How to Revive a Dying Poinsettia Plant

How to revive a dying poinsettia plant

Don’t poinsettias remind you of Christmas cheer with their enchanting red leaves? I love poinsettias but find they can be very short-lived indoors and most people die off soon after Christmas.

In my experience, they are one of the fussiest and most sensitive houseplants. Mine used to drop leaves soon after purchase. I had to do the research and speak to some knowledgeable garden center workers to establish why this was happening.

I learned it can drop its leaves due to even the shortest blast of cold air, moving it from the warm indoor shop to the walk back to the house, the cold had done its damage!

In this article, I discuss all the tips and techniques, as well as my own firsthand experience, for keeping these plants alive for as long as possible in your home.

My two-minute summary is…

A dying poinsettia is usually because of drought stress due to underwatering and low humidity. Poinsettia leaves wilt and drops off with a dying appearance if they suffer from drought. Poinsettias are not cold hardy and temperatures lower than 60°F can be the cause of a dying poinsettia.

My method for reviving a dying poinsettia is to recreate some of the optimal growing conditions of the tropical plant in your home.

Keep reading for how to revive your poinsettia if it is dropping leaves, wilting, turning yellow, or black

Why Has My Poinsettia Dropped its Leaves?

As I said, this happened to me, and I have since learned that the most likely reason for your poinsettia dropping leaves is a sudden contrast in its growing conditions or drought stress.

However, under the tutelage of some specialist horticulturalists, I discovered leaves dropping could be caused by drastic changes in temperature or airflow.

I found out that this is a particularly common problem after buying a poinsettia when the plant has been cultivated in specific conditions, usually in a greenhouse with controlled temperature, light watering, and airflow, then it is moved to the store or to your home where it has to adjust to a new set of conditions.

I found it implausible at first, but believe it or not, all the research told me that the stress caused by the difference in temperature and airflow in particular is often the cause of leaves dropping from your poinsettia, even for a brief 5 minutes!

The secret to keeping a poinsettia is to recreate the conditions of its natural habitat…

Poinsettias are topical plants originating in Mexico that require consistently warm temperatures and drop leaves and die in the cold.

Pro tip: If the poinsettia is kept too cold while being prepared for sale at a temperature lower than 53°F (12°C) for a long period, then the leaves drop off and the plant often dies back even with good care, so always buy poinsettia from reputable growers where possible.

While potentially in transit from the nursery and or store to your home, its watering schedule is disrupted, and the poinsettia soil is often dry for a long time, which can also cause leaves to drop.

Generally, the older leaves drop off in response to drought as the poinsettia tries to limit water loss from leaves by defoliating and reducing demand for moisture as a survival strategy in times of drought.

Some older leaves do drop off naturally over time but a sudden occurrence of leaves dropping is more likely a sign of stress.

How to Save Your Plant if it is Dropping Leaves (Step-by-Step)

From experience, poinsettias can usually be saved even if it is losing their leaves and appear to be dying if the causes are underwatering or slight transplant shock, but exposure to significantly cold temperatures is likely to cause the poinsettia to die back, and it can be difficult for the poinsettia to recover.

The way to revive the poinsettia is to provide the optimal growing conditions in your home with these steps:

  • Poinsettias require a temperature of more than 60°F (15°C) during the day room temperature being acceptable and night temperatures of at least 55°F (13°C). Always locate your poinsettia in a warm room to help mitigate stress on the plant.
  • Place the poinsettia in a location that is away from cold draughts, air conditioning, or forced air, or so they are not located directly next to any sources of heat that can cause sudden fluctuations in temperatures. Air currents sap moisture from the leaves causing them to drop off.
  • Move the poinsettia to an area of bright indirect sunlight as it does not tolerate direct sun.
  • Give the poinsettia a good soak. If the dropping leaves are accompanied by yellowing leaves and wilting then check to see if the soil is dry. I identify drought stress, by feeling the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole. If it feels completely dry then I know that the poinsettia requires a good soak.
  • Place the poinsettia in a basin of water if it has suffered drought stress. When soil has dried out completely it can sometimes repel moisture off the surface. Soaking the soil of the poinsettia ensures that the water can infiltrate the soil and reach the roots properly.
  • Poinsettias do not like the soil to be damp or to dry out completely. I told you they were fussy, didn’t I? When the top inch of the soil feels somewhat dry this is the perfect time to water. This water cycle mimics the conditions in its native range of Mexico.

