Turning Poinsettias Red Again

Plants need 14 hours of complete darkness each day to restore their holiday color

Restoring a healthy green Poinsettia plant from last year back to its original red color is no problem if you follow a few simple rules. Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) need total darkness, for 14 hours each day, starting about eight weeks before you want to display them.

During the day, the plants need bright light, along with the other routine care. However, starting in the evening, the plants must get complete darkness. Even a nightlight can disrupt this process! Depending on where you have the plant (planted outside, or in a pot indoors), will determine how you approach this process. I’ll let you decide that.

The bracts will start to turn color in about four weeks, and continue if you carefully keep up the process. Poinsettias need a humid environment during this time, but be careful not to spray the foliage directly, as you may invite leaf spot, not a desired feature on such a showy leaf! In about eight weeks, the bracts should all be red, if you’ve followed the above guidelines. They’ll stay this way for several weeks, at least until after Christmas.

Eventually the leaves will start to drop off. Once this occurs, cut the stems back to four to six inches. Keep the soil fairly dry, and the plant warm until new growth occurs. You can then replant in the garden in a sunny spot. Add a light amount of fertilizer in the spring and summer. Come next October, start the whole process over again!

About

Joe Lamp'l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, Compost Confidential blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Google+

Comments

  1. says

    I live in Upcountry Maui and the Poinsettias always seem to thrive here. Once the leaves have turned red (most of them) is it OK to leave in normal light again? I’ve read that a few places, but not in others.

  2. Jeannette says

    I don’t need a response. I just wanted to say I was so impressed by all the answers. I have never been to a website where there were so many thorough answers!!!
    Thank you!!

  3. Jenny Leigh says

    I’m giving the 14/10 method a go this year. When you say the plant needs a humid environment during the day, can I put it on a window sill in a centrally heated room. Will spraying the soil give it sufficient humidity?

    • says

      Jenny, rather than spray the foliage, i would place the container in a saucer of stones and water. The stones will help elevate the pot so it’s not soaking in the water, and the water in the stones will provide the humid environment around your plants. As long as moisture remains in the saucer, you should be fine. Good luck.

  4. Kimberly Crawford says

    I have never been able to get a poinsettia to live past Jan-Feb until last year. Here it is 10 months later and my poinsettia is healthy green and vibrant. I re-potted it in spring and fertilized it once.
    Anyway, I am going to try to get it to bloom red for this Christmas. I will be using the 14/10 theory that you posted. I will keep you apprised of the outcome.
    Thank you for all of your wonderful work and advice.
    -Kimberly Crawford

  5. Jamie says

    Hi, I have a three year old poinsettia that has never been trimmed, puned, or pinched. It has become very leggy and woody, with leaves only at the top. Is it safe to cut it back to about half its current size, leaving only a few stems with leaves? Thanks.

    • says

      It is fine to cut back some of the stems Jamie. New growth should result from just below your cuts. Cutting or pruning is a great way to stimulate new growth and invigorate your plant. You may also want to assess where you plant is located. Very leggy plants tell me it needs more light. Also, make sure you are fertilizing it, especially if it’s still in a pot. Nutrients are depleted a little more with every watering. Eventually nothing is left to feed the plant until you add it back with fertilizer.

  6. David Tudor says

    My four year old poinsettia blooms all summer, brightening up the deck in Maine with small but very intensely red bracts. It winters in the cool guest room with generally only natural light. The leaves are getting very ratty and now when it loses leaves none grow back. What must I do to grow leaves without interrupting the bloom?

    • says

      David, it may be time for potting up your plant. Remove it from its existing pot and check the roots. If they’ve become root bound as I would expect, you need to break them up and replant into a larger container with fresh soil. I also think you need to cut the plant back a bit to rejuvenate it. Pruning stimulates new growth. This plant might just need a makeover above and below ground. You an also fertilize with a a diluted mix of liquid fertilizer (about half strength) until you plant has settled in for a few weeks.
      Also, if you transplant and cut back, keep it out of all day direct sun for a couple weeks. But make sure it has enough sun too.

  7. Tina says

    I have a poinsettia I bought last November. It is now May and it has stayed red and healthy the whole time. Is this normal? All the posts I’ve found are for people who can’t get theirs to bloom.

  8. Brendan says

    Based in Dublin ireland, we have 4 poinsettias since Christmas that still have their white bracts in place. They are inside in a very bright room out of direct sunlight. They have new growth shoots approx 4 inches high shooting above the white bracts. I water them only when quite dry. What would be your advise in terms of pruning while the bracts are still present and should I pop them outside for the summer (Dublin temps are 12 to 20degrees centigrade). The plants are approx 18 inches high. Is it unusual for the white bracts to be still in place – only one or two of the leaves have dropped to date. Thank you

    • says

      Hi Brendan. Your plants seem quite happy indoors. Your temps are on the cool side but not too cool I think. I would place them outdoors in a container or in ground and keep an eye on them. But I wouldn’t worry about pruning them yet. I would wait a bit either way and let the plants acclimate to their new environment first. If the bracts aren’t needed or a burden they’ll drop off on their own. And you may never need to prune them if you’re happy with the size and shape. Once the plant is settled in, and while it’s still warm, you could cut them back to promote a smaller or fuller plant. Good luck.

