Frequently Asked Questions

Are poinsettias poisonous?

Poinsettias are not poisonous. For nearly eight decades, this rumor has continued to circulate because of one unfounded story in 1919: that an Army officer’s two year old child allegedly died after eating a poinsettia leaf. While never proved by medical or scientific fact and later determined to be hearsay, the story has taken on a life of its own. But, the defenders of the poinsettia have pulled out all the scientific stops to allay public fears.

The Society of American Florists (SAF) worked with the Academic Faculty of Entomology at Ohio State University (OSU) to exhaustively test all parts of the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). OSU researchers established that rats exhibited no adverse effects – no mortality, no symptoms of toxicity, and no changes in dietary intake or general behavior patterns – when given even unusually large amounts of different poinsettia parts. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) accepts animal tests as valid indicators whether any product or natural growth is harmful to human health.

The OSU research was conducted 23 years ago and other sources have continued to reinforce the poinsettia’s safety.

According to the American Medical Association’s Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, other than occasional cases of vomiting, ingestion of the poinsettia plant has been found to produce no effect.

After reviewing all available poinsettia related information, the CPSC denied a petition in 1975 to require warning labels for poinsettia plants. Despite its continued circulation, the myth of the poinsettia is gradually losing steam.

Source: Society of American Florists

American Journal of Emergency Medicine Study

In this study, 22,793 cases of poinsettia exposures were electronically analyzed. 98.9% of the exposures were accidental with 93.9% involving children. 96.1% of the exposed patients were not treated in a health care facility and 92.4% did not require any type of therapy.

How do you get a poinsettia to bloom?

To get a poinsettia to reflower you have to keep it in total darkness between 5 pm and 8 am. Start this around October 1st and continue until color shows on the bracts; usually around early to mid-December. Any little exposure to light can prevent flowering. Covering the plant with a light-proof bag and placing it in a closet might work. Night time temperatures above 70-75°F can decay or prevent flowering.

How can I make my poinsettia last during the holiday season?

  • Place the poinsettia in a sunny window.
  • Do not let any part of plant touch cold window panes.
  • Indoor temperatures from 60 to 70°F is ideal for long plant life.
  • High temperatures will shorten the life of the colorful bracts.
  • Water only when the soil is dry.
  • Placing your poinsettia in a cool room 55 to 60°F at night will extend blooming time.
  • Do not fertilize when plant is in bloom.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations and warm or cold drafts.

I want to keep my poinsettia plants. When can I take them outside?

Move your poinsettia plant outdoors when all danger of frost has passed. Place it in a sunny area but where it will get moderate shade in the afternoon.

Should I fertilize my poinsettia if I am keeping it past the holiday season?

Fertilize once a month with a water soluble houseplant fertilizer.

How often should I water the poinsettia?

Be sure to remove foil covering drain holes before watering. Water only when the soil is dry. Do not let the poinsettia wilt. Do not let it sit with water in the saucer. Empty the saucer.

Here’s How to Have the Most Beautiful Poinsettias

Poinsettias are absolutely everywhere during the holidays, and for good reason! They’re beautiful, festive, and easy to take care of. We’ve got all the info you need when you’re bringing home a few of these popular Christmas plants: How to choose one that will last for months, a breakdown of some of the different varieties you can find, and how to keep them looking their best. And if you’re willing to put in the work of keeping them alive until next year, we’ll even teach you how to get your poinsettias to rebloom next holiday season.

Image zoom Jason Donnelly

How to Choose the Best Poinsettia

Poinsettias might seem short-lived because they usually start dropping their brightly-colored bracts (the modified leaves that often get mistaken for petals) and looking sparse soon after the holidays are over, but today’s varieties actually last much longer than they did even a few years ago. Some can hold their color for months instead of just a few weeks. When you’re picking out poinsettias to decorate for the holidays, look for plants that have healthy green leaves—they shouldn’t be curled, brown, or falling off the lower stem at all. Also, check the real flowers in the center of the bracts. They’re tiny, but for long-lasting poinsettias, you want ones that are still tightly closed and don’t have any yellow pollen showing yet.

