissors and cut the stems so that they’re about 4 inches (10cm) long.
- When plucking off its leaves, always make sure that there are at least 3 still attached to a stem.
- Water it well and care for it as you normally would.
Top tip: Never prune it when temperatures dip below 50°F (10°C), as this will disrupt healthy growth.
When and How to Repot It
The houseplant will need to be transplanted once a year in late spring or early summer. If it becomes rootbound then it must be repotted as soon as possible.
When choosing a new container for the plant, you should increase its size by 2 inches (5cm). It is also important to make sure that it’s warm enough, so only repot it in temperatures between 65 to 75°F (18.3 – 23.9°C).
Repotting is a brilliant way to stimulate new growth and encourage your plant to rebloom.
Check out this step-by-step guide:
- Water it deeply 24 hours before you plan on repotting it.
- Lift the plant out of its container and check that the roots are still healthy. If there’s some unhealthy tissue then simply trim this root growth off.
- Fill a new pot with fresh soil and plant the poinsettia at the same depth that it was previously.
- Water it well and position it back in its sunny home.
How to Get It to Turn Red
You can change the color of its foliage by reducing the amount of light it receives and increasing humidity levels. Forcing the foliage to become red is a fairly easy process, and we’ll guide you through it.
This will require some planning as 8 weeks before you want to display your houseplant you will need to alter the amount of sun it receives. It must be placed in a completely dark room for 12 to 14 hours a day.
While it is in a dark cupboard the humidity levels surrounding the houseplant may become too low. The most efficient way to ensure adequate humidity levels is by placing a bowl of room temperature water next to the pot.
Do They Need Sun?
Yes, a euphorbia pulcherrima thrives when it soaks in bright, indirect sunlight, just like the Monstera. A sunny windowsill is great but it shouldn’t be positioned under direct light.
It’s best to choose a room where it’ll bask under filtered light for 6 to 8 hours a day. It can withstand low-lit areas, but it’s unlikely to live for a long time.
Best Potting Soil
It prefers lightweight, well-draining, peat-based, and loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH. The optimal pH level is between 5.5 and 7.0.
An all-purpose potting mixture is ideal and you can add in some organic matter like compost and peat moss to enhance the nutrient density.
You can even create your own potting soil by mixing together the following:
- 1 part perlite
- 2 parts peat moss
- 3 parts all-purpose soil
What Kind of Fertilizer to Use
It will thrive and sprout healthy growth when fertilized regularly much like other houseplants such as the bird of paradise. A liquid, water-soluble, and well-balanced fertilizer is ideal for this plant.
You can feed it once every 3 or 4 weeks during spring, summer, and autumn. This will promote faster and healthier growth as well as encourage blooming.
We’ve put together a list of optimal mineral ratios below:
Top tip: It’s extremely important that you refrain from feeding your houseplant while it’s blooming.
Pot Size and Type
It’s not too fussy when it comes to the type of pot used, but the number of times you water it will differ. A clay pot dries out the soil faster than a plastic container, so your plant will need to be watered more often if you opt for a clay or terracotta pot.
Ideally, your container will need to be about 2 or 4 inches (5 – 10cm) wider than the rootball. You’ll also need to choose a pot with at least one large drainage hole.
This houseplant needs to be placed in a warm room or by a bright windowsill where temperatures range from 65 to 70°F (18.3 – 21.1°C) during the day. In the evening, the temperature should be around 60 to 65°F (15.5 – 18.3°C).
It’s quite sensitive to changes in temperature, so anything above 75°F (23.9°C) or below 50°F (10°C) will negatively affect its health, lifespan, and foliage.
Much like the citronella plant, the poinsettia flourishes when grown in a humid area. It must be grown in relative humidity levels between 50 and 75 percent.
If the air is particularly dry then you can place it on a pebble tray, or spritz its foliage a few times a week. You can also place a bowl of water next to it and put other houseplants around it.
Humidity levels need to be kept below 75 percent as anything above this will kill your plant. So, if you already live in a humid environment then you won’t need to take any actions to increase the humidity surrounding the houseplant.
Can It Be Outside?
You can place it in your garden if you’re living in USDA hardiness zones of 9 through 11. You may also need to alter certain aspects of your care routine.
The plant must only receive 4 to 6 hours of indirect sunshine, so it’s preferable to find a shady location for it. You will also need to ensure that temperatures remain within the optimal range as it cannot withstand frost.
Furthermore, the plant must still be grown in humid areas and you’ll need to be careful to avoid overwatering it.
A euphorbia pulcherrima blooms bold, star-shaped bracts with tiny yellow flowers. These bracts look similar to flower petals but keep in mind that these are modified leaves. The small flower in the center of a bract has an almost berry-like structure.
We’ll explain more about these beautiful blooms and how to get your plant to produce them each year.
Fun fact: The tiny yellow berry-like flowers are formally known as cyathia.
When and How Often Does It Bloom?
The poinsettia will bloom during the wintertime as the days become shorter and it receives less sunlight.
It will take a bit of effort and special attention, but with some TLC you can expect it to bloom once a year.
How Long Do Its Blooms Last?
These bright bracts will usually last for between 4 to 6 weeks before it begins to wilt and drop off. The length of your blooms can be extended if you maintain optimal environmental conditions.
How to Make It Bloom
The only way to encourage blooming is by adjusting the amount of light it receives. It’s imperative that you drastically decrease the amount of time your plant sits under bright sunlight.
You will need to place it in complete darkness, and the best way to achieve this is by positioning it in a dark cupboard.
