Holiday Gardening: Poinsettias


Every Christmas season grocery stores, home improvement warehouses, and super-centers offer the most popular seasonal flower for sale. The poinsettia has become a holiday tradition, despite the rumors and myths that surround it. If you are thinking about buying a poinsettia, or you already have, the following information will shed some light on the truth about the myths and guidance on the care of your poinsettia plant.


First of all, let’s dispel the rumor that poinsettias are dangerous to children and pets. Poinsettias are not poisonous or toxic! Poinsettias are not life threatening if ingested. The Minnesota Poison Control System states that poinsettia ingestion can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, but is not poisonous. Skin contact with the plant can cause irritation. If a person suffers from a latex allergy, it is important for them to never touch a poinsettia since plants belonging to the Euphorbia family have sap that causes the same allergic reaction. But for the average person, contact with a poinsettia is harmless. The claim that poinsettias are deadly is false, merely a myth spread around due to misinformation. In fact, poinsettia consumption has been studied and the POISONDEX has proven that a 50 pound child can eat up to 500 poinsettia leaves without reaching toxic levels. However, poinsettias are not an edible plant, so eating that much would most certainly cause digestion problems. It is not recommended that anyone ever eat this plant. Though why would you want to? Apparently it tastes horrible.

According to the ASPCA, the absolute worst result from a pet ingesting poinsettia is digestion trouble such as vomiting or diarrhea. However, these symptoms will pass and your pet will be fine. So it’s a good idea to keep your poinsettia away from your pets to prevent the possibility of an upset stomach, but having this plant in your home does not endanger your furry friend’s life. For a list of plants that are toxic to your pet, see


Poinsettias (euphorbia pulcherrima) originate from Mexico and Central America. This plant thrives on bright, indirect sunlight with plenty of humidity. If you are keeping your poinsettia indoors, you may want to mist it regularly to mimic humidity during those dry winter months. However, when watering this plant wait for the soil to become dry before moistening the poinsettia with water. It does better not being watered until dry. Also, it’s best not to let the plant sit in water.


There are so many varieties and colors of poinsettias to choose from. Deciding between red, white, or even salmon pink is a matter of personal preference. That decision is up to you. However, choosing a healthy, robust plant with leaves intact is important for enjoying the flower the longest through the season. More important is to purchase a poinsettia free from pests. If you pick up a poinsettia and see little flying insects escape from the plant, then this one is contaminated with Whitefly. You can treat the problem with an insecticide spray or simply move on to another store and find a poinsettia without a pest infestation.

Keeping Year after Year

Yes, you can keep a poinsettia for years and years with proper care. You have two options for winter care:

Option One: Keep the plant in a well lit (though not direct sun) and cool room, watering when dry, careful to not over-water. It will lose some leaves during this time and turn to green instead of red, but that is normal.

Option Two: Cause the poinsettia to hibernate. Water the plant less and less often until all or most of the leaves fall off. Then stop watering and store the poinsettia in a cool place (around 50 degrees) until spring.

When spring arrives with warm temperatures, move the poinsettia outside. Keep the plant in a well lit area but careful to shade it from direct sun. It’s a little tricky, but it can be done, just make sure it is shaded from light during the middle of the day by having something directly overhead. During the indirect lighting hours it will get the rays of sun from one side in the morning and the other in the evening. You will also need to keep your poinsettia trimmed to maintain its small size. Otherwise, it will grow large (though if that’s what you want then go for it).

Preparing for Christmas

Ten to seven weeks before you want your poinsettia to bloom into festive holiday colors, you will need to reduce its exposure to light. The plant requires 12 to 14 hours of darkness a day in order to change color. It also needs light, so this process will take some effort on your part. You can keep the plant in a dark room (basement, closet, etc.) and daily take it out for several hours of sunlight. Another option is to cover the poinsettia with a box everyday except for those necessary hours of light. This may seem like a lot of effort, but it sure is cheaper than buying all new poinsettia plants every year.

So there you have it. Everything you need to know to care for and enjoy your poinsettia plant. Happy Holidays!

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