  9. John Jacob says

    Hi, I have a poinsettia that is really two separate plants in the same pot. One red and the other white. I have had them for about three or four years now. I put them outside in the spring and forget about them until fall. I didn’t know I should trim them and last year they both came into full color. Now however I have two to three ft plants with almost a barky type stem and few leaves. Most of the leaves are green with the exception of the topmost few which are smaller and red or white repectivly. Should I cut the whole thing back to four to six inches and start over or just let it go the way it is? Also if I plant such a large plant in the ground, will it make it throught the winters or will it die? I live in eastern Tennessee. Thanks for any help or advice you can give.
    Thanks,
    John

    • says

      Pruning it is up to you John. It will do well either way. But it is not cold-hardy for Tennessee. You’ll need to keep it indoors in a sunny spot until after the risk of frost has passed for your area. Then you can plant outside or keep in a pot and bring it back in next fall.

  10. Shronda Whitaker says

    I’ve had my poinsettia scene last December they where at my church and the pastor have me one it was dying but i nursed back to health it is growing good it’s all green the stems are red but the main branches are not and it’s growing tremendously but no red leaves what am i doing wrong plus i have seen little silver bus in the soil but they don’t seem to bother the plant our eat the leaves

    • says

      Celebrate the fact that your plant is growing tremendously. The leaves turning red has everything to do with providing the right about of light and darkness as referenced in my article and the various comments and replies in this post. At this point, I don’t think you would have enough time to achieve red leaves before Christmas if you started providing the right combination of light and dark. Just keep it happy as you have been doing and try again next year. As for the silver bugs (“bus”), if they aren’t causing any damage, don’t worry about them either. Otherwise, you can try removing them by hand. Good luck.

    • Paulette says

      I am in Jamaica and have two poinsettias I bought last year. Found your suggestions and tried to follow this them year. I started in October with putting a big black thrash bag over my plants for 12 hours and giving them sun during the days. Unfortunately I had to be away for conferences and meetings 4 times and so the treatment was not consistent.
      However last Saturday I returned after 3 days and both plants have a few red leaves!!! I am so happy. Do I continue with the no light treatment for more red?

      • says

        Yay Paulette! I would love to see the comparison if you kept only one covered going forward to continue the experiment vs. one that you now just leave alone. It is the perfect opportunity to observe the direct impact your efforts will have by going forward with just the one. It will make such a great comparison and learning opportunity. Please report back whatever you do. It will be fun to hear more about this. Thanks for checking in Paulette. Good luck!

  11. Maureen says

    In mid-October, I moved my poinsettia’s from an outdoor patio to an unused bathroom which gets no light in the evening. They were doing fine,; but all of a sudden many of the leaves are turning brown on the edges and curling up. I have not been watering them until i felt that the soil was dry. I gave them a little bit of miracle grow about 1 1/2 weeks ago. Any thoughts? I don’t care if the plants turn red; I really want them to thrive until I can put them outside again next Spring….Thanks for any tips..

    • says

      The brown margins on the leaves are from dryness of soil or fertilizer burn. When you say “all of a sudden” it makes me think it was the result of something, like the Miracle Gro. Adding too much and the result is fertilizer burn. However, if you added the fertilizer after the browning curled leaves, it was that the soil was too dry. At this point, forget the fertilizer, keep the soil barely moist and don’t worry if the leaves don’t look great for now. Once springs comes, you should see recovery, especially once it warms up enough to put it back outside.

  12. Heidi says

    Dear Joe,

    I bought a few poinsettias five days ago. I knew nothing about them other than that they were pretty and cheap. I’ve been keeping them watered (but not too much) and they’re already turning green! After five days! Is there any way to halt or slow the process or is it now too late for this season?

    • says

      I’ve not heard of this happening like this so quickly Heidi. I don’t know what you can do other than perhaps wait it out. I’m sure the environment may have changed drastically from the nursery so the plants may be trying to figure our their new environment. I wonder if they’ll adjust and behave for the holidays. The only other thing I can suggest, and you’re likely already doing this, is to make sure they are getting plenty of darkness through the night time. Let me look into this and see if I can offer any more information on this today. Let us know what happens as well over time. Would be interesting to know. Thanks.