With a good watering schedule, the right consistent temperature, and indirect light, the poinsettia can acclimate to its new settings.

However, it should be emphasized that poinsettia are not cold-hardy. I personally lost many a poinsettia due to it experiencing lower temperatures than their normal range for even a few minutes out in the cold (but to be fair, I live in a cold climate).

Pro tip: To prevent my poinsettia from succumbing to cold while in transit from the store to your home, I either park as near as I can to the shop and get the poinsettia in my car and home to a comfortable environment as quickly as possible, or we can use horticultural fleece to protect your poinsettia until you get it safely in your house.

(I recommend that you read my article on how to water poinsettias to learn how to establish the optimal watering practices for the conditions in your home).

Why are My Poinsettia Wilting and Leaves Curling?

From my research, I learned that this combination of wilting AND curling indicates that if the poinsettia is suffering because of underwatering or low humidity, drying out the poinsettia faster will allow the roots to draw up moisture.

In my experience, I see the common mistakes people make are underwatering because of not watering the poinsettia often enough or watering too lightly so that only the top inch or so of the soil is moistened and the water does not infiltrate and reach the roots properly where it is required.

We need to remember that our poinsettia are native to tropical regions and prefer a little more humidity than most house plants but the soil should dry out slightly between bouts of watering for the optimal balance of moisture.

The leaves curl to try to reduce the surface area of the leaf to reduce water loss.

The leaves on your poinsettia usually wilt and curl as a sign of more mild drought stress whereas I’ve observed that if the drought stress is more severe the poinsettia drops leaves usually from the bottom.

As the leaves are wilted and curled rather than necessarily all dropping off this means you can revive the poinsettia with some care and prevent it from dying back.

My Steps for Reviving a Wilted Poinsettia

  • As before, move the poinsettia to an area out of direct air currents or draughts and make sure the poinsettia is in bright, indirect light rather than full sun or too much shade.
  • Use a spray to mist the plant or use a humidifier. Spraying the plant helps to create a humid micro-climate to emulate the conditions of the poinsettia native tropical environment. I spray the poinsettia around twice per week. Or use a humidifier.
  • Place the poinsettia in a basin of water for 10 minutes. When soil dries out it can become hydrophobic (repels water) so that moisture does not reach the roots despite watering. This is more common with potting mixes that contain peat soil. Soaking the root ball ensures that poinsettia gets a much-needed drink and really helps to improve the chance of recovery.
  • Water your poinsettia more often. For most homes and climates watering once per week is optimal. However, it is important to establish the correct watering frequency for your conditions. Water the poinsettia with a generous soak and then monitor the soil over the course of a week or so. As soon as the top inch of the soil feels somewhat dry this is the ideal time for watering to maintain the optimal balance of moisture.
  • Always water with a good soak. If your water too lightly then the moisture does not reach the roots. Water generously so that excess water trickles out the base of the pot through the drainage holes. This is a good indication that the soil is evenly moist and the roots can uptake the moisture they require.

This winter, I tested three different methods for increasing the humidity with the goal of preventing my poinsettia wilting from dropping its leaves. All the poinsettia were from the same store and bought at the same time.

The experiment set-up:

  • I had one poinsettia in my bathroom (I theorized it would benefit from the natural humidity).
  • I had the other poinsettia that I misted every 3 days to keep the humidity higher.
  • The other poinsettia was positioned near a plant humidifier that I bought online.

Monitoring Progress During Winter:

I was diligent misting my poinsettia, and keeping the others nice and humid and observation any changes over the course of 4 weeks.

