Poinsettias are for Christmas what brandy butter is for mince pies. This Mexican shrub found its way into our homes in the 19th Century, and since then has become one of the most iconic and best-selling houseplants in the UK, with over four million bought and sold every year.
As we enter the festive season, it’s easy to get swept up in Poinsettia-mania. But buying a plant is one thing and keeping it alive is another, and Poinsettias do have a reputation for being pernickety.
Follow the tips below to keep your plant going through to New Year and beyond.
These acrobatic Poinsettias are in a warm, bright sales environment. Half the battle is won if you buy healthy plants from a reputable garden centre or store.
Poinsettias are forced to flower in time for Christmas under very controlled conditions, including stable temperatures, moderate watering and regulated light exposure (see article below on photoperiodism).
Because they come from nothing less than perfect conditions, they often react by dropping leaves.
Poinsettias aren’t the fussiest houseplants by any means, but they aren’t as tolerant as some other Christmas favourites such as flaming Katy, amaryllis or Christmas cacti.
Aside from the traditional red Poinsettia, there are double coloured and marbled varieties now available.
Where to buy
Poinsettias are heat-lovers and despise draughts above all else. So if you see a healthy plant sat outside a florist or on a trolley in a supermarket entrance, steer well clear – it won’t stay looking that way for long.
Choose plants that are in bright, warm conditions away from open doors and windows, with evenly moist compost for the most reliable results. Buying from a reputable garden centre or shop is advisable.
Lastly, if it’s cold outside, protect your plant on the journey home as the shock of an icy blast can have long term effects.
Flowers are modified leaves called bracts and the true flowers are in the centre. Tight, green buds will last longer than open, yellow ones - as pictured.
Poinsettias in the home
Remove any wrapping once you get your plant home, as it will make watering difficult and reduces light to the lower leaves, causing plants to shed and become leggy.
Light: Choose a spot which gets plenty of light even in the winter. Remember, this is a plant from sunny subtropical Mexico, and in a dark living room corner won't live to see the Queen’s speech.
Temperature: Poinsettias like a warm (not hot) atmosphere, and dislike fluctuations or draughts, so keep away from heaters/fireplaces or frequently-opened doors/windows. The ideal temperature range is 18-24°C, dropping no lower than 15°C at night. Temperatures below this will cause plants to lose leaves.
Watering: Overwatering is the most common cause of death in houseplants, and Poinsettias are no different. Always allow the top couple of centimetres to dry out between each watering. Use tepid water to avoid giving the plant a chill and never let them sit in it.
The humidity demands of Poinsettias are less than many houseplants: light, tepid misting or standing over a gravel tray should suffice.
Congratulations – you’ve got a Poinsettia through Christmas!
Poinsettias are perennial but can get leggy, so treat similarly to most other houseplants through the summer by providing bright light, stable temperatures and moderate watering.
Feed fortnightly throughout the growing season with balanced plant food. You will only get blooms in time for Christmas if you reduce the plant’s exposure to light during the autumn. Otherwise your plant will flower in late winter.
As a final point, the white latex sap is an irritant, so keep away from eyes and out of reach of children and pets.
Gilding the lily? A healthy Poinsettia doesn't need glitter or frosting to make a bold festive statement.