Your Guide to Growing Poinsettias Past Christmas (They’re Easy To Keep Alive!)

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Head on shot of a living room scene, with a poinsettia in a black planter, sitting on a dark wood table. On the left side of the image there is a hand holding a gold watering can, and watering the poinsettia.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

While evergreen Christmas trees are probably the most recognizable plant you’ll spot during the holiday season, there’s one houseplant that gives them a run for their money: poinsettias. During November and December, you’re likely to see these vibrant houseplants popping up not just in nurseries and home centers, but also in grocery stores and other decor shops.

Poinsettias have tropical and subtropical origins, but their frequent red and green color palette makes them feel particularly festive for Christmas. And even if you live too far north for any plants to grow outside, poinsettias can grow indoors as long as temperatures are warm and light is accessible. Want to know how to keep your potted poinsettia happy? Here, find the very best tips from houseplant experts for growing and caring for poinsettias in the holiday season and beyond.

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What are poinsettias?

Poinsettias are tropical and subtropical plants native to Mexico and Central America, where they grow as shrubs that can reach up to 10 feet tall. They’re named for Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, who brought them to the United States in 1828, explains Lindsey Chastain, founder of The Waddle and Cluck blog.

The hallmark of poinsettia plants are their bold, oversized flowers — but those aren’t actually flowers at all! The large red “petals” are really leaves, called “bracts,” that change color to draw attention to the plant’s actual flower, which is the much smaller bloom nestled inside the clusters of leaves.

What colors and varieties of poinsettias are available?

There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias available, says Mark Buskuhl, owner at Ninebird Properties in Dallas, Texas, adding that their brightly colored leaves range from traditional red and white to pink, yellow, and even marbled combinations.

Buskuhl says some popular varieties include “Freedom Jingle Bells,” which have unique curled petals resembling jingle bells, and “Ice Punch,” a vibrant hot-pink variety. 

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What kind of soil does a poinsettia need?

Poinsettias need well-draining soil. You’re likely to buy poinsettia plants already potted, but if you size up, make sure the soil you add in is well-draining.

You should also use a pot with drainage, or keep poinsettias in a grow pot that you place inside of a decorative pot.

“Proper watering is crucial for poinsettias,” says Gene Caballero, cofounder at GreenPal. “They should be watered thoroughly when the soil surface is dry to the touch. However, it’s important not to overwater, as poinsettias do not like ‘wet feet.’”

The best way to water is to remove the grow pot from the decorative pot or foil, set the plant in the sink, and water. Caballero adds that it’s important to ensure adequate drainage after watering in order to avoid water accumulation, which can lead to root rot.

What kind of light does a poinsettia need?

Poinsettia plants enjoy bright, indirect sunlight. Avoid direct sunlight, which can fade the colorful bracts.

“Too little light can lead to faded colors and leaf drop, while too much direct light can scorch the leaves,” Caballero says.

A north- or east-facing window is ideal for poinsettia plants, and you’ll want to aim for an average indoor temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Avoid placing your poinsettia in areas that might experience temperature fluctuations or might be drying — so, not near doors, heat ducts or vents, fireplaces, fans, or space heaters.

How should you prune your poinsettia?

Poinsettias do not require much pruning, says Buskuhl, but if you notice any dead or damaged leaves, it is best to remove them. This helps promote healthy growth and prevents any potential diseases from spreading.

If you want to keep your poinsettia plants past the holidays, Chastain recommends removing spent leaves and blooms by cutting back stems to six inches in the spring. 

As new growth begins, usually around May, start a regular fertilization program with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer every two weeks, says Caballero. 

What are the most common problems poinsettias have?

Wilting is often due to over or under-watering. Make sure to water only when the top of the soil is dry to the touch to avoid water logging your poinsettia. When it is dry, water thoroughly. You might need to experiment with your watering schedule.

Dropped leaves may indicate cold drafts. Move plants away from exterior doors so they have some protection from cold air.

Leaf discoloration can mean too much sun. Plants may also appear “burned,” with browned leaves, if they are given direct sun. If you notice either issue, move your poinsettia to a window that doesn’t receive direct sunlight.

Whiteflies, mealybugs, and spider mites can be a common problem for poinsettias, adds Buskuhl. These can be treated with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

Can you get your poinsettia to come back next year?

Yes, it’s possible to get your poinsettias to redevelop their showy and colorful leaves next year, but it will take some work.

First, repotting may be necessary. “This is typically done in the spring before new growth begins,” he explains. “Choose a pot that is slightly larger than the current one and use a well-draining potting mix.”

Buskuhl says poinsettias require specific care and conditions to create their colorful leaves. “Poinsettias are sensitive to changes in light and temperature, so it is important to mimic the natural environment as much as possible,” he says.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of poinsettia care is encouraging them to bloom again, says Caballero. Starting in early fall, he recommends poinsettias receive about 14 hours of complete darkness each night for eight to 10 weeks to trigger blooming. You can do this by placing poinsettias in a closed location like a closet for the specified amount of time.

During the day, poinsettias will need bright, indirect light to charge up for the next colorful season. Keep them at a stable temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to mimic their natural climate.