Poinsettias: The Holiday Plant

New crop of red poinsettias

Poisettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are a very popular decorative piece to homes during the holidays. They are most widely known for their lush red colored bracts or ‘leaf like’ structures to many. However, breeders now offer these plants in a variety of colors including white, pink, marbled, yellow and many more. If you can’t find the dazzle you are looking for next to the tree they offer painted and glittered plants. The flowers of these plants are often overlooked due to being small and not as flashy as the colorful bracts.

The poinsettia was introduced by Joel Poinsett, a U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, in 1825. These plants are originally small trees that are native to tropical regions such as Central America and Mexico. Poinsettias contain a white latex sap that resembles milk. Even though they are not deemed poisonous some individuals may develop rashes and some skin/eye irritation if they com in contact with the latex substance.

Purchasing your poinsettias

When purchasing poinsettias for the home always look to start healthy. Look for plants that have lush coloration to leaves and bracts. Since age of the plant can be determined by the color ‘washing’. Choose a plant that doesn’t have leaves torn or milky latex showing. Also look for the small yellow flowers that are found in the center of the bracts which show that the plant is still fresh and not on the downhill slope. Lastly, check to make sure that all the stems are sturdy and their is no evidence of leaves prematurely dropping.

Pink poinsettia

Keeping your poinsettias healthy

Be careful when transporting your plants to your home and pay extra attention to them while removing their cover or slip. Anyone who has ever handles a poinsettia knows that it is very easy to destroy a perfectly healthy plant trying to tote it inside and unbag it.


Poinsettias require at least 6 hours of indirect sunlight a day and placing them in direct sunlight could cause the colorful bracts to fade. Placing plants where it can reach light from a south, east or west window is a better option than north. If the light is too intense you can you a shade to filter some of the light it receives. If there is not a good option for lighting a well lit room will help lengthen the plants health.


Water is key to any plants health but in the case of the poinsettia it is normally a detriment. Overwatering and underwatering cause the same damage and often look the same on the plant. The key is always looking at the soil prior to watering. Check the soil routinely to make sure it is dry to the touch. Also water plants outside of their decorative covers so that water can drain out of the pot freely. Be sure to dump excess water out of collection pans or saucers after watering. Never allow a poinsettia to sit in water causing over saturated soil causing root rot or other problems. Keep in mind that temperature and light will have an effect on water requirements as well.


Poinsettias can continue to flourish in color if maintained in an environment where the temperature stays between 60 to 70 degrees F. Keep this in mind when choosing a location for the plant. Watch for leaves and bracts touching window panes in the homes and vehicles. Keep plants from being exposed to hot and cool drafts within the home such as a hallway, furnace, or chimney.

Try again

For those that have the green thumb attitude you can try to maintain your poinsettia for the next holiday season. Even though it is a daunting task it can be done. In the early spring you will prune your plants back to around 8 inches in height and maintain the temperature, light and water requirements indoors until temperatures outside rise above 50 degrees F at night. At this time you can move the plant outdoors and unlike during bloom you will fertilize the plant every two to three weeks with a slow release complete fertilizer such as an Osmocote 10-10-10. Late May or early June you will need to transplant the plant into a slightly larger pot with adequate growing media such as a peat moss material. Pinch back shoot tips and branches. When temperatures fall below 60 degrees F bring the plant back inside. Remember that poinsettias are short-day length (long nights) plants to stimulate flowering and provide you with the well known colorful bracts. Around October or 10 weeks prior when you want the plant to flower, provide 14 hours of continuous hours of complete darkness while remembering it also needs 8 hours of sunlight.


Signs of Botrytis sp.

There are numerous diseases and pests that attack poinsettias. One very common foliage disease is Botrytis sp.  This plant disease can be readily identified when it develops watermarked lesions on bracts and gray, fuzzy sporulations when the temperature rises past 60 degrees F and the humidity is high. Often times this disease can be controlled with a copper sulfate fungicide. Always read and follow labeled instructions. Other ways to control this disease is to reduce leaf wetness, humidity and remove all infected portions of the plant. Having a fan stir air will also help disrupt this diseases ability to start.

Whiteflies are another problem with poinsettias. The adults eggs are placed on the underside of the leaves where the larva can hatch and feed. Other problems notable problems are spider mites, scales, and root rotting fungi,

Poisettias are a staple in homes during the holidays. With minimal care they bring enjoyment to the holidays season all the way through the New Year. These days poinsettias can be found in every shape, height and color imaginable. Just remember to thoughtful about choosing plants. Start with one that is healthy and provide the proper light, temperature, and water requirements when it gets home. Put them on display and enjoy the fellowship of the holidays with friends and family.