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FAQ – Frequently asked questions about the care and use of poinsettias

Where do poinsettias come from? Do they flower all year round? How can they be used? How can you recognise a good quality plant and what do you need to keep in mind when watering? Here are the answers to these and many more questions about poinsettias.

Knowledge >>
Buying poinsettias >>
Caring for poinsettias >>
Using poinsettias >>
Helpful advice for common problems >>

Knowledge

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) come from Central America. There they grow as shrubs or small trees, reaching a height of four to five metres.

In 1828, the US ambassador in Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the plant back to the USA. The poinsettia is named in his honour.

Initially, poinsettias were used as cut flowers. In the 1950s, cultivation reached the point where they gained worldwide popularity as houseplants.

In Europe, poinsettias have been present in botanical collections since the beginning of the 19th century, when naturalists brought them back from their expeditions.

The coloured leaves of poinsettias are actually called bracts and are designed to attract insects and other pollinators to the flowers.

Native poinsettia species almost always have red bracts, occasionally with pink or white. Today, modern breeding has cultivated potted poinsettias in a huge range of colours from bright to subtle shades including pinks and whites as well as salmon, orange and yellow, and more.

Poinsettia flowers, known as cyathia, are the small and inconspicuous greenish-yellow blooms in the centre of the coloured bracts.

You can spot a fresh poinsettia by the fact that its cyathia are still in bud.

The main flowering period for poinsettias in Europe is from the end of October to January or February. They are known as ‘photo-periodic’ or short-day plants. This means, in order to produce the flowers and coloured bracts, they need at least 12 hours of absolute darkness per day for about six weeks.

In Europe, naturally shorter days begin – depending on latitude – at the end of September and beginning of October. To ensure poinsettias will be perfectly coloured by the festive season, from late summer onwards, growers in Europe restrict their poinsettias to less than 12 hours of daylight per day, keeping them in complete darkness outside of those hours.

This isn’t necessary near the equator, where poinsettias bloom almost all year round.

The poinsettia is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779 – 1851) who was the first
American ambassador in Mexico and a great plant enthusiast. In 1828, he ‘discovered’ poinsettias growing wild in Mexico. Fascinated by the beauty of the plant, he sent them to botanical gardens all over the USA. Throughout the 19th century, poinsettias spread across the country. In warm regions, such as California, they often grew naturally outdoors. Poinsett died on 12 December 1851 and, in 1852, the US congress introduced Poinsettia Day in the diplomat’s honour. In the US it has been celebrated on that date ever since.

This is partly due to their seasonal flowering during the winter months, but also thanks to the Ecke family who are responsible for their widespread popularity, as well as the name. Albert Ecke, a teacher and German-born emigrant to America at the beginning of the 20th century America, noticed one Christmas time, the bright red bracts of poinsettias growing wild on his farmland in California and had an idea. In addition to fruit and vegetables, he began cultivating them and sold the branches as cut flowers over the festive period on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards in Los Angeles. From about 1909 onwards, Albert focused entirely on cultivating and developing poinsettias.

After Albert’s death in 1919, his son, Paul Sr, took over the family
Business, dedicating himself entirely to establishing the poinsettia as a Christmas
symbol, using the name ’Christmas Star’.

We have the Ecke family to thank for this, specifically Paul Ecke Jr, the third generation of the Ecke family. He invested much time and energy into marketing his decorative plants. In the run-up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, he supplied TV stations with poinsettias free of charge to display on-air, and even the White House enjoyed regular plant deliveries. As a result, the Eckes brought huge fame to the poinsettia within just a few years. Soon, it held a firm place in American Christmas culture.

At the same time, plant breeders in Germany and around Europe were also successfully cultivating compact short-stemmed pot varieties. By the 1950s, breeders had developed cultivars that retained their leaves and bracts for longer and the poinsettia became a popular houseplant in Europe as well. Its original cut flower form was forgotten. Until now…

For creative craft projects using poinsettias for autumn, winter, Advent and Christmas design ideas check out our deco blog.

Buying poinsettias

Anytime during autumn and winter is a good time to buy poinsettias.

