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Poinsettia Care

The Euphorbia Pulcherrima or poinsettia is an ornamental plant species belonging to the diverse Euphorbiaceae family. Originally from the tropical dry forests in Central America, this plant was first cultivated by the Aztecs who used it in medicine and as a dye, called the plant “Cuetlaxochitl”. An expedition by Europeans in 1803–1804 collected the holotype in Mexico and it was denoted a “new” species by Johann Friedrich Klotzsch in 1834.

It is named for Joel Poinsett, who was the first US diplomat to Mexico. He introduced the plant to South Carolina in the 1820s where it became known by its common name “poinsettia” around 1836. 

This plant attains heights of 2–13 feet. It bears dark green leaves that measure around 3–7 inches in length. The usually flaming red-colored bracts are often thought to be flowers due to their colors and groupings but they essentially leave.

While the bracts are thought to be predominantly red, there are many different cultivars with orange, cream, white, pale green, pink or marbled bracts. The color of the bracts is created by photoperiodism – the plant needs at least 14 hours of darkness every day for 6–8 weeks to change color. The real flowers are unassuming small yellow clusters at the middle of the colored bracts.

The plant, with its distinctive and popular green and red foliage, has become associated with Christmas. Around 70 million plants of various cultivars are sold in the US every year around Christmas time for more than 250 million dollars.

Paul Ecke Jr. and his family developed a technique to make the plant look more attractive, bushier, and compact. He started promoting the association between Christmas and the plant in the US, appearing on TV with the plants and capturing 70 % of the US market and 50% of the market worldwide by 2008.

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Sunlight

This plant loves light, requiring about 6 hours of indirect bright sunlight every day. Bright light also helps the plant produce bright, colorful foliage. If you can’t provide it with natural sunlight, it can also be cultivated successfully under artificial grow lights. 

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Water

Water the plant if the soil becomes dry – this usually means watering it once a week. The watering schedule also depends on the location, the kind of soil, the pot, and environmental conditions. All these aspects play a role in how often it has to be watered. The best option is to maintain slightly damp but not saturated soil.

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Humidity

This plant enjoys living in humid conditions between 50-75%. However, for the plant to thrive and grow well, humidity must be further increased. Humidity can be boosted by regular misting and placing a humidifier or humidity tray close by. 

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Temperature

The perfect temperature range for the plant is between 65-70°F in the day, with a drop to around 60-65°F at night. 

High temperatures make the leaves become yellow, wilt, and drop off, together with the attractively colored bracts surrounding the flowers fading away.

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Soil

It requires loose and well-draining good quality soil. Or make your mix by combining bits such as perlite or pumice or vermiculite. These will help loosen the soil and enable needed airflow around the roots to avoid root rot.

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Repotting

It is recommended that you remove the plant directly from the pot it comes with when you purchase it, remove the soil around the roots and replant the plant with fresh soil. This is to ensure that you are using a new pot and fresh potting mix, providing the plant with a good quality pot and soil. Most plants sold often are planted in cheap quality soil and pots. 

Good drainage is important – use a pot with plenty of drainage holes. A common problem caring for this plant is the stem and root rot. The cheap quality soil often retains too much water and becomes water-logged.

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Propagation

When propagating this plant, it is better to cut it down a bit first and wait for new growth to develop. When the new growth reaches 4 inches long, stem cuttings and be taken. Make sure the cutting has a few leaves – 3 or 4 leaves are recommended on a cutting to increase the chances of successful propagation. The leaves will help the cutting to promote photosynthesis and provide the necessary energy needed for the cuttings to take root.

Additional Care

Feed the plant with fertilizer to keep the plant healthy. After feeding it, wait for a while and then water the plant thoroughly to prevent damage to the roots. You can also use dry slow-release fertilizer. The recommended ratios for Nitrogen-Phosphorus- Potassium fertilizers can be 20-10-20, 15-16-17, or 15-0-15.

The plant should be fed once monthly and the fertilizer must be diluted to half the specified dose. This is a general recommendation for houseplants and also goes for this plant.

This plant is generally purchased around Christmas and then disposed of right after, but with the proper care and maintenance, it can live for 15-20 years.

To keep it growing and thriving, it has to be cut back 4-6 inches after Christmas or early spring, leaving around 1-3 leaves on individual stems. This will promote new growth, making the plant become bushier and produce more blooms for the next Christmas.

Reduce watering it after the blooms die so the plant can become dormant. Resume watering, fertilizing, and caring for it after March or April.

Common Problems

This plant is prone to several diseases, largely fungal, but also viral and bacterial. Fungal diseases affecting the plant include Rhizoctonia root/stem rot, powdery mildew, black root rot, Botrytis blight, Pythium root rot, and scab. Bacterial diseases such as canker and bacterial soft rot, including a viral disease caused by the Poinsettia mosaic virus can also infect the plant. 

However, an infection caused by phytoplasma is advantageous, as it helps induce more branching and keeps the plant growing shorter while producing more flowers. 

Proper care and maintenance of the plant require regular watering. If the leaves and the bracts start to become yellow and start dropping off, the cause is either under-watering or over-watering. The best way is to maintain slightly damp but not water-logged soil.

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