The most common causes of death in Poinsettias are overwatering, underwatering, and light or temperature issues.
Poinsettias do best in moist soil but drain well and in temperatures between 60 and 70°F (15 and 21°C). Disease and insufficient fertilization are also factors in premature death.
Holiday Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) bring color and cheer to the home, but they often meet an untimely end once the holiday decorations are put away.
You’ll have to cater to specific requirements if you want these delicate sweethearts to live to see another holiday season.
A lot can go wrong between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but if you keep an eye on your Poinsettia and give it some TLC, it should thrive for years to come.
Signs of Dying Poinsettia
Poinsettia Wilting and Leaves Curling
Indicative of impending trouble, the wilting and curling of poinsettia leaves is a visible warning sign at the first sign of stress.
Withering can occur from the top down, the bottom up, or seemingly at random. Also, they’ll wilt for no apparent reason one day, only to perk up the next.
Here, I go into more detail about wilting poinsettia leaves. Suffice it to say that missing the first signs of wilting leaves is a missed opportunity to save a plant.
Poinsettia Dropping Leaves
The Poinsettia’s leaf fall is a harbinger of impending trouble, indicating prolonged stress.
Plants will lose their older, less productive leaves when they starve for water or nutrients to protect their younger, more productive ones.
Poinsettias’ beautiful brightly colored top leaves, known as bracts, are often the first to fade.
Poinsettia Turning Yellow
The Poinsettia is struggling to keep its leaves healthy, as evidenced by its fading coloration.
The once lush green color fades to a drab yellow or brown, and the showy bracts at the plant’s crown may get blotchy or even lose all of their pigmentations.
This is known as chlorosis, and there are several causes. Sometimes it’s as simple as water issues, and other times its nutritional deficiencies that, if not addressed quickly, can cause deformity and stunted growth.
Poinsettia Turning Black
Blackened Poinsettia leaves are rotting, infected with disease, or so severely damaged that they decompose while still on the plant.
Overexposure to light or fertilizer causes black burns and crisp edges on the leaves, while disease causes the leaves to become speckled, streaked, or even blistered.
What is Killing My Poinsettia?
This is a common cause of Poinsettia’s death. These seasonal favorites require soil that is consistently moist but not soggy.
Unfortunately, an attentive gardener can easily give just a little too much, disastrously.
Poinsettia roots require small pockets of air in the soil to function correctly.
Flooded soils push the air out, and the roots cease to function. As a result, the entire plant suffers.
Examine the soil. Is it wet to the touch and smells stagnant and boggy?
Is there any standing water in the drip tray below the pot? Is it heavy, and does water drip out when you lift it?
It is also necessary to inspect the roots. First, examine the root system of the Poinsettia.
A healthy and unharmed one will be pale in color, with many fine white or cream roots. Anything else is an indication of a problem.
If the damage is minor and the roots are healthy, all you have to do is let Poinsettia’s potting mix dry.
Then, remove the plant from its saucer or tray and drain any remaining water.
Depending on the weather, this could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Please be patient.
Only water when the top inch or so of the potting soil has dried out in the future. This should keep the mixture moist without becoming too dry or wet.
I like to poke around in the pot with my finger to assess moisture levels, but other gardeners prefer to use a moisture meter (Amazon link).
This device detects water deep in the soil using a sensitive probe and is ideal for people who like to keep their hands clean.
Poor Quality Soil and Drainage
Overwatered Poinsettias frequently require more than a break from the watering can.
The best-laid plans can quickly go awry in poorly-drained soil and a pot with no drainage holes, no matter how careful the watering may be.
To thrive, poinsettias need soil high in organic matter but drains well. Heavy soil acts like a sponge and absorbs water, suffocating the plant’s roots.
On the other hand, too light and airy soil will not retain enough water and dry out too quickly.
Also, ensure the drainage holes are evenly spaced and at least three are in the pot. When there is nowhere for the water to drain, even the best soil becomes useless mud.