The main sales season in Europe usually starts in October, and poinsettias are usually sold until the end of December. Nurseries stagger their production so there is usually fresh stock on the market.

Hybrid poinsettias are available even in September. They have a particularly large number of bracts and usually exist in pink and snow white.

The largest selection of varieties, colors and shapes can be found in specialist stores such as florists and garden centres, usually at the beginning of the peak sales period in late October, early November.

Appearance:
Fresh, healthy poinsettias will have dense foliage without damage or discolouration and small flowers in the centre that are still in bud.

Location:
Plants should be displayed in shops in a warm, bright spot and protected from draughts, for example, away from the open door. Poinsettias must not be kept below 15°C.

Water supply:
Poinsettias must neither dry out completely nor become soggy. If the pot is noticeably very light or very heavy, be careful when buying.

In principle, poinsettias can live for years because, in their native region of Central America, they grow as shrubs. They can even flower again and again.

As a houseplant in the European winter, with the right care poinsettias can keep their colourful bracts until well into the new year.

If the bracts are cut and placed in water as a cut flower, with the right treatment, cut poinsettias can last up to two weeks; just as long as carnations.

Yes! Poinsettias come in a huge range of colours – and more are being developed all the time.

Colours vary from peach to burgundy, cream to white, orange, pinks, cinnamon and various shades of red. There are also bi-coloured varieties including ombré gradients and speckled patterns.

Poinsettia care

Water moderately. For a standard size pot (usually around 13cm diameter), about 100ml of lukewarm water every 2-3 days is enough – about as much as would fit in a champagne glass. Avoid waterlogging at all costs, as this can cause damage and disease at root level. You should also try to avoid letting the entire root ball dry out completely – water when the surface of soil is dry to touch.

Poinsettias should be placed in a bright spot. Keep the room temperature between 15-22°C and avoid keeping them in a draught, such as an open door or window. For any new poinsettia, fertilising isn’t necessary during the flowering period.

After buying a poinsettia, it’s important to wrap it up well on the way home from the shop so it isn’t exposed to cold air and drafts.

Find out soon more about how to keep your poinsettias looking their best for weeks.

Try to avoid letting your poinsettia’s roots completely dry out, but remember it’s especially important they are never waterlogged – this should be avoided at all costs. Only water when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch or when the weight of the plant is lighter, indicating a lack of water.

For a standard sized poinsettia in a pot of about 13cm, use around 100 millilitres of water per session – about as much as you’d fit in a champagne flute. On the other hand, a miniature poinsettia in a 6cm pot only needs half a shot glass worth of water.

Use room temperature water and always drain any remaining liquid from the pot or saucer after 15 minutes.

More poinsettia watering tips here soon.

A temperature between 15-22°C is ideal.

If it is much warmer than this, the bracts will fade more quickly, while 12°C marks the absolute lower limit, for example, suitable during transportation. If they are allowed to get colder than this, they will suffer and shed their leaves after a few days. This is why it’s important, when buying your plant, to pay attention to the temperature of the store, on your way home and in your house when ventilating.

Discover soon our top tips on how to ensure the perfect conditions for your poinsettias in this blog post.

After you’ve bought it and while it’s still flowering, your poinsettia won’t need fertiliser.

Only when it sprouts new leaves again in spring is it time to fertilise. Ideally, fertilise monthly with a high potassium, low nitrogen fertiliser.

A bright, warm place protected from draughts is ideal for poinsettias – that means away from breezy doorways and windows. In European winter, they can be placed in either direct or indirect sunlight. Many other plants should be kept away from sunny, south-facing windows as direct sunlight can be harmful, but in our latitudes in the winter, poinsettias can handle direct sunlight.

For seasonal decorations from autumn through to Christmas, poinsettias look great on coffee or dining tables, sideboards or shelves. The more light there is, the longer they are likely to last.

Poinsettias are too precious to throw away. Here’s how to care for your plant through the summer:

Water them less after Christmas. It’s normal for poinsettias to lose some foliage, especially the coloured bracts, during this phase.

Don’t water them in March to imitate their natural dormancy.

From April, water more and start fertilising; repot if necessary. When your poinsettias have lost their coloured bracts and sprouted new leaves, they will temporarily become foliage plants.

