Before we get to the tragic tale of a dead poinsettia, did you hear about the redneck gardener down South? He had to mow his lawn last week to find where he left his wheelbarrow.
Although they might still be gardening way down South, we’re busy celebrating the holidays and keeping our poinsettias safely nestled in the cozy warmth of our homes. But hauling a poinsettia home during cold temperatures without proper protection isn’t the only way to kill the tropical plant.
There’s another way to quickly cause a poinsettia to wilt, droop, develop yellow foliage, lose leaves and finally just plain die. And no, it’s not because we’re underwatering. It’s the opposite.
Overwatering is a common cause of poinsettia failure. The decorative foil that surrounds most poinsettia pots is dangerous. When water drains through the pot, excess accumulates in the foil wrapper. If the pot sits in this moisture, it’s the equivalent of holding the plant’s head under water. If left for a day, poinsettias can be irreversibly injured, resulting in death.
To prevent death by drowning, cut a hole in the bottom of the foil and set the plant in a drainage saucer. When excess water accumulates, it’s easily and quickly discarded.
How often should a poinsettia be watered? They’re members of the Euphorbia family, which are succulents. (Cacti are also succulents.) This means their waxy stems conserve moisture. By nature they prefer to dry out well between waterings, and resent being kept continually moist.
Watering frequency depends on the temperature of the room, exposure to air drafts, etc. But sunny warm greenhouses usually water their poinsettias only about once every five days or so. In the home, it’s important to let the soil dry out. Then water thoroughly until some drains out the bottom. Discard the excess.
There are several ways to tell if a poinsettia is dry and ready to be watered. The soil will appear lighter brown, rather than dark-moist. Lift the pot, and develop a feel for the lighter weight of a dry plant versus the weight when it’s just been watered. Insert a finger at least an inch into the soil. If the top inch is dry but you feel a little moisture below, the plant is probably ready to water.
When in doubt, wait a day, unless the leaves are wilting and the soil is dry. If the poinsettia is wilting and the soil is still moist, it’s suffering from being kept too wet.
It’s always better to err on the dry side with poinsettias.