How to keep your poinsettia alive — if it’s not too late

Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 3:57 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Also known as the Christmas Flower, poinsettias are a popular plant for the holidays, but they are finicky and can be hard to keep alive through the holiday season.

The challenge can start just getting the plant from the store to the car and into one’s house.

“They’re not native to Alaska. They’re not native to North America,” said Sarah Lanners, sales and design manager with Green Connection. “They are native to South America, so they are a tropical plant and they are a finicky tropical plant.”

What does that mean? That poinsettias don’t like the cold. That means people need to protect the plant as they’re leaving the store.

“Either a fabric-y or a paper bag, something to cover the plant entirely,” Lanners said. “We call them sleeves but a paper bag would work just as well.”

And a cold shock to the plant’s system will have fast-moving effects.

“If you were to bring it outside in this kind of weather, you’re going see some cold damage almost instantly,” Lanners said. “I have people, they send us pictures and they say ‘what happened to this plant?’ And it’s completely blackened and wilted and dead and, I can tell them right off the bat, that’s cold damage and they probably didn’t wrap it up before they took it outside.”

The next challenge, and the primary cause for languishing poinsettias, is watering.

“Poinsettias are...tricky,” Lanners said. “They’re not the easiest thing to take care of. You can overwater them and you can underwater them.”

How does one find the balance between too much and not enough water?

“It’s situational,” Lanners said. “I can’t say across the board every four days water at one cup. It’s going to be dependent on your situation, how dry your house is, how hot your house is. All different sorts of things going to how much to water plants.”

Lanners said to follow the 1 inch rule, which means when the top one inch of soil is dry, water the poinsettia until the pot is sitting in about 1 inch of water. It’s best to take the plant out of the colorful fill, put a tray beneath it to catch the water, and then put both back inside the foil.

Lanners said poinsettias will actually grow for years, but the leaves will grow smaller and the colors will change at different times, so people end up with a different looking plant than the one they originally bought.

“Growers, you know, they plan it out so that they’re colorful when they are supposed to be colorful,” Lanners said.

Poinsettias are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett. He introduced the plant to the United State from Mexico. Poinsett was a botanist and the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Poinsettias are not poisonous but they are slightly toxic to pets. If a pet eats the leaves of a poinsettia, owners could see signs of drooling, vomiting or diarrhea. The sap inside the stems could also irritate a pet’s skin.

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