Make sure you look at the plant from all sides before buying to ensure it has a full, almost bush-like shape. Double-checking for pests is a good idea, too. Whiteflies and aphids can sometimes pop up in the greenhouse, so take a quick peek under the leaves of the plant to ensure it’s pest-free.

Once you’ve picked your plants, make sure they’re well-protected on the way to your house. Poinsettias are tropical plants—they hail from southern Mexico and Central America—so if it’s any colder than 50°F outside, make sure you wrap them up before exposing them to the cold air. Take them straight home, too, and don’t let them sit in a cold car any longer than they have to, or they could start dropping leaves.

Poinsettia Types

There are well over 100 poinsettia varieties, though you usually won’t see such an overwhelming number of choices in stores. Here are some of the most common poinsettias you’ll probably see during the holiday season.

Image zoom Jason Donnelly

Solid Colors

This is where the poinsettias you’re probably the most familiar with fall. Plants with solid red bracts are the most popular during the holiday season, but you can find plenty of other fun colors this season, including pink, white, orange, yellow, and even purple.

Image zoom Jason Donnelly

Marble Poinsettias

These plants have gorgeous two-tone bracts that usually feature a darker color like red or pink in the middle, then fade to lighter shades like yellow or cream around the edges.

Image zoom Jason Donnelly

Jingle Poinsettias

Also called glitter poinsettias, these varieties usually have bracts that are one solid color, like red or pink, with flecks of a lighter color sprinkled in, like white or cream. These plants are especially eye-catching alongside classic, all-red poinsettias.

Image zoom Jason Donnelly

Rose Poinsettias

Rather than the straight, pointed bracts we’re used to, rose poinsettias have bracts that curl slightly back and under, making them look like clusters of roses in full bloom. You’re most likely to find this type in traditional poinsettia red, but plants with white and pink rose-shape bracts are out there too.

How to Take Care of a Poinsettia During the Holidays

Though they are popular as holiday plants, remember that poinsettias have tropical origins. To keep them happy throughout the season, place them in bright indirect light. Water them regularly so that the soil stays evenly moist—if the surface of the soil is dry to the touch, it’s time for a drink. Just be wary of flooding them, because their roots can start to rot if they sit in standing water. This is especially important if you put them inside a larger decorative container (known as a cache pot) that doesn’t have drainage holes. Place a layer of small rocks on the bottom of the larger container to help with drainage. The cache pot will help with raising the humidity, too, which poinsettias appreciate.

Keep the temperature between 60° and 70°F, and watch out for chilly windows—if your plant is too close to one, the cold can damage the leaves. Your plants might be happier in some locations than others, so as you work on finding the best spot to display them, don’t be shy about moving them around or switching rooms.

How to Get Your Poinsettia to Rebloom Next Christmas

Poinsettias are relatively easy to keep alive during the short holiday season, but getting them to rebloom next year is a much bigger undertaking. Once the colorful bracts fade and fall off the plant after the holidays, cut back the stems just below the flowers. You can keep growing them like a houseplant if you like, but in the spring once the temperatures at night are regularly above 50°F, you can place your poinsettias outside if you want. Choose a spot that gets bright, indirect light (somewhere that gets shade in the afternoon would be perfect). You should notice some new growth, but they’ll stay completely green all summer.

At the beginning of June, prune back the plants so they’re only about six inches tall, and repot them in a slightly larger container with fresh potting soil. Feed them about once a month with half-strength, balanced liquid fertilizer. If you live in a warmer area, like southern California or Florida, you can also plant them in the ground—they can grow to five feet tall or greater. In August, pinch off about an inch from each growing tip to encourage your plants to branch out. If you have any pots outdoors, make sure you bring them inside at the end of the summer before overnight temperatures fall below 60°F.

