How to grow poinsettias
Poinsettias are widely grown Christmas houseplants. Once their bright colours fade they are usually thrown away as it's easy and cheap to buy another one, but it can be fun to grow them on so that they produce colourful bracts in the next year.
- A tender, seasonal houseplant
- Flowers in December to January
- Repot in spring or discard after flowering
- Typically 60cm (2ft) high by 30cm (1ft) wide, but mini ones are available
- Position in bright, warm room, out of direct sunlight
- Keep compost just moist
- Avoid contact with milky sap, which can cause skin and eye irritation
All you need to know
What are poinsettias?Poinsettias are houseplants that produce colourful leaf bracts, which look much like petals, in shades of red, pink, burgundy, salmon and cream. They range in size from muilti-headed plants 60cm (2ft) across to mini single-headed plants about 10cm (4in) tall. Typically they are inexpensive to buy, so treated more like a bunch of flowers, being bought for the Christmas period and thrown out in the new year. However, it is possible to grow them on for many seasons and they still make an attractive green, bushy plants for summer.
Be aware that, if a leaf or stem is broken, a milky sap will be exuded which can be irritant. Be careful
Choosing poinsettia for your homeThere are only two key things to consider when buying a poinsettia as every poinsettia you buy has the potential to be as easy to grow.
It's entire up to you! Red is traditional, but there are colours from cream to salmon pink, and even stripy. Choose the bract colours that you like most. Many people also give them as gifts, so think about how it will look in their homes, perhaps matching the choice to their decoration.
Size varies greatly, and the larger they are, the bigger the price tag. A plant that is 40-60cm (20in-2ft) tall will easy make a bold splash of colour in the average-size living room; but a group of mini plants 10-15cm (4-6in) tall makes a creative alternative.
Although we showcase some poinsettia with descriptions on the RHS Find a Plant, the best way to choose is to see what the garden centre/shop has to offer as it is nearly impossible to find specific cultivars - as long as you like how it looks, there's no reason not to consider buying it.
Poinsettia are available to buy in full bloom from November to Christmas. They are sold as fully grown plants for display. You will rarely see for sale small plants in September and early October, which are grown on to full size by Christmas, as these usually need to be bought in large quanitities directly from a wholesale grower.
In the shop or garden centre choose a fully grown, healthy plant, one which isn't drooping or dropping leaves and colourful bracts. The most common reason they do this is that they are displayed in cold, draughty atriums or on chilly pavements. Poinsettia need a minimum temperature of 13-16°C (55-60°F); cooler conditions cause physiological shock, hence they have or will drop leaves and bracts.
Help keep your poinsettia warm on the way home by asking for wrapping over the top of the plant or place it in a plastic bag to protect it from the cold outside. Take it to the car quickly, and bringing it into the house as soon as you can. It's even a good idea to buy poinsettia on mild, rather than frosty days, to make it easier.
If your poinsettia starts wilting and dropping leaves/bracts once you get it home, it will usually continue to deteriorate, no matter what you do. This is most likely to be due to cold storage or display conditions in the shop before you bought it.
Where to grow and poisition your plant
Poinsettias like bright light, out of direct sunlight. Additionally they need to be away from draughts and like minimum temperature of 13-16°C (55-60°F), so somewhre like a table a little away from a window in a living room is usually ideal. Just try to avoid places like: window sills with there is drying radiator heat or cold night temperatures behind curtains, draughty hearths and unheated rooms like porches.
How to plantThere's usually no need to pot on a poinsettia for the short period they are in the house, during the festive season. However, if you group together several plants in a larger bowl or container, use a multipurpose compost and check the excess water can drain away.
Choosing a healthy plant should mean that you have little to do but water the plant while you enjoy it over the festive period, making them pretty easy to care for.
How to waterWater poinsettias sparingly as overwatering can damage plants.
- As a rule of thumb, only water when the surface of the compost has begun to feel dry
- Place the pot in a bowl of tepid water to allow the compost to soak it up for 10-20 minutes. Lift it out of the bowl, let it to drain, and then return to its decorative plant pot
Feeding is only needed if you are going to keep the plant in the new year. Apply a fertiliser with high potassium fertiliser, such as a tomato feed, once a month.
How to feed
Caring for older plants
Getting poinsettias to produce colourful bracts againAs poinsettias are quite cheap to buy, many people choose to buy some each Christmastime, and compost them shortly afterwards. However, if you'd like to try to keep it going for another year, it is fun to have a go. They respond to shorter days in autumn by producing the colourful bracts, so the key is to grow them in a room that gets no artifical light at night from September.
The best way to get a good display from the second year is:
- Prune back the plants hard in April, to about 10cm (4in), and keep at a temperature of around 13°C (55°F)
- In early May, repot them, using three parts John Innes No 3 mixed with one part grit. Grow on in a light, cool place over summer
- A temperature of 15-18°C (60-65°F) is ideal for the summer
- Flowering and bract colouring is initiated by short day-length, occurring naturally in December and January. They need on average 8-10 weeks of short days (aim for less than 12 hours of light) so need the days artifically shortened by from late September if you want to ensure they in bloom for Christmas. Cover plants or put in a dark room after twelve hours of daylight every day and protected from artificial light sources (e.g. turning on the lights in their room)
- Plants need a constant temperature of around 18°C (65°F) to colour up well
Poinsettias generally don't suffer from pest and disease.
The most common problem is cold damage, usually caused by plants being sold in unsuitably chill locations such as on pavements or in the draft of store doors. Where this damage has happened before you buy, you will often see the leaves and bracts begin to fall off within a few days of purchase, a few at a time, over a couple of weeks. There's no way of recitifying this, so where possible buy your plants from a warm location, such as a heated greenhouse at a garden centre or store. However, cool, draughty temperatures at home can also be an issue, so if the leaf/bract drop doesn't begin shortly after purchase, check it's warm, light and the compost is just moist - as these problems are less severe (compared to the frosty weather that plants can encounter outside), plant's should stop dropping leaves/bracts if these condition are improved.
Occasionally poinsettia can succumb to:
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is considered to be considerably less toxic than other Euphorbia species. However, it is best to avoid ingestion and contact with milky sap that may cause skin and eye irritation.
If you're a member of the RHS, you can use our online Gardening Advice Service, via MyRHS, for any gardening queries and problems.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.