(Photo: Goroda/iStock)

How to Care for a Poinsettia

By Tom Murray

They’re an iconic part of the holidays, but poinsettias require a little TLC to get them through the festive season. And it starts from the moment you purchase one of the pointy-leafed plants. 

“You need to make sure it’s well-wrapped before taking it from the store to your car,” cautions Trudy Watts, a horticulturist at Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre in Red Deer. “That little bit of cold on the walk can finish it off fast if you’re not careful.”

Popularized in early 20th-century Hollywood, poinsettias have become festive superstars, as much a part of the North American Yuletide tradition as tinsel and Christmas lights. They’re usually available starting mid-November, with sales dropping off by Boxing Day, and most people opt to toss them as they lose their lustre in January. We asked Watts for a few tips to keep them healthy through the winter season—and beyond. 

A room temperature of 20 to 24 C is fine, but poinsettias are averse to chilly drafts, so keep them well away from exterior doors. If the temperature drops below 15 C, your plant could start shedding leaves. On the flipside, steer clear of heating vents or the top of electronic devices like TVs—heat will shorten the blooming period.

As with most plants, poinsettias require a certain amount of light during the day. Aim for a minimum six hours of indirect sunlight, so a spot by the window should do the trick. 

Tips for growing and maintaining healthy indoor plants

Watts recommends holding the water until the top centimetre of soil is dry to the touch. Make sure not to overwater, as poinsettias don’t like sitting in any extra moisture. There is likely no need to repot your plant but if you do, make sure it’s in an aerated, well-draining potting mixture. 

In Mexico and Central America, poinsettias grow into unruly shrubs, but the commercial plant you bring home will have been treated with a growth regulator. This means you really don’t need to prune it, though it’s a good idea to pluck brown or yellow leaves, so the plant doesn’t waste any energy on them. 

Add a little natural colour to your festive decor or give the gift of plants this holiday season. AMA members can save 10% on regular-price items at Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre.