7 Poinsettia Care Mistakes: Experts Explain Why Poinsettias Die, And How To Prevent It

Poinsettia plants with red bracts displayed on table next to baubles
(Image credit: Stars for Europe)

Poinsettias are such a cheery symbol of the holiday season. However, all too often these festive houseplants don’t outlast Christmas and are thrown away once the colorful bracts have faded.

Good poinsettia care is key to their survival, but the plants have specific needs that must be met to ensure they thrive. Post-holiday plant care is also important for the plants to have longevity.

Avoid these common poinsettia care mistakes, and your plant will live on to see another Christmas.

1. Taking it outside

Poinsettias are very sensitive to cold drafts, so don’t buy one from an outside stall, and don’t leave it outside when you get home – not even in a sheltered porch.

‘You should also do your best to get your new poinsettia home from the store quickly, as they really don't like being exposed to the cold for any length of time,’ says Naomi Robinson, founder of Houseplant Authority.

‘Otherwise, you may see it start to lose leaves a few days after it gets home.’

If you have left your poinsettia outside or in the car for too long, then trim off any damaged leaves, and position it in a warm, draft-free spot. Leaves may fall off, but with proper care the plant may still survive.

2. Leaving it in the plastic sleeve

Poinsettias are often sold with their pots wrapped in attractive patterned sleeves. However, Jim Faust, Ph.D., associate professor of floriculture physiology at Clemson University, warns that this could harm the plant by letting it sit in too much water:

‘Do not leave the plant in the plastic sleeve – remove it straight away upon arriving home, and place the pot on a saucer to capture any water that may spill out the bottom when you water it.’

If saving the poinsettia to give it as a gift, punch a hole in the bottom of the plastic and use a saucer that should be emptied after watering.

3. Getting the room temperature wrong

Mexico natives, poinsettias like the warmth – but struggle when it's too hot. They thrive in a temperature of between 50-75°F (10-24ºC).

‘Being near a hot appliance will overheat a poinsettia, and conversely, a cold, drafty windowsill that gets below 50°F (10°C) will cause wilt and eventual death too. A steady warm temperature is best,’ says Clive Harris, creator of DIY Garden.

Avoid positioning your plant where temperatures will fluctuate a lot, and keep it away from drafts.

4. Not getting the light levels right

Poinsettias are notoriously picky when it comes to light levels. Too dark and they won’t thrive; too bright and they will burn.

‘Keep the plant in a spot that receives bright light for about six hours a day, but make sure you keep it away from direct sunlight, heat and drafts,’ says Clive.

In the winter, you should be able to keep your poinsettia close to a window, but during the summer months you will need to move it away so that it receives indirect light.

5. Overwatering your poinsettia

Watering poinsettia plants is a delicate balance – not too little, not too much. They don’t actually need a lot of water to thrive, and overwatering can lead to root rot.

‘A sign of this is if the leaves start to turn yellow or even drop off – this is usually an indicator of overwatering,’ says Naomi Robinson.

‘Instead, keep an eye on your poinsettia and only water it when the soil is clearly dry. This could ultimately be every day, especially if your poinsettia is sitting near a radiator, but may be up to every three days when it's placed elsewhere.’

To test when your poinsettia needs watering, push your finger down into the potting soil and see if it feels dry. When watering, it’s important to allow the water to drain through so the roots don’t sit in too much water.

6. Letting the soil dry out

In an effort not to overwater your poinsettia, don’t make the mistake of forgetting to water it at all. If the leaves have begin to wilt and drop off, this is a sure sign that you have not given your poinsettia enough water.

You should be able to save it with a good water, and letting it drain through. But avoid repeating the mistake too often.

7. Fertilizing at the wrong time

Fertilizing poinsettias is an important part of their care, but timing is crucial.

‘Poinsettias actually need fertilizer in spring when they put on growth, not during winter,’ says Clive Harris. 'Don’t fertilize your poinsettia in winter because you’re likely to kill it.’

Adding liquid fertilizer monthly during the late spring through summer, and you may be able to make the poinsettia flower again next year.

Melanie Griffiths
Senior Editor

Melanie has worked in homes and gardens media for two decades. Having previously served as Editor on Period Living magazine, and worked on Homes & Gardens, Gardening Etc, Real Homes, and Homebuilding & Renovating, she is now focusing on her passion for gardening as a Senior Editor at Gardening Know How.

Melanie has spent the last few years transforming her own garden, and is also a keen home grower, having experimented with pretty much every type of vegetable at some point.

In her spare time, she loves to explore inspiring gardens and historic properties.