Survivors: guide to looking after your Poinsettia

Poinsettias are a popular and common seasonal decoration, although most people tend to buy one or more plants, which they keep for the season and which then end up in the rubbish bin. In fact, some claim that these are "disposable" plants.

The truth is that with a little care and attention your poinsettias can be with you for years to come.

Getting to know poinsettias

The poinsettia's real name is euphorbia pulcherrima, and pulcherrima means "the most beautiful". It is native to Mexico, in fact the Aztecs called it cuetlaxóchitl and it was used as an offering to the goddess Tonantzin, the earth mother. When the Spaniards arrived, they assimilated this goddess as the Virgin Mary and also began to offer these flowers to her. The native Mexican people used the poinsettia as a textile dye and as an herbal remedy.

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In 1821 Mexico gained its independence and received the first American ambassador, Joel Roberts Poinsett. When he visited Taxco, he fell in love with the enormous red flowers that adorned the streets, so he acquired several specimens of the plant and took them to the botanical exhibition in Philadelphia in 1929.

It was in North America that it began to be known by the surname of this ambassador who introduced the species to the country and began to give it to his friends at Christmas, starting a beautiful custom that would later spread throughout Europe.

Mistakes to avoid

  • Overwatering: Although your poinsettia needs water, if you overwater it, you run the risk of waterlogging the roots. This excess moisture can attract fungus and cause the roots to rot.

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  • Wetting the leaves: if water droplets fall on the leaves, they will become stained and discoloured. It will look ugly and wilted.
  • Leave it at the mercy of draughts. Poinsettias do not tolerate cold air or winter draughts at all well. Remember that they are native to Mexico, where the temperature does not drop that much.
  • Put it in the sun: light is important for the growth and development of your poinsettia, but it should never be in direct sunlight. Ideally it should be in semi-shade, never in complete darkness or full sun.
  • Leave it near the heater. The heat will suck the moisture out of your poor poinsettia, roasting it and drying it out. The leaves will start to fall and it will slowly die.

Watch your poinsettia, it tells you what it needs

  • Yellow leaves: they curl up on themselves and fall off. This means that it is too hot, too dry and too dark. Spray it with some lukewarm water and place it near a window. Keep it away from the heater.
  • Brown, dry leaves: it lacks water or the air is too polluted.
  • The leaves are drooping, limp. This means that it is exposed to direct draughts. It should be moved and sheltered.
  • Deformed and sticky leaves: if you see small insects fluttering around it if you shake the leaves, you have a plant that is sick with whiteflies. You need a specific insecticide.
  • White or yellowish spots on stems and leaves. On closer inspection, they look cottony and regular-edged. These are mealybugs, insects that affect growth and development. Remove them with cotton wool soaked in alcohol and spray with a specific insecticide.
  • The leaves look a bit cottony and fall off at the slightest touch. It is affected by a fungus. You should moderate watering and look for a specific antifungal.

How to care for poinsettias all year round

  • Protect it from direct sunlight. Place it in a well-lit but sheltered spot, e.g. near a window.
  • Water twice a week. Watering is most effective if done from underneath, i.e. by placing the pot on a saucer with water for about 15 minutes. Remove the excess water and allow to drain well. This also avoids staining the leaves.
  • If the environment is very dry, you will have to spray it. Try to spray only the green leaves.
  • Fertilise with an organic universal fertiliser on a monthly basis and every fortnight in summer to stimulate growth.
  • do you have a garden? You can plant it and allow it to grow at its own pace. It will grow into a small shrub.
  • It is recommended to prune it after the Christmas season is over, leaving a stem about 10 cm from the base. Leave it in a shady spot and do not water it for a couple of days. This is to stimulate its development. Then water as normal until new shoots appear.
  • In early spring you can transplant to a slightly larger pot.
  • To encourage the leaves to change colour you can cover the plant with a black plastic bag or cardboard box for 14 hours at a time for a couple of months. You can start in September and it will be ready for Christmas.

One last tip: buy your poinsettias from a place where they will be protected from the cold and receive proper care until they are sold. This will ensure they are healthy, pest-free and will last you a long time.

The easiest option is to buy plants online. They will be cared for and chosen by experts, who will protect them from the elements until they reach you. All without having to leave your home.
About the author
Yvonne Briones

There is something that plants and content creation have in common: natural geometry. I love creating visual content and managing Be.Green campaigns.