By Meg Muckenhoupt for Reviewed.com
Poinsettias make any table bright. Just like Christmas cactus, they’re a staple of the holiday season. But no one wants to deal with wilting leaves before Christmas even arrives.
Here’s how to care for them to keep poinsettias looking healthy through the holidays and beyond.
What are poinsettias?
© Getty Images / arlutz73 Red poinsettias may be most popular at Christmas, but the plants actually grow in a rainbow of hues.
It’s hard to believe, but poinsettia flowers are actually small, greenish nubbins. Poinsettias’ main attraction are the colorful bracts, leafy structures that grow around the flowers in shades of brilliant red, white, and pink, and sometimes even orange, yellow, and purple.
Because a poinsettia’s eye-popping color comes from bracts, not flowers, their displays last much longer than cut flowers—up to eight weeks with a little care.
How to care for your poinsettias
© Getty Images / aldomurillo Foil can look festive, but poinsettias will survive better without (or if you add drainage holes).
1. Take off its plastic wrapping
If your poinsettia comes wrapped in foil or plastic, either take the wrapping off or punch holes in the bottom so that water can drain out the bottom of the pot. Poor drainage can lead to root rot, which will make your poinsettia wilt and drop its colorful bracts before Santa even starts loading his sleigh.
2. Keep it warm
Although poinsettias are popular Christmas gifts, they’re descended from plants native to Mexico, where their ancestral Euphorbia plucherrima grew in mountains southwest of Mexico City. They’re adapted to moderate temperatures, not yuletide freezes.
Keep your poinsettia at room temperature (65°F-70°F) during the day, and slightly cooler at night (55°F-60°F). Try not to let your poinsettia get warmer than 79°F, and keep it away from drafts and places where temperatures are swinging widely, like fireplaces, heating ducts, and space heaters.
3. Let there be light, but not too much
For the holidays, keep your poinsettia next to a window that gets bright light during the day. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where outdoor temperatures are around 70°F, you can keep your poinsettia outside, and make sure it gets at least part sun, or four to six hours of outdoor light a day.
4. Water it enough, and make sure it drains
Your poinsettias need water when the soil feels dry if you push down slightly on the surface. You can also just lift the pot and see if it feels light. Don’t wait until your poinsettia wilts to water it! Your poor plant will start dropping its bracts if it gets too dry.
Make sure that your plant has drainage holes at the bottom, and put it on top of a saucer to catch water as it drains. Water it enough to completely saturate the soil. If you’re nervous about overflows, take your poinsettia over to the sink to water it, and let it drain into your drain.
To avoid trips to the sink, put your poinsettia on top of a tray filled with pebbles to catch the drips. As a bonus, the evaporating water will make the air around the poinsettia more moist, and help keep the bracts from drying out and falling off.
5. Skip the fertilizer—for now
You don’t have to fertilize your poinsettia to keep it looking bright over the holidays. However, if you’d like to keep your poinsettia for the next holiday season, the University of Minnesota recommends feeding it with all-purpose fertilizer diluted to half strength once you see signs of new growth such as new green leaves, stems, or bracts.
Extending the life of your poinsettia
© Getty Images / Lutique If you’re planning on keeping your poinsettia through the new year, get ready for some more hands-on work.
Do you love your poinsettia so much that you want to keep it for another year? That’s a great idea, but you’re going to need to do some work. In nature, your charming little poinsettia would grow to be a woody shrub.
If you’re serious about bringing back the Poinsettia of Christmas Past, you’re going to need to spend a year pruning your poinsettia back so that it doesn’t start becoming shrubby, and controlling its light levels to make it flower again (and regrow those stunning bracts!).
Poinsettias’ blooming period are spurred by having long nights (13 hours or more) and low night time temperatures around 55°F-60°F about two months before they bloom, so you’re either going to have to put your plant a cool room you don’t use at night, or move it into a closet or a box every night.
For complete details of how to make your poinsettia rebloom, check out these instructions from a University of Vermont horticulture professor. Your poinsettia may only bloom in December, but like a gift that keeps on giving, it will need your attention all year round.