Ask Dr. Phipps: Poinsettia Problems
Q: I received a beautiful poinsettia for the holidays. I would like to care for it and have it survive all year, if possible. We were away for a while and had someone looking in on the plants, but I’m afraid that they did something wrong. The poinsettia’s leaves are starting to drop, would this have something to do with watering? Can you give me any advice to help save them?
A: Poinsettias have been a popular holiday flower in the US since they were introduced from Mexico in the early 1800’s by Joel Poinsett, Ambassador to Mexico and an avid botanist.
For a poinsettia, leaf drop occurs when it is under stress. It is the plant’s way of conserving energy until conditions improve. Stress can occur when the environment changes or the care changes (more or less water, light, etc.) Poinsettias are sensitive to temperature and experience stress simply from being moved from a nice, climate controlled greenhouse to a dry, over-heated home with a trip in a cold car. However, if the leaf drop is excessive, it is time to look at other factors.
Plants need to be in the right place to thrive. They need appropriate temperature, light, water and nutrients. If any of these are lacking, the plant will struggle. The information you gave says there may have been some lapse in the watering schedule. Try to get the plant back on a regular schedule. Water thoroughly when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Drain any remaining water from the saucer. Move the plant to a bright window free of drafts.
If your plant has dropped most of its leaves, trim the stems to about 5 inches long and clean up the dead leaves. In a few weeks, you should see some new growth if the plant is still healthy enough. If the plant was overwatered, the roots may rot. If the plant was under watered to the point of irreversible wilting, the plant will not survive. Consistency is the most important factor.
If the plant does well, give it a vacation outside after the last frost (probably May.) The plant should grow well outdoors in the Pittsburgh area through the warmer months. Encouraging re-bloom takes a fair amount of effort. If you would like to try for next winter, there are several methods mentioned in the references. Here is some additional information that may help with dropped leaves and growing poinsettias.
Select photos © Paul g Wiegman