Taking Care of your poinsettia so it looks great for longer

The Poinsettia is a true symbol of Christmas and each year many people can hardly wait to add one or more to their Christmas decor. Because they are only available to us in Canada at Christmas, you’ll want to maximize the amount of enjoyment you get from your Poinsettia.

The Poinsettia is native to Mexico and actually grows as a two-metre tall shrub in that country. The compact plants we get from the florist/nursery are hybridized versions of these original shrubs. The Poinsettia is actually a member of the succulent family Euphorbia and all Euphorbias have a milky juice that contains latex. This is what makes the Poinsettia poisonous to humans and pets so make sure you keep them in a safe place.

The real flower part of a Poinsettia is actually very small and the coloured part of the plant that we think is the flower, is actually coloured leaves that are called bracts, that surround the flower. The true flowers are in the centre of the colourful bracts and are actually yellow and are often depicted as berries in drawings. They are not true berries, but become seed pods after the plant has finished flowering. The colours of the bracts can range from white to almost burgundy with many shades of pink, cream and of course, red, the favourite of most. You can even get shades of yellow in the modern hybrids.

GARDENING GURU TIP: In order to get the maximum enjoyment out of your Poinsettia, look at the true flowers when selecting your plant. The plants with the true flowers still closed or just starting to open will give you the longest duration of colourful bracts, usually ranging in two-four months.

In order to achieve a long show of colour, the plant needs to be taken care of properly and receive the appropriate light conditions. Normal room temperature is ideal for a Poinsettia, but ensure it is not exposed to drafts or heat, such as near a door, fireplace or near heat registers. The plant needs to receive bright, but filtered light, for most of the day. The best way to achieve this is through a translucent blind or sheer curtain and near an east or south-facing window.

Remember that this plant is a member of the succulent (cactus) family so overwatering is very harmful. Once you have your Poinsettia home, you will only water it when the potting soil is dry to the touch. Stick your finger right in the soil and make sure the soil is dry below the surface too. If it is, then water. The plant may have a slightly wilty appearance when the soil is dry; that is your signal to water. Water thoroughly to saturate the soil and then do not water again until the soil has dried out. I like to water mine in a sink and then put it back once all the water has drained through. A light misting of the leaves everyday will help keep its humidity needs met and will prolong your show of colour.

Most importantly when you purchase your Poinsettia, make sure that it is not exposed to the cold on the way home. You should purchase your Poinsettia and go straight home. The place that you purchase it from needs to wrap it in paper (not plastic) to protect it from the cold and ensure your vehicle is warm when you put the plant in it, but never in the direct path of the heater.

The loss of leaves an be caused by a few different conditions:

A leaf drop after the plant has appeared wilted but the soil is wet/damp usually indicates overwatering. Let soil dry out completely.

If the soil is very dry and the leaves had been wilted and are now dropping, this is a signal of drought and the plant has gotten too dry. Water right away.

If your plant is dropping leaves with no signs of wilt, it is indicating that it was probably exposed to cold temperatures before coming home or is now being subjected to cold or hot drafts in the location that you have placed it.

If you are sure it isn’t/wasn’t exposed to cold/warm temperature changes, ensure that the light is adequate, as low light can also cause leaf drop.

If the flower heads drop off (and/or the leaf margins on the bracts are yellow or brown) this is a sign of low humidity and daily misting should remedy this.

By following these few tips for taking the best care possible of your Poinsettia, you will enjoy its colourful display long after the holidays.