How to Care for Poinsettias this Holiday Season

poinsettia petals
Posted by

With this Thanksgiving being one of latest on record, it’s no surprise that holiday gift plants are already making the rounds. Poinsettias are among the most popular of these flowering visual treats. Since 1825 when the poinsettia was introduced from Mexico, it has been the traditional Christmas season gift plant.

With good care inside the home, poinsettias can last for several weeks to several months. Just like our other houseplants, holiday plants have their own needs if you want to them to last. If you have the chance to visit retail greenhouses during their open house events, you will quickly “feel” one of those needs, a cool temperature. I am not suggesting we lower the thermostat to 60 degrees, yet if you can place the poinsettia in a cooler location, especially at night, that will extend the plant’s useful life as a holiday showpiece.

There are a lot of leaves using a lot of water, so pay close attention. Be sure the soil never completely dries out and be sure you water before the leaves wilt. To ensure your watering efforts pay off, that foil wrap should be removed so excess water can drain away. If the wrap is critical for the display, you can punch some holes in the bottom so the excess moisture can escape into a saucer below, or you can remove it, then water, drain and return it.

You can easily see when the soil is becoming dry, as it will typically turn to a lighter color and pull away from the edge of the pot. The potted plant itself also will feel much lighter. If the soil is really dry, any watering you do will run down the edges and quickly collect in the saucer. In order to truly re-wet the soil, you will need to place the pot in the sink and run enough water into the pot for the soil to swell and turn a dark color again. Be sure to let the pot sit there so any excess water can drain away. More plants are lost to overwatering and waterlogged soils than those being kept too dry.

There are a number of other flowering plants that can be gifted or received during the holidays. All will brighten the home during the winter and remind us of spring by their bloom and fragrance.  Two bulbs that are favorites are amaryllis and paper white narcissus. The larger amaryllis bulbs will usually have two flower stalks. Amaryllis bulbs can last years and re-bloom for many seasons if you grow the bulbs outdoors in the summer to create the flower buds to be forced the next winter. Paper white narcissus have been a longtime winter favorite because you can always have them in bloom by starting them over a period of weeks. Christmas cactus is another houseplant that we usually see in bloom from Thanksgiving on into January. It naturally is a late fall bloomer after being outdoors for the summer. Greenhouses bring it in to bloom for us for the holidays.

No matter the flowering holiday plant, remember that they enjoy lots of bright indirect light during the day and cooler temperatures at night to get the blooms to last many weeks. And, don’t forget to watch for your holiday plants getting overly dry or wet.

To learn more about selecting poinsettias, check out the Illinois Extension Poinsettia Pages. To learn about caring for holiday plants and trees, check out these short videos at or at

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.