‘Problematic’ poinsettia mistakes to avoid ‘entire plant dying’

Learn how to care for Christmas cactus and poinsettias

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Poinsettias seem to be everywhere during the Christmas period. The red leaf houseplants are a traditional addition to the home in the winter months, but surprisingly it’s actually classed as an exotic plant. This is where many houseplant owners run into problems when trying to care for their poinsettia. Express.co.uk caught up with a few gardening and houseplant experts to find out what common mistakes plant owners should avoid when taking care of poinsettias.

The wrong temperature 

Poinsettias are tropical plants and don’t do well in the cold. However, they also don’t do too well in too much heat. They are sensitive to extreme temperatures – both hot and cold.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Suzie Woolley, head of product for Serenata Flowers, said that it is a big mistake to keep poinsettias in outside winter temperatures. 

She said: “In winter, when the outside temperature drops the cold can shock the plant which has been grown in a greenhouse kept at the optimum temperature. 

“If the plant is going to be outside for more than even a few minutes, for example for transportation, it should be properly protected.”

Once home, Suzie advised households to “avoid” positioning these plants beside open windows or draughty spots, but also be mindful of proximity to radiators or fireplaces. 

Fiona Jenkins, gardening expert at Myjobquote.co.uk told Express.co.uk that while indoor temperatures on the cooler side are fine for poinsettias, outdoor temperatures “can often kill the plant in the winter”.

She said: “The best indoor temperature range is around 12 to 22 degrees Celsius.” Just as Suzie noted, Fiona advised keeping poinsettias away from windows and doors where there are draughts. She added: “Also keep them away from places where they could become too warm such as near a radiator or fireplace.”

Sales and Marketing Manager, Holly Jones at Garden Street agreed with Susie and Fiona on where to avoid keeping these festive houseplants. She said: “To thrive, a poinsettia needs warmth, and if it is located in a cold or draughty spot, then this may result in the plant losing its leaves.  

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Overwatering or underwatering poinsettias 

One of the most common mistakes is overwatering or underwatering poinsettias. Suzie noted that both instances can be “problematic” and therefore suggested that plant owners use their senses rather than a schedule to “ensure they’re getting the right amount of water”.

She instructed: “Poke a finger into the soil (about 3cm) and if it feels dry below the surface, it’s time to water. Make sure the pot has proper drainage to ensure it’s not sitting in water as this will suffocate the roots and lead to root rot.”

Holly also stressed the importance of a poinsettia plant pot having drainage holes. She said: “It is important that the pot has drainage holes, so the plant does not stand in water. Overwatering the plant can quickly result in it becoming waterlogged, which will eventually cause the roots to rot. 

“How often you will need to water the plant will depend on its location. The best way to check whether the poinsettia needs watering is to check if the soil is noticeably dry. If the soil is dry 2cm deep, then this means it is time to water the plant.”

Fiona explained that overwatering poinsettias can also lead to the houseplant’s leaves “turning yellow and drooping”. She added: “This could also cause the roots to rot, causing the entire plant to die. To prevent this issue, make some holes in the bottom of the pot for drainage.”

Inadequate lighting 

Poinsettias are notoriously tricky with light. They require very methodical light regulation, especially during the blooming season.

In order for these festive beauties to “thrive” Suzie said that they need natural bright light, of which the UK is short of in the winter months, so make sure they’re not left in the dark. She said: “The sun’s rays aren’t as strong in winter than summer, but it’s important to note that too much exposure to direct sunlight will burn their leaves.”

Fiona agreed with how much light these plants need. She said: “Poinsettias need some light in order to survive and thrive. Keeping your poinsettia somewhere bright can do wonders for ensuring it remains healthy for a long time. However, poinsettias can start to burn when left in direct sunlight. With this in mind, it’s best to keep them in a bright location in the home but in a spot where the sun can’t shine directly on them.”

According to Holly, poinsettias are “best situated” in living rooms or bedrooms as they need a well-lit location but out of direct sunlight to prevent the leaves from burning. 

Forgetting to prune

For those wanting to keep their poinsettias past Christmas and thriving well into the New Year, they need to consider pruning them, according to the plant pro.

Holly said: “If you want your poinsettia to live next year and longer, then it is important that you prune it. Once it has been pruned, keep the plant in a sunny and warm spot and continue to water it just as you did previously.”

Prune off the old stems in late winter or early spring by cutting them back to four to six inches in height and leaving one to three leaves on each stem. This forces new growth to appear at the leaf axis and paves the way for a full plant that can support many blooms.

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