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By Lynda Scandrett, Master Gardener in Training, SCMG

Every year we all get one, maybe two.

The beautiful reds and greens of the poinsettia remind us that it is time to celebrate Christmas.

The legend of the poinsettia involves a young Mexican girl, named Pepita, who had no money to buy flowers, or a gift, for Christmas Eve service.  She picked a bouquet of weeds, and brought them with her as an offering.  As Pepita placed the weeds at the nativity scene they miraculously sprouted red flowers and turned into La Flor del la Nochebuena, or Flower of Christmas Eve, known to us as the poinsettia.

The botanist Dr. Joel Robert Poinsett, diplomat and first US Ambassador to Mexico, introduced them to North America around 1828.

Poinsettias naturally grow as bushes and shrubs up to 15 feet tall in the tropical forests of South America.  Knowing where they grow helps us to remember why poinsettias can be sort of a diva when it comes to caring for them here.

How To Care for Your Poinsettia

January to April

  • after Christmas we need to remember the energy that our plant has put into giving us the wonderful display of colour
  • poinsettia will need some time to rest and just be a houseplant
  • poinsettias don’t like a lot of variation in temperature, so do not place near drafts at windows or doors or near heating registers
  • they will need at least 6 hours a day of diffused sunlight.
  • keeping in mind that they are native to warm South American terrain, our poinsettias prefer moist, not dry or wet, soil.  It is better to give them a drink once a week rather than a soaking every other week or to let them sit in water.  Keeping your poinsettia misted will help as they enjoy 50%-75%  humidity
  • if the leaves on your poinsettia turn brown and curl up don’t stress, she is still alive, just needs a bit more of a rest and special care

May and June

  • when you start to see new growth on your poinsettia this is when you will want to fertilize.Any water-soluble fertilizer gives your poinsettia houseplant the nutrients and energy to grow beautiful and thick.  I like to use half strength every watering to keep it consistent.
  • this is also a good time to repot your poinsettia
  • and this is when you will want to prune.Using clean shears you can cut just above the leave nodes, leaving approximately 4 inches of stem.  If you find your poinsettia is getting leggy just trim it down.  (This is when I like to remember that our plants are more forgiving than we sometimes give them credit for)


  • when the temperature is warm (15-20 degrees) you can put your poinsettia outside but not in direct sunlight and give your poinsettia time to adjust.
  • remember to keep your poinsettia watered as it can dry out in a pot in the warm sun.


This is, in my opinion, the hardest part of having a poinsettia, trying to get the bracts (colored leaves) to actually change color.

  • this is when you want to remember to alternate periods of light.
  • Daytime: 9 to 12 hours of indirect daylight.  Keep your poinsettia in the sunniest, warmest location you have.  This is when other plants get moved, to give the prime spot to the poinsettia.
  • Nighttime: 12-15 hours of  uninterrupted darkness.  A suggestion is using a large enough box (my daughter lined ours with black construction paper) to cover your poinsettia during your designated nighttime.
  • continue watering and fertilizing during this time.
  • continue this for 6-8 weeks.


  • Enjoy the beautiful colors of your Flower of Christmas Eve.  If your poinsettia bracts didn’t change color, don’t despair, she is still a beautiful houseplant!



Are you ready to bust a myth?

In 1971 an Ohio State research study debunked the “poinsettias are poisonous” myth.

Photo Credits:


Animals & Nature

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Oregon State University

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