Keep them in a bright, warm location but out of direct sunlight. They can even stay outdoors in summer in temperatures above 15°C.

Bring them back indoors in time and care for them as normal.

From September onwards, keep your plants in total darkness for at least 12 hours a day, then, in the run-up to Christmas, the bracts should be coloured again.

Yes, it’s possible.

However, keeping a poinsettia all year and getting it to bloom again in time for the Christmas season is not easy. Your plant is not likely to look its best again, but it is possible. It takes extra effort and time and you may not be successful first time.

For poinsettias to flower again and have new, colourful bracts, you need to over-summer them first. Here’s how:

In the run-up period to Christmas, poinsettias should receive a maximum of 12 hours of light per day. Therefore, for about two months from October, the plant should either be placed in a dark room or covered with a bucket or black film for at least 12 to 14 hours a day. Be warned, even streetlights or turning on a light briefly can ruin the success.

Poinsettia use

Yes! Poinsettias are perfect for indoor decorating.

The largest selection of varieties and colors is usually available at the beginning of the season end of October and early November. In December, it is harder to find rarer colours even in well-stocked specialist shops. The huge variety of colours, shapes and sizes available means there are no limits to what you can make using them.

Poinsettias make ideal gifts too.

But not only are they great as pot plants, they’re also long-lasting as cut flowers and can be used in arrangements and bouquets. Place cut stems in water-filled flower tubes and the possibilities for decorating with cut poinsettias are endless.

Poinsettias aren’t suitable for outdoor decorations in much of Europe, as the weather is too cold for them. However, in warmer climates such as Italy or Spain, you might see them outdoors during the winter.

For creative craft projects using poinsettias for autumn, winter, Advent and Christmas design ideas check out our deco blog.

Yes! Poinsettias are long-lasting as cut flowers and will stay fresh for up to two weeks – as long as carnations or gypsophila – if treated correctly.

To use them as a cut flower, it’s best to take them from a fresh plant yourself, as they’re not readily available as cut stems in florists or other cut flower retailers.

To prolong the life of the cut stems, it’s important to stop the flow of milky sap that comes from the cut stems. To do this, immediately after cutting, immerse each stem in hot water of around 60°C for about five seconds, then plunge immediately into cold water. This will set the sap and prevent it leaking into the water.

Cut poinsettias can be used in arrangements and bouquets or, if placed in water-filled flower tubes, anywhere you like.

For creative craft projects using poinsettias for autumn, winter, Advent and Christmas design ideas check out our deco blog.

It depends on the temperature. Poinsettias shouldn’t be kept at temperatures lower than 12°C, day or night. They are tropical plants that react to low temperatures by shedding their leaves.

They are not frost-hardy at all, so in colder parts of the world, poinsettias should never be left outside during their season, which lasts from November until far over Christmas.

If you want to keep your poinsettia over the summer, place it in a bright spot in your garden or on your balcony, protected from draughts, as soon as the days and nights are warm enough. Avoid direct summer sun.

Anyone would be happy to receive a poinsettia as a gift, at any time!

The perfect date, though, would be 12 December, which is Poinsettia Day. On this day, people in the US use to give poinsettias as an expression of friendship, a token of love, an apology, a thank you, or just because. Why not join in the fun?

Helpful advice for common problems

If a poinsettia loses its leaves, this can have various causes. The most common include cold and draughts, waterlogging and lack of light. Poinsettias lose large parts of their foliage when they enter their dormant phase around March.

Poinsettias belong to the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family. All plants of this genus contain a milky sap that comes out when parts of the plant are damaged. Normally, the „spurge“ contains toxic substances. This is also the case with the wild form of poinsettia.

However, these are no longer detectable in modern poinsettia cultivars, so poinsettias are generally completely safe for humans.

Of course, they are still not suitable for consumption.

It isn’t clear to what extent they might be harmful if eaten by animals like cats or birds, but various studies have found that this does not cause the adverse health issues that are sometimes discussed.

Touching the white sap can cause allergic reactions for people with sensitive skin, so in certain cases, gloves might be recommended when working with these plants.

Also, people with latex allergy may be allergic to the sap and should therefore avoid direct contact with it.