Then, for about eight weeks, your plants will need about 14-15 hours of uninterrupted darkness every day, and nighttime temperatures around 65°F. This is the trick for triggering new flowers and for the bracts to turn red. Overnight, the plants can’t get any light at all—even the crack under a door is enough to disrupt them. Placing them in a closet helps to reduce the amount of light, but to completely eliminate it, you’ll want to cover them with something like a box or a blanket. Cover your plants every day around 5 p.m., and uncover them in the morning between 7 and 8 a.m. During the day, make sure they’re still getting plenty of bright, indirect sunlight.

If you’re successful, you should start to see your poinsettias developing color by early to mid-November. Once the bracts have started turning red, you can end the ritual of covering them up every night and start caring for them like normal through the holiday season.

Image zoom Jason Donnelly

Are Poinsettias Poisonous?

Despite what you may have heard, poinsettias aren’t harmful if you (or your toddler) were to munch a leaf or two, and they’re safe to have around pets. Multiple studies have proven that would take an enormous amount of leaves to hurt you, your kids, or your fur babies. However, poinsettias do have a milky, sticky sap that can irritate the skin and eyes, especially for people with latex allergies. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when handling them and wash off any sap that gets on your skin right away, but there’s no danger of anyone getting poisoned by contact with these plants.

Decorating with poinsettias always sets a festive mood, and they’re relatively low-maintenance houseplants (if you can remember to water your Christmas tree, you can keep a poinsettia alive). They’re especially fun to pair with other holiday-themed indoor plants like red succulents and Christmas cacti, or arrange with greens, berries, and baubles. With so many different varieties of poinsettias to choose from, you can create colorful displays to coordinate with just about any style.

Can Poinsettias Grow Outside – Caring For Outdoor Poinsettia Plants

Many Americans only see poinsettia plants when they are wrapped in tinsel on the holiday table. If that’s your experience, it’s time you learned about growing poinsettia plants outside. If you live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12, you can begin planting poinsettia outdoors. Just be sure that cold temperatures in your area don’t drop below 45 degrees F. (7 C.). For more information about poinsettia plants outdoors, read on.

Can Poinsettias Grow Outdoors?

Can poinsettias grow outdoors? And how? Yes. In the right climate and with the right planting location and care, these bright Christmas favorites can shoot up to 10-foot shrubs in rapid order.

If it’s your potted holiday plant that makes you ask about planting poinsettia outdoors, you have to start treating the plant well from the moment it arrives. Water your potted poinsettia when the soil starts getting dry and place it in a sunny location in your home, protected from air currents.

Growing Poinsettia Plants Outside

When you start planting poinsettia outdoors, you’ll have to find a location with similar attributes. Poinsettia plants outdoors must have a sunny corner to call home, somewhere protected from harsh winds that can damage them quickly.

When you are growing poinsettia plants outside, choose a spot with slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Be sure it drains well to avoid root rot.

Don’t transplant poinsettia plants outdoors right after Christmas. Once all of the leaves have died back, prune the bushes back to two buds and keep it in a bright location. You can start planting poinsettia outdoors after all chance of frost has passed.

Caring for Outdoor Poinsettia Plants

Caring for outdoor poinsettia plants is not very time consuming or intricate. Once you see green shoots in spring, start a regular watering and feeding program.

If you opt to use water soluble fertilizer, add it to the watering can every other week. Alternatively, use slow release pellets in spring.

Poinsettia plants outdoors tend to grow tall and leggy. Prevent this by regular trimming. Pinching back the tips of new growth creates a bushier plant, but the bracts themselves are smaller.

