It's not the absolute end of the world, but it really is disheartening when you spend $30 for an absolutely stunning poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) only to have it drop most of its leaves and wilt before Christmas Day. Choose a healthy poinsettia, make sure it has proper care when you get home, and your Christmas plant is sure to thrive through the holiday season.
Poinsettias with bright red leaves are usually easy to find in nurseries throughout the holiday season. While red is likely the most recognizable color, poinsettias come in all sorts of colors, including pink, white, orange and marbled.
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It's a fact that poinsettia plants can be tricky to keep alive indoors as houseplants—even for a few short weeks during the holiday season. It isn't uncommon for the plants to experience leaf drop or wilting but luckily, with a bit of care, keeping a poinsettia fresh throughout the holidays is easy.
Select a healthy poinsettia plant
Choose plants with dark green leaves that extend all the way down each stem. The brightly colored poinsettia "flowers" are actually modified leaves called bracts. Look for plants with fully colored bracts.
Examine the true flowers—the yellow blooms at the base of the red bracts. Look for slightly green or red-tipped true flowers or flower buds, as this indicates a fresh plant that will last longer. Avoid plants with pollen-filled, fully yellow true flowers.
Poinsettia sap irritates some people's skin so keep this in mind when examining the plants.
Don't buy any plants with bare lower stems, wilting leaves or soaked soil, which are all signs of root rot. Poinsettias usually come in foil-wrapped pots and these shiny wrappers hide a lot of sins. Before you buy a plant, pull the pot out of its foil wrapping and examine it. Higher-quality plants are typically not wrapped in foil for display.
Protect the poinsettia during transport
Wrap your entire plant in plastic before you go outside if the air outside is less than 50 degrees. Try to park close to the door to minimize the time your picky poinsettia spends out in the elements. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and they don't appreciate being subjected to cold, wind, snow or rain on the trip from the store to your car.
Situate the poinsettia plant
Unwrap your poinsettia and take it out of its foil wrapper. Put it in a decorative container to disguise the ugly plastic grower pot. Place the plant near a south- or west-facing sunny window where it gets at least six hours of indirect sunlight per day.
Don't let the plant touch the cold window, as the cool temperature will damage the tender leaves and bracts.
Poinsettias don't like drafts so keep them away from radiators, heating vents and outside doors.
How to care for poinsettias
Keep the soil slightly dry. Monitor the potting soil moisture by sticking your finger into the soil every couple of days. Water when the soil is dry down to your first knuckle. Pull the plant out of any decorative containers when you water. Excess water can cause root rot and kill the plant. Don't let poinsettias sit in a saucer of water.
If you can't resist keeping the shiny foil wrapper on, then definitely poke drainage holes in the foil to allow water to drain out.
You won't need to add houseplant fertilizer or repot poinsettias during the holiday season. Turn your thermostat down to the low 60s at night to extend your poinsettia's life. They like their daytime temperatures nice and warm (about 70 degrees) and cooler nights.
Poinsettias are a beautiful addition to your holiday decor and can be a great complement to your Christmas tree and wreaths. These plants can be challenging to grow as indoor plants and they aren't known for being long-lasting in a home environment. By choosing a healthy plant, positioning it in a draft-free area with indirect light and avoiding overwatering, your poinsettia is sure to last through the holiday season and into next year.