Friday, December 10, 2010

Euphorbia Pulcherrima (Poinsettia)

Every year at this time, an abundance of alluring holiday plants await you. The charmers include the popular Cyclamen, Poinsettia, Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, Hyacinth, Kalanchoe, Norfolk Island Pine and so on. Even the tropical plants are grouped together in holiday-decorated pots and containers with a small Poinsettia or Christmas Cactus added in to sweeten the deal. How do you resist that?

With such ample variety, I’m proud of myself for managing so far not to bring home more plants than I can handle. So far I’ve only picked up two holiday plants – a Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk island pine) and a Euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly-referred to as Poinsettia, and the plant I’m going to share information about today.

Caring For Your Holiday Classic

The first step to long-term enjoyment of this plant is selecting a healthy specimen. Take your time and select a plant with bracts that are fully developed and completely coloured. Verify the maturity of the plant by examining the flowers located in the center of the coloured bracts. If they look fresh and are green or red-tipped, the blooms will last longer. If you notice signs of (yellow) pollen production, move onto the next plant. Once pollen begins covering the flowers, the plant has begun to age and the bracts will start to fade.

When you’ve decided on a few plants that appeal to you, draw them out of the crowded display and place them on the floor in front of you with enough space between each one to view them properly. Walk around them and select the Poinsettia that looks the most balanced, full and attractive from all sides. (Although it’s best to avoid purchasing a Poinsettia from jam-packed displays – crowding can cause premature bract loss – it’s almost impossible to avoid it with the number of holiday plants that the stores pack for maximum sales.)

Pick up the preferred Poinsettia and inspect it carefully. It should have stiff stems, healthy-looking bracts and be about 2 ½ times taller than the diameter of the container. There should be no fallen leaves inside the pot, no yellowing foliage and no signs of drooping or wilting. Smell the soil. It should have that healthy, earthy scent rather than an offensive odor. Make sure it is not overly-dry or overly-drenched. If the soil is soaked and the plant is wilting, even slightly, this could be an indication of root rot, or the start of it. And finally, rule out any possibilities of pest infestations. Don’t debate bringing a new plant home if there’s ‘just a small infestation’, convinced you can extinguish it. That minor pest infestation can explode into a major problem with the constant warm temperatures of your home’s indoor environment and the absence of natural predators to keep the bugs at bay.

Once you’ve purchased that healthy, pest-free Poinsettia and transported it safely to your home, remove the paper or plastic sleeve, which will make the plant deteriorate quickly.

(Incidentally, it is better not to purchase a Poinsettia that has been sitting for long periods on a store’s shelf wrapped in plastic or paper funnels. That wrapping is used to prevent stalk breakage while the plant is shipped from the greenhouse where it’s grown to the retail store where it’s sold. Ethylene gas produced by the plant can accumulate within the sleeve and cause leaves to turn yellow and drop prematurely, sometimes before the holiday season is over.)

Your holiday plant loves high levels of light, so find a spot for it near a sunny window, which will provide at least six hours per day of indirect sunlight. The more light your Poinsettia receives, the longer it will last inside your home. In low light areas, this beauty will not hesitate to shed its leaves.

Keep your Poinsettia away from hot or cold drafts caused by radiators, air conditioners or open doors and windows. Place your plant in a warm room; it is extremely sensitive to the cold. Average room temperatures will suffice. If you are comfortable inside your home, so is your plant. To extend the blooming period, move the plant to a cooler place at night (never below 16°C / 60°F) if possible and move it back to warmer temperatures during the day.

Poinsettias are happiest when the soil is moderately moist – not too wet and not too dry. Water thoroughly when the soil is fairly dry and make sure to discard any excess water that collects in the saucer the pot sits in. Never leave the plant standing in water, which will lead to root rot. Poinsettias are undeniably susceptible to rot from over watering but they will also shed a great number of leaves if chronically under watered. Water carefully and do not fertilize during the blooming period.

The Poinsettia can retain its beautiful display for weeks if not months inside your home. The longevity of your plant’s attractiveness and its ability to last through the Christmas season and beyond will depend mainly on what type of care you provide.

After The Holidays

Sadly, most Poinsettias are treated as temporary gift plants and kicked to the curb once the bracts begin to age and the aesthetical appeal is lost. But Poinsettias are far from being temporary. They can be kept for a long time as an attractive foliage plant and - with proper care, dedication and a little luck - be encouraged to re-bloom for the next year’s holiday season.

By late March or early April, your Poinsettia will have lost its charming holiday blooms and begin to look tired. Cut the plant back to about 6-8 inches, continue watering regularly and feed with an all-purpose fertilizer. Vigorous new growth should appear by the end of May. Pruning may be required during the summer to keep plants bushy and compact, but do not prune after September 01st. If you prefer a shorter plant with more flowers, pinch out the growing tips at 3 to 4 week intervals – depending on how quickly your plant grows - to encourage branching. After the danger of frost has passed and night temperatures do not drop below 12° C / 55ยบ F, you can place your plant outside to enjoy the warmth of the spring and summer. Continue with regular watering during this growth period and fertilize your plant every 2 to 3 weeks right up until the fall.

(Note: If you are keeping your plant indoors, as I always do, keep it in a very bright location near a window and provide the same care as you would to a plant spending the summer outdoors.)

At the beginning of June, repot your Poinsettia into a slightly larger pot with fresh soil that drains well. Plants outdoors can be grown in full sun but should be gradually acclimatized to it. Make sure you protect your plant from strong winds to avoid damage to the foliage. In the fall season, starting October 1st, check the Poinsettia for pests and diseases, bring it indoors and place it in a sunny location, preferably a southern window. During this period, your plant’s growth will begin to slow down as it begins the flowering process, so reduce fertilization.

The Poinsettia, like the Christmas cactus, requires substantial periods of uninterrupted darkness every night in order to be able to flower and produce its colourful bracts. If you want blooms in time for the holiday season, you must provide 14 hours of darkness every night for 8 to 10 weeks, beginning no later than the first week of October. A Poinsettia’s natural flowering period does not occur until the nights are longer than the days. That’s why when autumn arrives and the days start to get shorter, the plant begins the flowering process.

Shield your Poinsettia from any light sources starting from about five in the evening to eight o’clock in the morning. You can accomplish this by placing it in a dark room or inside a closet (remember to move it back in the sun in the morning). It is important to understand that this plant must not receive any light at night during this period or the flowering may not occur. You can also accomplish complete darkness by placing a large cardboard box over the plant in the early evening for at least 12 hours. Remove the cover in the morning and place the plant back in the sun. Continue the ‘complete darkness’ ritual until there is definite colour on the floral bracts and they are almost fully expanded.

There’s no doubt that the flowering process of this colourful symbol of the Christmas season requires dedication and patience. But when your Poinsettia is in full bloom come the holidays, adorning your home with its brilliant tracts, the detailed care and added pampering will have been well worth the effort.

Poinsettias And Hydroculture

Albeit a great candidate for hydroculture, converting a Poinsettia to this alternative system is not for the faint of heart. The plant will drop all its leaves and bracts, leaving you with a bare stem, within a few days after you have begun the transfer from soil to pellets. Although somewhat alarming, the Poinsettia handles the conversion process by literally starting all over again. For those of you intent on moving your Poinsettia into the hydroculture system, I suggest waiting until after the holidays, preferably when spring is approaching. By waiting until then, you’ll get to enjoy your plant in its full glory during the festive season and begin the conversion process when it begins to look worn out and in need of pruning either way. That way, the dramatic response to the conversion will be much less shocking.


  1. Most people treat the poinsettia (also called Christmas star, Mexican flame leaf, or lobster plant) as an annual, purchasing a new plant at the beginning of the traditional winter flowering period and discarding it at the end.
    Euphorbia Pulcherrima Euphorbiaceae POINSETTIA Plant Care

    1. This is true of the vast majority of people but there are a few that keep these plants for a long time.


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