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How to Care for Your Holiday Poinsettia

Table decorated with holiday centerpieces featuring poinsettia plants

Few plants are more symbolic of the holiday season than the classic poinsettia. This showy superstar is sometimes known as the Christmas star for its pointy leaves. It’s no wonder that they’re so popular at this time of the year: their rich crimson hue resonates with the joy of the season, bringing a touch of festivity to any space.

Whether you place it on the mantel, the table in the entryway, your desktop, or beside your bed, you can trust this lavish plant to bring a smile to your face every time. It makes a beautiful gift idea for anyone in your life, too, whether you want to treat a parent or grandparent, surprise the significant other who can’t get enough of the holidays, or express your gratitude to a service provider who has done so much for you throughout the year.

If you have a poinsettia or two of your own, you can count on it to bring some good cheer to your world every day — so long as you maintain the plant properly. Here’s everything you need to know about caring for your poinsettia.

How To Care for Your Poinsettia

  1. The Christmas Connection
  2. Exposure to Cold
  3. Lighting and Temperature
  4. Watering Needs
  5. Essential Poinsettia Pointers

The Christmas Connection

Before delving into how you can maintain your poinsettia, consider why you should put so much energy into this plant. During the holiday season, you’ll see them virtually everywhere you go. They grace storefront windows, sit on windowsills, and bring an air of festivity to any space that needs it.

But how did the poinsettia become the “Christmas star”? The plant, native to Mexico and Guatemala, was introduced to the United States in the early 19th century by the country’s ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett. It quickly grew in popularity, eventually earning Poinsett’s name.

The plant was more than just beloved for its beauty, however. People in the United States were taken by the cultural practices of people in 17th-century Mexico. During that time, priests would use the richly saturated bracts and leaves to decorate nativity scenes. Today, the practice has evolved dramatically. The poinsettia is a powerful and memorable symbol of the holiday season at large.

Exposure to Cold

Always exercise the utmost care when nurturing your poinsettia. Because the plant is so ostentatious and bold, any imperfection is easily spotted, even from a distance. If you’re bringing it home from a store, safeguard it from the cold first and foremost. The plant doesn’t tolerate low temperatures well; in fact, brisk air can easily cause leaves to fall prematurely.

That colorful foliage is precisely why you also shouldn’t leave the poinsettia outside in the winter. It’s largely an indoor plant, as cool weather tends to cause both premature leaf drop and root system failure.

Lighting and Temperature

The poinsettia prefers lighting conditions that replicate their native Central American habitat. It’s best to place the planet in a space where it can receive plenty of natural light exposure. Aim for bright, indirect light for at least six to eight hours a day. If you place it by the window, make sure the plant doesn’t make contact with the glass itself. That could encourage scorching, which will harm the overall integrity of the plant.

For the same reason, warmth is also a vital factor in nurturing your poinsettia. Aim for a space with a temperature between 65 and 70 degrees during the daytime, provided there’s enough light in the room to support the plant’s needs. At night, 60 to 65 degrees is optimal for supporting the plant. As it happens, the reduced temperature overnight will help the plant retain its rich crimson hue.

Keep the plant away from extreme temperatures, too, including fireplaces, open windows, and drafty hallways. Spaces that are too warm or too cool can easily cause premature leaf loss or affect the integrity of the roots, impacting growth and vitality in the process.

Watering Needs

Less is more when it comes to the watering needs of the poinsettia. Too much can overwhelm the roots, leading to potential rot and premature failure. You can usually tell when your poinsettia needs watering by examining the quality and appearance of the leaves. If they’re beginning to wilt or falling off completely, those are key signs that the plant is dehydrated. Another symptom is yellowing.

There’s a fine balance when it comes to watering poinsettias. So if the leaves look fine, but you haven’t watered it in a while, test the soil by poking a finger about an inch into the substance. Does it feel dry and crumbly? This is an indication that it’s time to water your plant. How often you water does depend to some degree on the location of the poinsettia, too. If it’s in a sunny space in the vicinity of a radiator, for example, then you may need to water it daily or every other day to achieve optimal results. But in a room that’s not as warm, you may be able to get away with more infrequent watering sessions.

Finally, lift the plant in its container. If it feels light to the touch, you can take that as a sign that your plant needs some water. To do so properly, simply wet the soil with room temperature water. If any excess water travels to the bottom of the pot, remove it to prevent root rot. Finally, mist your poinsettias to promote humidity. Again, it’s all about replicating their natural habitat.

Essential Poinsettia Pointers

One of the most important points to remember is that dryness is better than excess moisture. When in doubt, skip the watering if the leaves look healthy and the soil doesn’t feel dry. Also, keep in mind that the poinsettia, while beautiful, can be toxic to animals. If you’re a proud pet parent, err on the side of caution and keep them out of your home or in a space where you can be sure your pet will never encounter them.

Finally, have fun with your poinsettias! This plant is as versatile as it is festive. It’s perfect if you want to put it on display on its own, adding a touch of good cheer to any space. But you can also make it a focal point of your holiday centerpiece or create an intricate display on a mantel or desktop. The rich red hue and starry leaves lend them the type of joyous appearance you’ll want to be around all season long. Check more holiday plants here.


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