Additionally, you must also ensure that it is fed regularly, watered properly, and grown in the optimal temperature range too.
How to Get It to Rebloom
You’ll need to tweak your regular regime and provide your plant with the best care if you wish to see its blooms once more.
A frequent trim during the spring and summertime is a great way to promote healthy foliage, remove leggy growth and encourage new blooms. Furthermore, any fading and dying bracts must be snipped off too.
You’ll also need to transplant it during the spring or summertime. The fresh potting mixture will provide it with the necessary nutrients which are important as the plant needs plenty of energy to produce its bracts.
The amount of sunshine it gets will also need to change. Ideally, it must soak under indirect sunlight for 9 to 10 hours a day.
Then you should place it in a dark cupboard or room for around 14 hours a day. It’s super important that this area is completely dark as even a night light will affect the plant’s chances of reblooming.
How to Grow It
You can grow your collection of euphorbia pulcherrima by propagating stem cuttings, splitting the rootball, and planting its seeds.
We’ll set out a list of steps for each method below.
How to Propagate It
Its cuttings and divisions can only be propagated in soil during the spring and summertime. The houseplant must be healthy and mature for propagation to be successful.
How to Grow It from Stem Cuttings
A healthy stem cutting can be rooted in potting mixture during early summertime. All you will need is a sterilized pair of pruners or scissors, peaty soil, and rooting hormone.
Follow the steps below:
- Snip the cutting off just below the leaf node and make sure that it’s around 3 to 6 inches (7.6 – 15.2cm) long with a few leaves attached to it.
- Dip the cut area in rooting hormone and prepare a new container with some fresh potting mixture.
- Take a pencil and poke a few holes in the soil.
- Now you can plant each cutting in the holes, and place them in a plastic bag.
- Position the cuttings under indirect sunlight and water them frequently.
- After 4 or 6 weeks the roots should be about 1 inch (2.5cm) long, and you can then repot each of the cuttings in their own container.
Propagation by Division
Splitting the rootball is a less common method of propagation, but is useful when repotting the houseplant as you won’t need to use a larger container. It involves slicing the rootball in half and planting each division in its own container.
Take a look at the steps listed below:
- Remove the plant out of its current container and brush away any soil surrounding its rootball.
- Take a sharp knife and slice through the rootball.
- Find a new container and fill it with fast-draining soil.
- Plant the divisions and water them well.
- Find a sunny area for each plant and care for them as you would a mature houseplant.
Growing from Seed
You’ll be able to grow a mature poinsettia fairly easily by planting its seeds during the springtime. It will produce seed pods that you can harvest after the blooms begin to die. You’ll find tons of tiny brown seeds in these pods that can be planted in peaty soil.
Planting its seeds is a quick process and unlike other houseplants, these seedlings will emerge within weeks.
Let’s get straight to it! Take a look at the guide below.
- Before planting the seeds you will need to store them in a cool place like your refrigerator for 3 months.
- Prepare a small pot with well-draining soil for each one of the seeds.
- Plant them about an inch (2.5cm) deep and place them under indirect sunshine. The soil should be kept moist at all times so you’ll need to mist it frequently. Additionally, these seedlings should be kept warm at temperatures between 60 and 70°F (15.5 – 21.1°C).
- In a month these seeds will sprout new growth, and they’ll need to be transplanted as soon as they outgrow their current container.
Fun fact: Storing the seeds in a cool area is referred to as cold stratification. This process is vital for germination to take place.
How to Keep It Alive
The euphorbia pulcherrima can run into some trouble when it receives improper care. We’ll touch on the cause of each problem and discuss how to remedy the issue.
Why Are the Leaves Falling Off?
The number one thing that causes its leaves to drop is stress. Any environmental changes can cause severe stress for the plant, especially fluctuations in temperature.
You’ll need to maintain consistent environmental conditions by keeping the temperature within the optimal range and creating a well-planned care regime. This will involve watering and feeding it regularly as well as placing it under indirect sunshine.
Leaves Turning Yellow
The foliage turns into a yellowy-green color if it’s overwatered, nutrient-deficient, or positioned under direct light.
Overwatering is the most common mistake made when growing a poinsettia. Always check that the soil is dry before watering it.
This is a hungry plant and needs to be fertilized frequently during its active growing seasons.
The foliage cannot withstand direct sunshine as this will scorch its leaves. It’s best to find a new home for your plant where it’ll get plenty of filtered sunlight.
The browning of foliage occurs when this houseplant is infected with a fungal disease. Often, overwatering is the major cause of infection. So, you will need to allow the soil some time to dry out.
If it is merely the tips that are turning brown then your plant is suffering from ‘bract edge burn’, which is due to a lack of nutrients. All you’ll need to do is feed your plant more frequently.
Why Is It Wilting?
Wilting leaves is a sign of improper care and typically happens when the houseplant is grown in a dry and hot area.
It needs to be watered more often as well as misted at least twice a week. It’ll also need to be grown in cooler temperatures.
Limp and droopy foliage develops as a plant is lacking moisture or receiving direct sunshine.
If your household’s air is dry then you should consider purchasing a humidifier. When this is placed near the plant, you’ll notice a great improvement.
The harsh sun rays will burn the foliage, so it must be located by a bright windowsill where it will only sit under indirect light.
The poinsettia will match your traditional festive color scheme perfectly, and you can look forward to its fantastic blooms each year. Not only is it a great decorative piece but it’s an even better Christmas present.
You’ll need to remember that it has a few particular care requirements that may have to change throughout the year. It’s all worth it! The effort, you put into growing this plant will be rewarded with flourishing foliage and bracts.