  13. Linda Parker says

    I got this plant from my mom, It is real healthy and is all green. It gets dark in my living room so I didn’t move it. I never trimed it and I didn’t know you could plant it out side. If it lives thru this Christmas ,I will try doing what you are saying for next Christmas. Thank You

  14. Jeanne says

    Ive researched and failed ..its now 2 months of 5pm to 8am total darkness..and bright flourescent lights or the sunny windows ..theres no peak thru light when I put the plant to sleep..I made a cover that fits in the cracks in the doors of a cabinet we are only using for this plant and here we are with dark , very dark in fact , green leaves and only a hint of red speckles in the stems..So my family laughs and says MOM YOU CAN BUY ONE FOR $8.00!! Seriously I started talking to it to get it to respond but I think I will put it in an unused room and call all you who make it happen.. EXPERTS

    • says

      Well Jeanne, you get a gold star for being such a trooper. It sounds like you did everything right. But that’s one of the mysteries of gardening I love so much. Although very frustrating, it’s still mysterious and reminds us we’re not in control. You are a person after my own heart. Yes, you could buy a plant for a few bucks and have all the red you want. But what you did is so much more interesting. I can’t explain why it didn’t work, but I love the fact that you tried and then took the time to share your experience with us! Thank you.

  15. says

    I have been calling my poinsettias “freaky-deaky” this year. I live in Kansas City. I put my poinsettias outdoors, in the Spring, when the night temps are 59 degrees or warmer. Then, bring them back in, in the Fall, when the temps are 59 at night. I have three poinsettias: a 1 year old, a 2 year old, and a 3 year old. Nothing out of the ordinary, that is, until this year!

    In November, one plant started turning red. Now, the other two are turning red. I have done NOTHING to them but water them. Seriously…how can this be? They are all in an east facing window. The oldest one has turned first, now the 2 year old one is turning, and I just noticed the stems turning red on the one year old plant. These plants are in the same location every year when I bring them in. Each was purchased at a different store a year apart. I am baffled!

    I have tried to force poinsettias red, in the past. All that ever happened is, they died. I gave up.

    I there an explanation as to why I have poinsettias turning red….on their own?????

    • says

      Honestly Gravy, your plants are doing what they’re supposed to do. But sometimes they don’t, so that’s where the intervention comes in by trying to simulate ideal conditions. Just because they don’t get the best conditons though, doesn’t mean they won’t turn red. Celebrate your success or good fortune, and know that many people reading this will be jealous!

      • says

        Thank you for the answer to my question. We are enjoying them and I have been posting pictures on Instagram and on facebook for my friends and family. I love poinsettias! G

  16. Joe says

    I have been putting my potted poinsettia in a closet every night without fail for a month. About half of the small stems connecting leaves to the branches have turned red, but that’s it- no red on the leaves at all. (Many have been red for a week or two; others are their usual color.) The plant is rather large and seems very healthy, losing a few leaves now and then just as it has done all year. I think that the closet is dark, but it’s possible that a little light gets in there under the door. Is that what’s keeping the change from happening, or do I just need to wait longer?

    • says

      I honestly don’t know Joe if that little light is making the difference. But at this point you could keep the experiment going to find out, and then you can let us all know, or settle for what you have now. I would love it if you would find a way to block the light and keep the experiment going. We’re all learning here and you could make a valuable contribution to what we don’t know…yet. Thanks Joe.

      • Joe says

        I started covering the poinsettia with a thick black garbage bag inside the closet. I did it for two weeks or so but saw nothing. In all, I put it in the closet every night for about seven weeks without seeing a leaf change at all- only the stems turned red. I was going out of town for the holidays, so I didn’t complete the eighth week, sorry!

        I was gone a month, and when I got back, the person taking care of our plants and cat hadn’t watered as much as I had been watering, and it had lost some leaves. I didn’t pay much attention, but a few weeks later the plant now has many fewer leaves but four of the sets of leaves nearest the window have turned red! I am stunned. To reiterate, I have not been putting the plant in the closet or anything for 6-7 weeks, and now some leaves are changing. I think that the plant may be getting less water (my wife has watered it perhaps weekly since I gave up on it in frustration) but anyway, something other than the darkness is making the difference. I wish I could tell you what it is!

        • Joe says

          A further update: another month later, the plant still has relatively few leaves, but on about 6-8 branches, the leaves closest to the window have turned color. Most of them are red but some of them are white. This in spite of the fact that it hasn’t been covered at night or anything… in over three months! I am really confused by this thing. It’s cute, though! :)

  17. Bryan says

    I have a plant out front in orlando i just coverd it with a box cutting all light out do i have to take the box off during the day?

  18. Mary Ellen Fattori says

    HI John

    This is the first time I tried “recycling” a Christmas poinsettia. I didn’t know I was suppose to cut it back. I just put it in the garage after Christmas and and moved it outside in the spring–still in the same pot.

