Poinsettia: all about planting, care & propagation

Lea
Lea
Lea
Lea

Having studied organic farming, I enjoy trying out new cultivation methods and other gardening experiments with friends in our community garden. I care deeply about exploring sustainable and mindful approaches to working with nature. This is my biggest passion, but I am also a real ornamental plant enthusiast!

Favourite fruit: strawberry, mango, guava
Favourite vegetables: artichoke, tomato, rocket

No plant spreads more Christmas cheer than the poinsettia. We tell you what to consider when planting in beds or pots, and give care tips for watering, pruning and fertilising poinsettia.

Red flowered of the poinsettia
Poinsettias are a real eye-catcher not only in winter [Photo: R R/ Shutterstock.com]

According to the botanical name, the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is regarded as the most beautiful specimen among the spurge plants – we can only agree, after all, the plant also known as the Christmas flower or Mexican flame flower, with its striking flowers and leaves provides a real eye-catcher – and not only at Christmas. Because with our tips on planting, care and propagation, poinsettia can work its magic all year around.

Poinsettia: origins and characteristics

The poinsettia is native to Central and South America, where it grows as a shrub up to four metres high with a woody trunk. Originally, the natural forms of poinsettia did not have such rich branching as the specimens that are found on our windowsills in winter. Tiny microorganisms, so-called phytoplasmas, are responsible for this. Without them, a poinsettia – unless de-tipped by hand – would simply grow one shoot, and also form only one flower.
Although today it is impossible to imagine life without the poinsettia, it has been known to us only since 1950, spreading its magic at Advent and Christmas time. Since then, it has become firmly established as an ornamental plant and in fact is one of the best-selling houseplants in the world.

The leaves of the poinsettia are slightly hairy and alternate. They are pointed at the top and lanceolate or pointed ovate. The lower leaves are dark green, while the underside is slightly lighter. The high ornamental factor of the poinsettia comes primarily from the so-called bracts, which are not the flower at all. These are naturally red.
Nowadays, however, poinsettias are also grown with cream, pink or reddish bracts. And is if that was not colourful enough, you can even find blue or gold leafed poinsettias. However, these are coloured and not cultivated this way. The actual flowers – also known as cyathia in the case of poinsettia – are inconspicuous and greenish-yellow. They bloom from October to January and are surrounded by the coloured bracts in a star shape.

White flowered poinsettia
In addition to the classic red, the poinsettia also comes in other colours [Photo: Janelle Dengate/ Shutterstock.com]

Caring for poinsettias

Poinsettias add beauty to Advent for us and bring Christmas cheer into the house. Unfortunately, most of us simply dispose of the plant after the holiday period. But this does not have to be the case, because the poinsettia is a perennial plant and can grow in the summer in the flower bed. With proper care, you can enjoy many years of pleasure from the beautiful plant. In the next sections, we’ll show you how to properly water your poinsettia, fertilise and cut it.

Watering poinsettias

In the pot, a poinsettia should be kept evenly moist, but not too moist. In any case, there must be no water in the saucer – this would immediately lead to problems with root rot. For possible further cultivation, even after flowering of the poinsettia, it is important to know that the water requirement of a flowering poinsettia is less than that of a non-flowering plant. If the poinsettia is planted in the flowerbed during the summer, it requires little water. Water moderately and only on particularly hot and dry days.

Summary: Watering the poinsettias

  • Keep uniformly moist
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • After flowering, poinsettias requires less water
  • In the flower bed in summer, water only moderately

Fertilising poinsettias

If the poinsettia is to be placed on the windowsill only during the few weeks of its flowering, no additional fertilisation is required. However, if you want to keep it beyond that and make it bloom again, you will need to re-fertilise. For this purpose, we recommend a nitrogen-rich complete fertiliser with a long-term effect such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food. This contains all the essential nutrients for your poinsettia and is kind to the environment thanks to its natural ingredients. During the main growth phase – recognisable by the development of new leaves and shoots – you can re-fertilise every four to six weeks If the plant is placed in the flowerbed for the summer, it is recommended to apply basic fertiliser before planting. To do this, work our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food with organic long-term action into the soil and then plant out the poinsettia. Even outdoors, fertiliser can be added every four to six weeks.

Water droplets on poinsettia flower petals
The poinsettia is happy to receive regular watering during flowering [Photo: Amber Davila/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary of correct fertilisation:

  • During flowering, fertilising is not necessary
  • In summer, fertilise in the pot during the main growth phase every four to six weeks
  • It is best to use nitrogen-rich complete fertiliser with long-term action such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food
  • In summer, work fertiliser with organic long-term action into the soil in the bed before planting
  • Re-fertilise every 6 – 8 weeks
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Pruning poinsettia

Typically, the poinsettia is not cut during the Christmas flowering period. However, if you want the flower to continue and delight you with its colourful bracts for more winters, it is advisable to cut it back after flowering. Remove all old and withered flowers and leaves. Then shorten all the shoots by half. This way, the plant is well prepared for the summer and you also maintain a more compact growth of the plant. Generally, you can remove rotten or wilted plant parts at any time to keep the plant healthy. You should also cut off shoots and leaves affected by diseases or pests at any time. It is also possible to cut off individual shoots of the plant for the vase at Christmas time.

Tip: Be sure to wear gloves when pruning. The white milky sap that comes out of the plant’s cuttings is poisonous.

Summary: how to achieve the perfect cut

  • Cut off any rotten or withered shoots
  • After flowering, cut back
  • Remove all withered flowers and leaves
  • Shorten all shoots by half

Planting poinsettias: location, timing and procedure

To make your poinsettia last as long as possible, it pays to be mindful when planting and pay attention to a few points such as the right location and timing. Therefore, in the following section you will learn everything about planting and repotting poinsettias in pots and in the garden.

