How to care for a poinsettia: essential care tips for success

Discover how to care for a poinsettia to give you a long lasting display which can be reused next year

How to care for a poinsettia in a group of bright red poinsettias
(Image credit: Stars For Europe)

Learning how to care for a poinsettia means that your festive display needn't last a single season. They can be fussy plants and without the right conditions and care, they will start to droop quickly after Christmas and even die.

Poinsettias are one of the best Christmas plants and can last until Easter and beyond if well cared for. They are ideal for the eco-conscious shopper and make a great gift for anyone who wants to combat excess waste this Christmas. 

'The trend for bringing the beauty of the natural environment into our homes is in full swing during the depths of winter,' says Dr. Susanne Lux of Stars For Europe. 'Poinsettias are not only the symbol of the festive season but are a perfect antidote to throwaway gifts that come wrapped in layers of fossil-fuel dependent plastics.' 

Of course, selecting your poinsettia will be the first job on your list. The color and size won't affect how to care for a poinsettia. Most people are familiar with the red plants, but breeding has produced many different shades and bi-colours, from peach to deep maroon, cinnamon, pink, yellow, apricot and white. 

Modern varieties also vary in size, habit and leaf shape, with leaf textures from soft velvet to ripples and furled edges. So if the traditional red isn't for you, you can create a more contemporary color scheme which matches the rest of your decorations and Christmas wreath ideas, by selecting one of the more modern varieties.

For now it's a matter of getting to know the specific needs of your new festive plant. 

red poinsettia plants wrapped in brown paper being carried in a trug with a white hellebore

(Image credit: Stars for Europe)

Simple tips on how to care for a poinsettia 

To ensure your plant stands the test of time, it's essential to learn how to care for a poinsettia and give it the care it needs. Desirable light conditions sounds like a simple matter of placing it in the right spot in the house, but with poinsettias there's a little more to it if you want your color to last.

Then there's getting the watering right of course. And temperature and humidity also play a huge part in prolonging the life of a poinsettia. But we can forgive poinsettias of their diva-ish tendencies when they reward us with their festive color that will return again next year. 

1. Keep in indirect sunlight

The key thing to remember about how to care for a poinsettia is that they like bright, indirect light. So only place on a windowsill if you have sheer blinds or netted curtains which will provide the perfect light balance. Alternatively place them in a bright room but out of the sun’s rays. 

Darkness is just as important as sunlight when it comes to caring for poinsettias, as they need about 12 hours of dark each night for them to bloom. So make sure you draw the curtains at night to give a complete black out. If this isn’t possible, consider covering the poinsettia with a box to give it the darkness it needs.

Pinky poinsettia plant from Stars For Europe on a side table as part of a festive display

(Image credit: Stars for Europe)

2. Only water when dry

Overwatering is a common mistake for the majority of houseplants, and poinsettias are no exception. They like regular watering but the soil should never be allowed to become waterlogged. Make sure the soil is well draining too. 

If you’re not sure what the soil content is when you buy a potted variety, consider repotting it in a well-draining potting compost. Cacti and succulent potting compost from Amazon will have a good amount of drainage. Always use tepid water rather than hot or cold, when watering plants.

Woman watering poinsettia plant while standing at home

(Image credit: Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

3. Keep in a humid environment

Poinsettias prefer humid environments. Improve humidity levels by standing pots on gravel-filled saucers topped up with water – making sure the bottom of the pot isn’t submerged. 

You can also give your poinsettia a regular misting to boost humidity. Grouping all of your best indoor plants in a display together will also raise humidity levels.

Star of Bethlehem poinsettia with dew drops

(Image credit: Alamy)

4. Keep it cool (not cold) 

Unlike most houseplants, poinsettias prefer a cooler environment. Not cold, but certainly not too warm either. Temperatures between 60-75˚F (16-25˚C) should be fine. 

Try to avoid drafts from windows and hot spots near radiators or fires. Drastic changes in temperature are generally bad for all houseplants in your indoor garden, so you want to try and keep your plant somewhere that doesn't fluctuate too drastically from day to night.

two red poinsettias suspended from the ceiling in christmas display

(Image credit: Stars For Europe)

How do you keep a poinsettia alive all year round?

The next stage of learning how to care for a poinsettia involves pruning it back hard in April, shortening stems to 4in (10cm) and keeping the potting compost almost dry for three or four weeks. Then, in spring (typically late April or early May), recommence watering and repot the plant in an ericaceous mix, in a slightly larger container, removing about half the volume of spent compost. 

When shoots appear, remove all but four or five and feed weekly with a liquid houseplant fertilizer. Prunings can be used as cuttings for propagation.

In late September, cover the plant with a black plastic bag or keep in a dark cupboard from early evening to the following morning so that it is kept in total darkness. This treatment will encourage the plant to begin flowering again.

Amateur Gardening expert John Negas suggests: 'Providing you keep your plant in total darkness for 14 hours a day, for eight weeks, it will simulate the gradual decline in daylight hours throughout the fall. Alternatively, move your plant to a sunny but unused room in which the light is not switched on. It will respond happily to the daily reduction of natural light and should bloom well for you.'

apricot coloured poinsettia in brown burlap sack from Stars For Europe

(Image credit: Stars For Europe)

How long do poinsettias last?

Keeping your plants in the right conditions and giving them the right care means your poinsettia should easily last throughout the festive season and into the new year. You can even remove some of the flowers to add a decorative touch to your Christmas wreath ideas.

You can extend this by cutting it back in April after it's finished flowering and repotting it and keeping the plant in darkness for 14 hours a day for 8 weeks.

You could also use the cuttings to propagate into new plants.

Bright pink and red poinsettia in a grey planter

(Image credit: Stars for Europe)

How to propagate poinsettias 

When pruning your poinsettia the cuttings can be propagated. Take your cuttings early in the day when it is cool. Cut healthy lengths of new non-flowering growth and dip in hormone rooting powder. Once they are potted up, rooting should take place within a few weeks – the cuttings will start to put on new growth if they are successful. Be sure to wear gardening gloves as the stems can release a milky sap which is an irritant to the skin.

Christmas poinsettia flower pruning

(Image credit: Ross Helen/Getty Images)

This is how you propagate poinsettias but there are other methods on how to take cuttings from plants. If you want to use poinsettia as cut flower displays in vases, Amateur Gardening expert Peter Seabrook suggests: 'Either cauterize the cut end for a few seconds in hot water, or dust it with powdered charcoal to stop the flow of white sap.'