    I brought it inside in the beginning of October and started the 12 and 12, light and dark. Each stem is starting to turn ONE red leaf, but only ONE per stem branch. Is this normal? There are about 20 stems on this plant and they are all very leafy and healthy, but only ONE red leaf per stem.

    Thanks for any advice you can provide. (When it comes to gardening, I have a “brown” thumb, but I’m trying to learn.

    Happy Thanksgiving!
    Mary Ellen Fattori
    Havertown, PA

    • says

      Hmmm, sounds like you’re on the right track. You’re getting response so let’s keep at it. I suspect more will start to turn, especially since your plant is still very leafy and healthy. I think you’re doing all the right things. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time. Please keep us posted.

  19. Melvin Elliott says

    Joe, I planted several poinsettas in 100 gallon pots on the back patio. They are now over 8 ft high will they still turn color even with the large size? Thanks Melvin

    • says

      So Melvin, is this the first year in the containers? That’s a lot of growth if less than one year. I’m assuming you also live in an area that stays warm enough for your poinsettias to stay outside all year. If so, we should be finding out soon enough. My guess is they will, just like poinsettias out in their native Mexico. But if there is too much ambient light throughout the night, it could impact your results. I’m thinking you’ll get red, just won’t know how much. Please let us know and share more details about the environment where they’re planted. Thanks Melvin.

  20. nurya ortiz says

    Joe, I’ve been covering my plant for about 3 weeks now. My plant is inside an office where the only light it gets are the lights from the office. I see the stems are turning more red but I’ve noticed the more leafs are falling then usual. is this normal? What should I do?

    • says

      You plant is trying to compensate for lower light levels. I’m afraid you are pushing the limits here beyond a successful effort to turn leaves red. Although it needs total darkness for hours a day, it also needs to compensate for that with strong light during the day. Just the lights from the office don’t compensate for that. My fear is that at this point, your plant may drop most of its leaves, which is not what you want. If it were me, I think I’d take a poinsettia with some green leaves vs. one with very few leaves. It’s still a pretty plant even with green leaves but not so much with a few stems and a couple leaves. Good luck.

  21. John Kim says

    I have a couple questions. 1) My poinsettia leaves are a half of original one( I replanted the one I bought last year). I didn’t cut stems. Is there any way to make leaves big?
    2) Can I completely block the light for 4 weeks? Or just 14 hrs? I have the plant at my work. I can’t come to work during weekend.
    Thanks in advance.
    John

    • says

      John, the leaf size is a product of what the plant can support based on its environmental conditions. However, a diluted dose of liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks wouldn’t hurt for overall health, but don’t do it to try and boost the leaf size. I wouldn’t try to force any changes there. As for light, the plant needs light each day as well as total darkness too. The weekend conundrum with your plant being at work will disrupt the light / dark cycle. If it were me and you’re going for red leaves, I’d put the plant in a box before you leave work for the weekend to make sure it has total darkness. Yes, this will be more than is advised, but my hunch is that this will be ok for 2 days per week. The biggest issue is the plant’s need for darkness during this time. Then make sure it gets plenty of bright light on Monday morning. Give it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And please let us know how this worked out.

  22. Jennifer says

    rather than bring them indoors from the porch (where they make a lovely splash of bright green) can I just cover them at night with a blanket? Idon’t need the whole plant to go red, just the tops…??

    • says

      I’d try it Jennifer. I think this should do it but I’d love to hear back from you on how it goes. I don’t know where you live but poinsettias are tropical and won’t survive a frosty night. That’s your biggest risk of leaving them outdoors at night. Good luck and let us know how it worked for you.

    • says

      Hi Barb. Although everything I’ve ready mentions “total darkness” moonlight has never come up. I think one of the best things about gardening is the aspect of discovery. I don’t know if moonlight will hinder your plants from turning red. So I hope you will try this and let us know what you learn. It would be a valuable lesson for us all. Thanks for your question and please do keep us posted.

  23. Rennie Testerman says

    I have a basement. Can I keep it there till it turns red? There is some light down there. Will this prevent it from turning red. Thanks for your help.

  24. Terry says

    Please tell me the correct pronunciation for Poinsettia. I have heard it pronounced by newscasters, private individuals, nurserymen…all differently.
    th

  25. EDITH says

    AS A GIFT I RECIEVED A BIG PIONSETTAS PLANT BEAUTIFUL! . AFTER JANUARY I PLANTED IT IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE IN A SEMI SHADED AREA. IT HAS MULTIPLIED IN SIZE AND IS VERY GREEN. DO I STILL HAVE TO COVER IT FOR 12 HOURS OR WILL IT TURN RED BY ITSELF. I DID BACK SEVERAL MONTHS AGO TRIMMED IT.

  26. says

    This will help me now because I used to leave it outside and it was dying on me did not now why now that u know ill make this plant live more and my wife will be even more happy

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