Red poinsettia in the sun
The poinsettia is not only suitable as an indoor plant, but also enjoys a place in the bed in summer [Photo: Josie Elias/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting poinsettia in the bed

In summer, poinsettia can move to the garden; however, it is not hardy and does not tolerate temperatures below 10 ° C. In a semi-shaded location, protected from the wind and heat, it does particularly well. The soil should be permeable and not too rich in humus. Because you dig up the plant again in the autumn, it is recommended to plant the poinsettia in the pot.

Tip: In the perennial bed or under trees and shrubs, poinsettia is protected from direct sunlight and thrives best here.

Planting poinsettia in the flowerbed – the main questions and answers:

  • When? Temperatures are continuously above 10 °C
  • Where? Semi-shaded, protected from the wind and heat
  • Which soil? Permeable and not too rich in humus
  • How? In the pot

Planting poinsettia in the pot

A warm and bright location is suitable for the poinsettia in a pot, but not directly above heaters. Also, the pretty plant does not like draughts at all. At temperatures between 15 and 22 °C, the poinsettia feels right at home. Moreover, if you plant it in cactus soil, nothing can go wrong.

Poinsettia planting in the pot at a glance:

  • Warm and bright location
  • No draughts and not directly above heaters
  • Ideal temperatures: 15 – 22 °C
  • Cactus soil is an ideal substrate

Replanting

If you want to cultivate your poinsettia for several years, you should repot it annually. The best time for this is in the spring after flowering. Choose a pot that is only slightly larger than the old one. Unfortunately, in a pot that is too large, the poinsettia will not do well. When repotting, change the substrate and enrich the new soil with a fertiliser with long-term action, for example, our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food.

Red poinsettia in a pot
Annual repotting is essential for future flowering [Photo: svetalik/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary: How to repot a poinsettia

  • Ideal time is in spring after flowering
  • Choose only a slightly larger planter
  • Incorporate fertiliser with organic long-term action in the substrate

Overwintering poinsettia

Even a short period with temperatures that are too cold can be dangerous for the poinsettia. The plant, which originates from tropical regions, does not tolerate temperatures below 10 °C at all well. For the typical Christmas tree season, the poinsettia should be wrapped in paper for transport after purchase – so it is well protected from the cold temperatures you can prevent the poinsettia expiring prematurely from the cold. The poinsettia also cannot spend winter outdoors and must be brought in early in the autumn. In a pot, however, poinsettia can easily overwinter indoors.

Poinsettia overwintering at a glance:

  • Does not tolerate temperatures below 10 °C
  • After purchase, wrap in paper to protect it from the cold
  • Plants that were outside in the summer, bring them inside in good time in the autumn
Poinsettia and festive plants in whicker baskets
Below 10 °C the poinsettia has to move indoors [Photo: Victoria Kurylo/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagation

Poinsettia is propagated exclusively by cuttings. Sowing is only used for breeding purposes with this prized winter flowering plant. For cuttings propagation, young fresh shoots can be taken from a plant left over from the previous winter. Before that, however, you should cut off withered shoots to encourage the regeneration of young shoots. It is best to break off, rather than cut, shoots that are shorter than ten centimetres and have four to five leaves. With high humidity (for example, in a homemade mini-greenhouse), a bright location and at temperatures of around 20 °C, the cuttings will root after about four weeks. Once the root ball is fully rooted, it can be planted in a larger pot.

Summary: Propagating poinsettias

  • Prune mother plant from the previous year and remove old flowers
  • Break off young, fresh shoots of the mother plant
  • Put into a previously well watered cutting substrate
  • Provide high humidity (e.g. mini-greenhouse)
  • Bright location, approximately 20 °C
  • Rooting under good conditions occurs after four weeks
  • After that, slowly acclimatise and gradually take down the hood of the mini-greenhouse

Is the poinsettia poisonous to humans and animals?

Poinsettia belongs to the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). It therefore typically leaks a white sap when leaves or stems are damaged. Here you need to be very careful, because this plant juice is very toxic and also causes severe skin irritation. There is a risk of poisoning if parts of the poinsettia are swallowed. This is especially true for young children, for whom even small amounts can have dire consequences. And the beautiful Christmas decorations also pose a danger to pets: in dogs, cats etc, it can lead to severe symptoms of poisoning and kidney failure. Therefore, always place your poinsettia so that it is out of reach of small children and pets, and also so that the fallen leaves can not be accidentally eaten.

Summary: Is poinsettia poisonous?

  • All parts of the plant are toxic to humans and animals
  • Dogs and cats can even die if too many parts of the plant are eaten
  • White plant sap causes skin irritation
Poinsettia and dog on top of a table
As beautiful as it looks, the poinsettia can be dangerous for dogs and cats [Photo: Seven Pieces Of Eight/ Shutterstock.com]

Poinsettia is losing leaves: what can I do about it?

In the spring after flowering, it is quite normal for the poinsettia to lose leaves. However, if it loses its foliage just a few days after purchase, it is usually due to care errors or the wrong location. Fortunately, these errors can usually be quickly corrected and the plant saved. The most common reason is the wrong temperature. Poinsettia does not feel comfortable when the temperature is below 10 °C or above 24 °C. Too little light can also be the reason for dropped leaves. If this is the case, place the plant in a brighter place. Draughts damage the plant enormously, a change of location also helps here. The poinsettia does not like too much water at all. Therefore, when watering poinsettia, the rule is always: less is more.

Reasons for loss of leaves on poinsettia:

  • Wrong temperature
  • Too little light
  • Draughts
  • Waterlogging

The poinsettia is not the only popular plant for Advent. There are many other houseplants that help bring cheer to the pre-Christmas period. Our 10 most beautiful plants for the Christmas season can be found here.

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