Guest Column

Kathy’s Gardening Guide: Poinsettia, The Christmas Star


The modern association of the poinsettia plant with Christmas evolved from a Mexican legend. The story describes a poor child on Christmas Eve gathering weeds along the road to decorate the church altar. When placed on the altar, the weeds turned into flowers of vibrant red and green colors!

Today, poinsettias are featured as a Christmas symbol, given as gifts and used as holiday decorations. Large plants can be arranged to frame a doorway or fireplace, while smaller poinsettias make beautiful centerpieces for tables and mantles. Also known as the “Christmas Star,” these plants symbolize hope, joy, love and purity. They are not necessarily flowers but instead red-topped shrubs. The star-shaped leaves make poinsettias a natural fit for the Christmas celebration.

Poinsettias are in bloom during the holiday season, showing off vivid red leaves called “bracts” with small round flowers in the center of the stalks. Place the plants in a sunny window and water when the top half inch to inch of soil is dry. Be careful not to let a poinsettia sit in water as these plants are susceptible to root rot.

Some people are hesitant to have poinsettias around animals or children — the sap in these plants can cause sickness if ingested and/or cause a mild rash on the skin. Be sure to wash any affected area with soap and water. Animals that eat the leaves may be less energetic due to mild discomfort or an upset stomach. Typically, these symptoms subside on their own, but owners may want to wait a couple hours before feeding to allow the stomach to settle. If sickness continues, it is always advisable to contact a veterinarian.

A poinsettia plant can live as long as one to two years or more if given the proper care! Although not always successful, it is possible to encourage regrowth during the next holiday season.

  • For the first few months after the holidays (January through March), keep the poinsettia in a sunny location and water regularly. A houseplant fertilizer can be used during this time as new bracts appear.
  • Spring months (April through May) are a resting period for poinsettias. After the leaves fade and drop, prune the stems back to no more than 4 inches and reduce the amount of watering.
  • Begin increasing watering and fertilizing again during the warm summer months (June through September) to encourage growth. Replant the poinsettia in a larger pot with fresh soil. The plant can remain in a sunny area indoors or be moved to a partially shaded area outside.
  • As cooler fall temperatures arrive, bring the plant indoors and reduce fertilizing.
  • In early October, begin light treatment to encourage reblooming. Give the poinsettia at least six hours of sunlight combined with 12-15 hours of absolute darkness every day. Place the plant in a dark closet or cover with a cardboard box to achieve these dark hours. Water as needed during the hours of sunlight.
  • Finally, as Thanksgiving nears, the poinsettia should begin to produce buds and new bracts. There is no longer a need for the hours of darkness — place the poinsettia in a sunny location and enjoy!

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Flower of the Week: Poinsettia

Please email Kathy at for any questions or gardening tips you would like to see in the future. For more information and ideas, visit Kathy’s Creative Gardens & Nursery, 196 N. Roscoe Blvd. The phone number is 904-655-7373.