How to care for your holiday poinsettia

Monday, April 30, 2018 2:57 PM
Poinsettia flowers are the golden yellow clusters at the center. The red leaves are bracts.

With the holiday season upon us, the living gift of a holiday poinsettia is always a welcome one this time of year.

Whether you are the giver or receiver, this is a choice that is always the right size and color and never gets returned.

To have your plant not only survive the holidays, but thrive throughout the coming months as a houseplant, here are a few tips for both the givers and receivers.

When choosing a plant look for one that is healthy-looking and does not show signs of insects or disease. Check to see if the flowers are still on the plant. The poinsettias flowers are the golden yellow clusters at the center (cyathia), not the brilliant red leaves, commonly called “bracts.”

When taking your plant home, be sure it is sleeved or covered and protected in some way. Cold temperatures, even for a very short time, will harm this tropical plant. Plants purchased from mass retailers may have been in their sleeves for quite some time and therefore after opening, the bottom leaves may yellow and drop off. Locally grown plants are always a better bet.

After arriving home, take your plant out of the sleeve. Always remove poinsettias from the bottom of the wrapping, pulling downward so as not to break the bracts and branches. Place your plant in a spot that will give it bright natural light, but do not expose it to direct sunlight, especially in a south facing window. Do not put it near a heat source such as a radiator, on top of a television set, near drafts or ventilation ducts.

Correct watering is crucial to your success with this tropical plant. So let your poinsettia semi-dry between waterings. Plants are like people – neither like wet feet – so don’t let your plant stand in a saucer of water either. When watering, do so until the water runs through the bottom of the pot, then let it sit until it begins to dry to the touch again. Overwatering is the culprit most often responsible for problems with this plant. If you have one of the popular Winter Rose variety, be aware that this particular cultivar is especially sensitive to overwatering.

One common myth is that poinsettias are poisonous, but the fact is simply that they are not. While I wouldn’t recommend eating them intentionally, they are not poisonous. The national information center for poison control centers, POISINDEX, says that a child would have to ingest 500-600 poinsettia leaves to exceed the experimental doses in which no toxicity was found. So purchase your plants with the peace of mind knowing that neither small children nor animals will be harmed by this lovely holiday decoration. Mistletoe, however is poisonous and should be used guardedly.

However, although very rare, there is one concern you should be aware of in regards to having poinsettias around your home. The sap that comes off of the plant when a bract or branch is broken is white and milky, and some people have been known to have it irritate their skin as a form of contact dermatitis and cause itching. If you are careful not to touch your eyes or mouth after handling, then wash your hands thoroughly, your chances of having any problems is very minimal.

Although some people consider a red poinsettia a dandy Valentine flower, most throw theirs out after the holiday season has passed. Poinsettias can be kept, however, and planted outdoors in the summer as an annual, although with our cool nighttime temperatures it probably won’t do very well. Some homeowners try to hold on to theirs to reflower them a second year, and although this is considered a “gardening challenge,” it can be done. Be advised, however, that this is a difficult task at best as they are very sensitive to day length and a strict regime must be followed in order for this to happen successfully. Generally you are better off to simply throw the plant away once you are tired of it and purchase a new one the following season.

Whether you are the giver or receiver of these tropical beauties, there is a poinsettia for any home. Large or small, these bright, pretty plants sometimes take the place of Christmas trees where space is limited, or the recipient is not able to care for something larger. Great as a choice for shut ins, as a hostess gift, for a hard-to-gift family member, or simply just as a holiday decoration for yourself, if you are looking to brighten a holiday home, cheerful poinsettias are a perfect choice!

Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at