Plant and Grow Poinsettias in Your Garden

Poinsettias aren’t popular only at Christmas time. With the right care, these traditional holiday plants can shed their shiny foil and bows to become long-lasting houseplants.
You can also grow them outdoors in your garden if you live in a frost-free area. Native to tropical parts of Mexico and Central America, poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are showy perennials that are hardy in zones 9 to 11, and they’re surprisingly easy to grow.
If your poinsettia is growing in a pot when you get it, keep it indoors in a sunny room where the temperatures range from 65 to 80 degrees F. during the day, and no lower than about 60 degrees F. at night. Avoid putting it near air vents, doors and windows, as hot and cold drafts will cause the foliage to drop.
When you water, remove any decorative foil on your plant and let the excess drain out, or cut slits in the foil and use a saucer underneath to catch the overflow. Empty the saucer so the roots don’t stand in water. After your poinsettia drops its leaves, cut the stems back to 4 to 6 inches high and let it go somewhat dry between waterings.
Wait until the outdoor temperatures at night are consistently 55 degrees F or above before you transplant it into the garden. Then give it a spot in full sun with good drainage where the soil has been amended with organic matter. Poinsettias can tolerate some shade, although their branches will grow longer and rangier-looking. Water regularly, if needed, and feed with a complete fertilizer when new growth appears. Always water after you fertilize.
Poinsettias can grow into small, scraggly trees in their native environment, reaching 10 to 15 feet tall, but you can control their size by pinching them back. Start pinching the growing tips in summer and stop about mid-August.
If your poinsettia is going to be a permanent resident in your garden, and you want it change colors in time for Christmas, plant it in a spot that stays completely dark for about 12-14 hours every night starting in early October. Poinsettias need this prolonged period of darkness to rebloom. They’re short-day plants, which mean that decreasing amounts of daylight stimulate their color change.
(Although we refer to the colorful parts of poinsettias as the flowers, those are actually modified leaves, or bracts. The true flowers are the small, yellow buds in the center of the bracts.)
If you don’t have a dark garden spot, cover your plant with a box or some sort of light-blocking material. Any light, even from a street or security light, can affect flowering while the buds are forming. Outdoor temperatures that stay above 70 degrees F. or drop below 60 degrees at this time can also affect poinsettia color—but there’s not much you can do about the weather.
You may have better luck with getting good color if your poinsettia is small enough to dig up and bring inside for the winter. Try putting in a closet or other completely dark room and again, block all light from reaching it for 12 to 14 hours at a time, starting around October 1.
If you leave your poinsettia in the garden, and it’s hit by an unexpected frost, cut it to 12 to 18 inches above the ground early the following spring, or prune it back until you reach live wood. Then start the care cycle over again. With a little luck and effort, you’ll have flowers by the next holiday to brighten your home or garden.

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It takes professional know-how and the controlled growing conditions of a greenhouse to produce quality blooming poinsettias like the ones you see commercially.

(NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune archive)

QUESTION: I bought several beautiful poinsettias for Christmas. It seems a shame to throw them away. Can I plant them in my yard? — Jessie Williams

ANSWER: Don’t plant your poinsettias in your landscape just because you have them. I generally discard my poinsettias after the Christmas season (for me, it ends at Twelfth Night on Jan. 6). The poinsettias go into the compost pile, and I don’t feel a bit guilty. I think of these plants as temporary decorations like flower arrangements.

However, they can be planted in the landscape and provide years of beauty. Plant them if there are spots where you think poinsettias would look good and fit in well with your existing plants.

The time to plant poinsettias outside is late March, after the danger of frost has passed. Until then, keep the plants in a sunny window and water when the soil begins to feel dry.

Just prior to planting, cut the poinsettia back about half way (even if the colorful bracts are still on the plant). Plant them in a sunny, well-drained location protected from north winds and frost. The south side of a house or wall is usually a good spot. Make sure the location receives no artificial light at night from flood lights, street lights or porch lights, as this can prevent poinsettias from blooming properly.

Poinsettias grow to be fairly large over time (8 feet tall and wide). To keep the plants bushy and compact, and to encourage more flowers, pinch them occasionally during summer.

Pinching means to prune off the tip of a growing shoot. Branches that are pinched will develop several growing shoots where there was just one. Do not pinch or prune poinsettias after the first week in September, as this will delay or prevent flowering.