Plant your Poinsettia in high-quality potting soil that is nutrient-dense and organic-rich.
Perlite, coco coir, moss, and potting soil in the ratio of one to three works great in my experience.
Coir or moss aid in water retention while allowing for adequate drainage, and perlite protects the vital air spaces required by the Poinsettia plant.
Additionally, make sure the Poinsettia container has adequate drainage holes. The optimal number of holes is three.
For my indoor garden, I prefer to use plastic nursery pots. In that case, I can place the plant inside a pretty container.
By taking this route, I can quickly and easily alter the overall aesthetic of my plant collection by switching out the outer decorative pot.
Root rot is almost inevitable in a Poinsettia that has been overwatered and allowed to sit in water for an extended period.
Due to a lack of oxygen, the flooded roots will eventually die.
The roots are then broken down by naturally occurring fungi in the soil, which devour the Poinsettia from the roots up.
Wilted, yellowing and falling leaves are indicators of root problems, but to be sure, you’ll need to tap the Poinsettia out of its pot and examine the roots.
Then, it’s time to take action if the roots are brown or black or if the medium has a rotten egg or fish odor.
The only way to save a poor Poinsettia with root rot is to remove the damaged roots and repot the plant in fresh soil.
You will need the following items to repot:
- Fresh, clean soil.
- Clean the pot with at least three drainage holes.
- Plenty of water. Rainwater is best, but filtered or distilled is fine too.
- Newspaper or tarpaulin.
- Sterile scissors or garden shears.
- Garden trowel or small spade.
- Large tub or basin.
- Cinnamon powder(optional).
How to Repot a Poinsettia with Root Rot
- Set the tone by laying out everything you’ll need. Sterilize your cutting tools by filling the basin with water. I’d also recommend laying down a tarp or newspaper to catch spills.
- Tap the Poinsettia to get it out of its pot.
- Place the Poinsettia in the basin and rinse away the old soil gently. Examine the root system and remove any damaged black, brown, or otherwise.
- Remove the roots from the water and generously dust them with cinnamon powder. Cinnamon has antifungal properties and aids in the growth of new roots.
- Fill the pot with fresh potting mix until it is two-thirds full.
- Repot the Poinsettia in its new container.
- Allow it to drain thoroughly after filling it with fresh, clean water.
- Place the Poinsettia back in its drip tray or saucer. Keep an eye out for any water that may accumulate in the trays, and dispose of it as soon as it appears.
The same signs of overwatering also indicate underwatering, like an evil twin. I know, it’s a mess.
But, the drooping leaves and shed bracts that mean too much water tell too little.
Fortunately, the distinction is visible in the soil. Dry, crumbly soil is an obvious sign that Poinsettia has become overly thirsty.
However, it’s also simple to repair with thorough watering.
Water a thirsty Poinsettia thoroughly, preferably from below. This directs water to the roots, where it is most needed.
This method also allows organic matter in the soil to absorb more moisture, keeping the soil moist for longer.
You will need the following items to water from below:
- Large basin or tub.
- Plenty of clean water.
How to Water Poinsettia from Below
- Take the Poinsettia out of the drip tray or saucer.
- Place the Poinsettia in the tub.
- Fill the tub with water until it reaches halfway up the pot of the Poinsettia.
- Allow the Poinsettia to soak for 15-30 minutes in water. Maintain the level by topping up the water as needed.
- Allow the Poinsettia to drain for another 10-15 minutes after removing it from the tub.
- Return the Poinsettia to its saucer or tray. I recommend checking the saucer for stray water over the next day.
Light Exposure Issues
Poinsettias enjoy bright but indirect light all year round. Unfortunately, their delicate leaves are scorched by too much direct sunlight, leaving nasty injuries that often serve as a gateway to disease.
Conversely, too little light leaves the Poinsettia weak, unable to grow or defend itself from pests and illness.
Poinsettias require 4-6 hours of bright light a day. Therefore, they do well in south-facing rooms, close to a well-lit window.
