Yard and Garden: Enjoy a Holiday Poinsettia

Add brilliant color to your home decor with a live poinsettia this holiday season. Follow the recommendations of Iowa State University horticulture specialists for easy caregiving and enjoyment. To have additional questions answered contact Hortline at hortline@iastate.edu or 515-294-3108.

What should I look for when buying a poinsettia?  

Poinsettias are available in red, pink, white and gold. Marbled and bicolored poinsettias are also available. The colorful part of the poinsettia, commonly referred to as the plant’s flowers, are actually modified leaves or bracts. The true flowers are yellow to green, button-like objects located in the center of the bracts.  

When selecting a poinsettia, choose a plant with dark green foliage and brightly colored bracts. The true flowers should be shedding little or no pollen. Avoid poinsettias with wilted foliage, broken stems or few leaves.
Poinsettia plants in bloom as Christmas decorations

How do I care for a poinsettia?  

To prevent damage from cold temperatures, purchase the poinsettia at the end of the shopping trip, place the poinsettia in a plant sleeve or carefully wrap it before going outdoors, and set the plant in a warm vehicle. Exposure to freezing temperatures, even for a brief moment, may cause the leaves to blacken and drop.  

As soon as you get home, unwrap the poinsettia and place it near a sunny window or in another well-lighted area. However, don’t let the plant touch the cold window pane. Also, keep the poinsettia away from cold drafts or heat sources. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Water needs can be determined with your finger. Check the potting soil daily. When the soil surface becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until water begins to flow out the bottom of the pot. The pots of most poinsettias are placed inside decorative pot covers. When watering a poinsettia, carefully remove the pot cover, water the plant in the sink, then set the poinsettia back into the pot cover. Improper watering is responsible for most poinsettia problems in the home. Keeping plants too wet (watering too frequently) often results in the yellowing and loss of the poinsettia’s lower leaves. Leaves will curl and drop when plants are allowed to get too dry.  

When given good care, poinsettias should remain attractive for several weeks, well beyond the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays.  

Is the poinsettia poisonous?  

Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous. However, it is not intended for human or animal consumption. Individuals are still advised to keep the poinsettia out of reach of small children and pets. Dermatitis or a skin irritation is one potential health issue associated with the poinsettia. When a poinsettia stem is cut or broken, a milky sap oozes from the wound. Some individuals may develop a rash if the milky sap comes in contact with their skin.  


Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on December 13, 2019. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.