Fertilize your poinsettias with your favorite fertilizer during the summer, per label directions.

I hate to be discouraging but don’t expect to keep this year’s poinsettias in containers, grow them over the summer and produce a quality blooming plant for next Christmas. It takes professional know-how and the controlled growing conditions of a greenhouse to produce quality blooming poinsettias like the ones you see commercially.

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QUESTION: I saved a mirliton to plant this spring, but it has already sprouted. What should I do? — George Lewis

ANSWER: Because severe cold weather is still possible, it’s really too early to plant your mirliton outside now. If you want to give it a try, plant the mirliton in a sunny, well-prepared bed next to something the vine can climb on (a fence or trellis for instance). The large, sprouted end is planted down in the ground at a 45-degree angle with the top of the mirliton just showing above the soil.

Mulch over the planted fruit with several inches of pine straw or leaves to provide some protection from cold. Given the way the winter has been so far, this is very risky.

Another option is to plant the mirliton in a container of potting soil as described above. Place the pot outside in a sheltered, sunny location and bring it inside on nights when it freezes. Or, you can try growing it on a sunny windowsill inside.

Feel free to snip the vine back as needed if it gets too long prior to planting in the ground. Plant the growing vine into the ground in April.

Poinsettias are native to tropical areas, so they’re really sensitive to our cooler temperatures. Even a little time in the cool air outdoors can be damaging. That’s why our Cashiers go above and beyond to protect your new plants on the way home with a sleeve that insulates the plants as they travel home with you.

Fun Fact: In the wild, the brightly-colored bracts attract pollinating insects to their tiny central flowers.

Here are a few tips to keep your poinsettias happy once they are in their new home:

Poinsettia Care

LIGHT

Maximum light during winter with at least 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight daily.

WATER

Soil should be allowed to dry out just slightly between thorough waterings. Water should be at room temperature. Do not allow plants to sit in water.

TEMPERATURE

Keep your plant in a warm, draft-free position. Night temperatures of 60-65ºF and day temperatures of 68ºF or higher are ideal.

HUMIDITY

Mist leaves regularly or set pots on a saucer of gravel filled with water (make sure the bottom of the pot is sitting on the gravel above the water line and not in the water).

FERTILIZER

There is no need to fertilize during the (winter) flowering period.

PROBLEMS

Loss of leaves can be due to very low or very high temperatures, underwatering or overwatering. Poor lighting can also cause premature leaf drop. A few yellowing or dropping leaves when you first get the plant home is normal as it adapts to its new conditions.

HANDLING POINSETTIAS

Poinsettias are very fragile! Please take care when handling and transporting them. These plants belong to the Euphorbia family, whose members secrete a milky sap when broken, and this can cause contact dermatitis, so be careful when handling the plants and wash your hands if you come into contact with the sap. It is also advisable to keep poinsettias out of reach of pets and small children.

AFTERCARE

You can enjoy your poinsettias for the season and replace them with new plants next year or, with a little extra care and effort, you can keep your plant as a “houseplant” year-round. Continue watering regularly and in late spring (May), after flowering, cut back plants to 4 to 6 inches. Repot in fresh potting soil. Poinsettias can be placed outdoors after the danger of frost has passed in spring, but be sure protect them from the hot summer sun by keeping them in shade to part shade. Water your plants frequently during the summer months and fertilize every two weeks with a regular fertilizer. Pinch off new tips until mid-August, leaving leave 4 to 5 strong stems to grow.

COLOR NEXT CHRISTMAS

Light control begins when outdoor night temperatures dip below 60ºF. Move your poinsettia indoors in September. Provide bright light indoors for 8 to 11 hours daily and provide complete uninterrupted darkness for 13 to 16 hours daily until mid-November or December, at which time the bracts should show color. Poinsettias need at least 40 of these “short days” to initiate flowering. Make sure temperatures and light control are carefully monitored.

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We wish you happy holidays and thriving poinsettias!

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