Avoid direct sunlight, as this is damaging to the leaves. Not only can it cause sunburns, but the bright color of the bracts fades far faster when struck by sunbeams.
With such delicate leaves, it’s not surprising that Poinsettias succumb to fungal disease from time to time.
While root rot is the most common, other diseases also attack the leaves and stems. Some of these include:
|Pythium root rot||Sudden wilting and die-back.|
|Rhizoctonia||Brown lesions on leaves and stems. Yellow leaves, leaf drops, poor growth, and death. It also causes root and crown rot.|
|Botrytis||Spots and lesions on leaves, cankers on stems|
|Spot anthracnose||Unusually tall or long growth. Scabs|
|Bacterial leaf spot and blight||Wet lesions, yellow, turning to brown. Leaf deformities, yellowing leaves, and leaf drop|
|Phytophthora||Wilting, stunting, crown dieback, and leaf shedding. Black or gray, papery lesions on leaves.|
If you don’t quarantine the diseased plant immediately, the disease will spread.
Instead, trim away diseased tissue and dispose of sick leaves in household garbage for mild infections.
Because it is often difficult for a home gardener to determine which of the diseases has infected the Poinsettia, broad-spectrum plant medicine (Amazon link) is your best defense.
They treat as many diseases as possible and will keep an opportunistic secondary infection from developing.
When treating the Poinsettia, always wear protective equipment such as gloves and follow the instructions carefully.
Exposure to Cold Drafts
Poinsettias are tropical plants that dislike being blown around by cold winds. If a plant is placed too close to an air conditioning vent or a cold window pane, it will wilt and possibly die.
Remove the Poinsettia from drafty areas of your home or office, especially near vents and windy corridors.
Temperatures ranging from 60 to 70°F (15 to 21°C) are preferred, but consistency is essential. Also, check that the airflow around them is gentle and does not cause chills.
Remember that window glass can get very cold, especially overnight. For a plant as temperature sensitive as a Poinsettia, it’s like sitting next to a block of ice.
Lack of Humidity
While Poinsettias do not require the high humidity that many tropical plants do, it is surprisingly easy to completely dry them out through low atmospheric moisture.
Crisp leaf edges and leaves that wilt despite careful watering all point to a growing environment that requires more humidity.
Maintain an atmospheric humidity of 30% or higher around Poinsettia. While a humidifier will do the job, atmospheric moisture at this level is simple to achieve with a pebble tray.
A pebble tray is simply a flat dish filled with stones and water. The evaporation from the tray provides a consistent low humidity ideal for these fussy favorites when placed under the Poinsettia or close by.
I’ve written about it here.
Lack of Nutrients in Soil
Poinsettias are heavy feeders, so they must be fertilized regularly to keep their colorful leaves looking their best.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for a potted Poinsettia to become malnourished.
Leaves turn yellow, growth is stunted, and eventually, the plant dies from a lack of micronutrients.
However, if you use too much fertilizer, the leaves will begin to turn yellow and die.
They’ll be too drab in tone, too short and stunted, and develop charred crispness around the edges.
Timing is everything when it comes to feeding your Poinsettia. Fertilizing isn’t necessary unless you notice new growth during the winter.
In most cases, waiting until spring to fertilize is preferable, and once the weather warms up, once a month with a regular liquid fertilizer is sufficient.
As fall approaches, use less fertilizer and stop using any after November.
I recommend a fish and seaweed emulsion (Amazon link) because it contains more micronutrients than Poinsettias require.
And I would recommend diluting the fertilizer to half strength. This provides the necessary support while avoiding fertilizer burn.
How to Prevent Poinsettia Dying
- Avoid over-watering by checking the top inch of soil before adding water.
- Make sure the soil has plenty of organic matter and adequate drainage.
- Light them with bright, indirect sunlight for at least four to six hours daily.
- Maintain temperatures of 60-70°F (15-21°C) and an atmospheric humidity of 30% or higher.
- In the spring and summer, fertilize once a month with half-strength liquid fertilizer.