Why Do Poinsettias Die After Christmas?

Updated on January 20, 2018
poinsettia plant with red leaves (bracts)
poinsettia plant with red leaves (bracts) | Source

Even the most green-fingered of us have suffered the loss of attractive poinsettia plants that were perhaps gifted to us at Christmas.

Those lovely ornamental plants with their stunning red bracts have become synonymous with the Holiday period, and the shops are filled with them in the run-up to Christmas. But they are houseplants like any other, so why should they die so easily and readily?

The reason is quite simple. Poinsettias are big business. Millions if not billions of them are grown throughout the year in giant nurseries. Most of them are little more than rooted cuttings, which have been subjected to many unnatural hours of darkness (to force the red bracts into appearing) before they are torn from their nursery bed, unceremoniously dumped in a pot with a little soil, and shipped off to market.

That Lovely Poinsetta Plant You Are About to Buy Is in Shock!

Considering that many poinsettias are on the supermarket shelves within 24 hours of being potted up for the first time, they will still be looking good.

You know how you are always told to pick the healthiest-looking plant? And you carefully examine them all to find it? Unless you are buying as a gift for someone else, choose any of them. They will all end up looking miserable anyway.

Every single plant in stock will be in shock. Some even show it already.

Plants go into shock when...

  1. repotted roughly, then not left to settle.
  2. exposed to different temperatures than normal.
  3. exposed to the open air when they are normally under cover. (They must have had at least brief exposures on their journey from the nursery to the shop.)

Shocked plants can recover; they don't all die.

red leaves re-appearing on poinsettia plant after a year
red leaves re-appearing on poinsettia plant after a year | Source

The Leaves are Dropping. Why Do Poinsettias Lose Their Leaves?

Usually the leaves start dropping off the plant almost from the first day you take it home. The poor wee thing was in shock already, and you took it out again into the cold when you took it home from the supermarket or wherever you bought it.

It is December and cold everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. You place it in a spot where everyone can admire it, and then notice that the soil is a bit dry. So you place a saucer underneath and give it some water. There is every chance the plant does not actually get any of that water as its roots have not developed enough to reach down and take it. With any luck, the action of osmosis will uptake the water into the dry compost, but the chances of your plant getting any at all is slim.

So yet more leaves drop off because it is thirsty. If it survives until January, it will start shedding all of its leaves because poinsettias are deciduous and lose their leaves over winter.

plant root showing through bottom of pot, almost a year after Christmas
plant root showing through bottom of pot, almost a year after Christmas | Source

Why Do Poinsiettas Die?

By the time your poinsettia has lost all its leaves and is looking dried and browned, you know you have lost the battle.

They die because they never recovered from the shock of the transition from nursery bed to your home and all the different climactic conditions they experienced in-between, topped off by their being unable to get the benefit of any water you gave them.

Even if you watered it from the top down, their undeveloped roots could not receive enough of that water. By the time it had drained through the soil, they had only time to uptake a fraction of it. Many of their pots had no soil at the bottom to retain any of that precious life-giving fluid.

Do Your Poinsiettas Survive After Christmas?

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Poinsettia Plant Problems

Problem
Remedy
Reason
leaves drooping
if compost is dry, soak water. If compost is damp, plant is not recovering from shock
warm room, plant too hot. Not been given water in a while.
compost dry, even though pot is sitting in water
Soak water in a basin.
No compost at base of pot. Lack of active roots.
lots of leaves dropping
if placed in temperate situation, and compost not dry, no solution
plant is shocked, else it is natural leaf loss at end of season
plant pot submerged in water to give it a good soak
plant pot submerged in water to give it a good soak | Source

How Can I Keep My Poinsietta Plant Alive?

  1. Place it in a temperate area of your home, out of direct sunlight if possible. Hallways make excellent places as the temperatures do not tend to fluctuate much there in centrally heated homes and tend to be slightly cooler than the rest of the house, which poinsettias prefer. Just let it sit there for two or three days to acclimatize and settle down.
  2. Then fill a basin with water, and submerge your plant in it, so that the water-level is above the top of the plant pot. Let it soak for at least 30 minutes. Return it to its normal position, with a saucer underneath to catch any drips. This will ensure that the roots get a chance to uptake water and help them settle into their new environment. If you find after a few days that the water that dripped into the saucer is still there, then you know that the bottom of your pot has no soil in it, and the roots cannot reach it.
  3. Do not be tempted to re-pot the plant at this stage. It is still in shock, and the shock of a re-pot might be too much for it, and it'll promptly die. Instead, leave the compost to dry out naturally, and give your plant a bath at regular intervals. Depending on your plant and its growth stage, there may be several weeks between waterings. It is really important to only soak your plant when the compost is completely dry.

place as many plants as you can in a basin of water. They love a good soak.
place as many plants as you can in a basin of water. They love a good soak. | Source

New Growth

Don't forget, it is the depths of winter and your plant is dying back naturally too.

In spring, you may wish to increase the waterings to allow for new growth, and by summer, your poinsettia will be as thirsty as all your other houseplants.

Now is a good time to re-pot it into a bigger pot, perhaps with some enriched compost to boost its growth.

In the autumn, cut back on watering again.

Out in the hallway, unless you have artificial lights on all the time, the natural shortening of daylight hours will mean that come November, your green poinsettia plant will start producing the hallmark red bracts that summon the coming of the Christmas period.

poinsettia plant showing lots of new growth (second year)
poinsettia plant showing lots of new growth (second year) | Source

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • GardenExpert999 profile image
        Author

        GardenExpert999 4 years ago from Scotland

        I'm sure it will work for you. Poor plants, it's no wonder they die so readily considering how they get treated before they arrive in someone's home.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

        Thank you so much, this explains so much. I have tried for years to get these flowers to live and always fail. I will sure try the bath/baths next time. ^+

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