The results:

  • The poinsettia in the bathroom was fairing well, but I found it quite impractical because I had to avoid opening windows and doors often (to prevent significant airflow and differences in temperature), and to be honest, this is not that practical in a family house. The poinsettia dropped a few leaves, which I suspect was because of an open window.
  • The misted poinsettia was actually quite healthy for most of my 4-week experiment, but I did notice some leaves wilting by the end of the experiment. I think it was because the heating was on frequently, and the misting was not quite enough to counteract the resulting dry air.
  • The poinsettia near the humidifier was the plant that looked the best at the end of the four weeks! I did notice one of the leaves falling off, but this seemed to be an anomaly as the rest of the leaves were healthy and critically not wilting!

My Takeaway:

From this experiment, I thought misting the leaves was a viable low-cost option for increasing the humidity of poinsettias, and it did prevent the majority of leaves from wilting, but it did not hold up as well when the indoor heating was on for more hours of the day.

I much preferred to use the humidifier as I found it much more convenient. I didn’t have to remember to mist the plants, and the poinsettia looked the best after 4 weeks without losing many leaves or looking wilted. I think the reason is that the humidifier was able to replicate the conditions of the poinsettia’s native environment better than the other methods I tried.

The bathroom option was too impractical, so overall the humidifier is the winner!

With the optimal watering cycle and more humidity the poinsettia can start to recover from its wilted appearance with around 2 or 3 cycles of watering the leaves should look much healthier.

Why are the Leaves Turning Yellow?

If your poinsettia leaves are turning yellow, this is most often an indication of overwatering, however rather confusingly, it can also indicate underwatering! Caring for houseplants is tricky, isn’t it?

My method for telling whether your poinsettia is yellow due to overwatering or underwatering check the soil at the base of the pot through the drainage hole to detect whether the soil is dry or boggy.

Soil that is saturated excludes oxygen which prevents root respiration and potentially causes root rot or fungal disease (which can also turn the poinsettia leaves black).

This causes the leaves to turn yellow and droop.

Of course, we have to remember that overwatering is not the only factor that causes too much moisture around the roots and turns your poinsettia yellow. Here are three other coom reasons that I encounter:

  • Pots and containers without drainage holes in the base. Pots without drainage holes cause water to pool around the roots which causes moisture stress and the poinsettia leaves turn yellow.
  • Compacted soil or root-blocking drainage holes. If you notice your soil draining slowly then check to ensure water can escape freely.
  • Saucers, trays, and decorative outer pots can all prevent water from escaping which keeps the soil boggy. Saucers, trays, and pots are often used to prevent water spilling in the home but they should be emptied regularly to ensure the soil around the roots can dry properly rather than stay too damp.

From research, I ascertained that too much fertilizer can also burn the roots which can turn the leaves yellow as a sign of stress.

Step-by-Step: How to Save a Poinsettia with Yellow Leaves

  • Let the soil dry out properly. Ensure that water can escape from the base of the pot to help maintain the optimal balance of moisture.
  • Scale back the watering. I asked lots of botanists about this to get their perspectives, and they all told me to only water the poinsettia when the top inch has become somewhat dry. Their rationale for this is that it replicates the watering cycle in the poinsettia’s natural habitat.
  • With a watering schedule that meets the requirements of the poinsettia, the plant can be revived. However, if the poinsettia has root rot then it is much more difficult to save and it is likely the plant dies back.
  • Poinsettia does not require any fertilizer during the Christmas period as this is likely to promote foliage growth at the expense of flowers and bracts. Only apply fertilizer after it has flowered and use a half-strength house plant fertilizer once per month. Using too much fertilizer or in high concentration can burn the roots, turning the leaves yellow and causing the plant to die back. Scale back the use of fertilizer if you think this is the reason your poinsettia has turned yellow to allow it to recover.

As I said, saving a poinsettia with yellow leaves can be done, but to be honest, I usually find that they die back even if you follow every step perfectly, as they are so fickle and lack resilience!

Why are the Leaves Turning Black? (Frost Damage)

If your poinsettia is turning black this is usually due to cold or even frost damage. Poinsettias are not cold hardy and very sensitive to frost.

Any exposure to the cold can kill a poinsettia so always try to keep it at around room temperature.

I find that leaves turn black if they are in contact with a cold window pane, so set your poinsettia back from the window and think about whether your window sill is too cold in general for a poinsettia.

In my experience, if the leaves turn back, they usually drop off, so cut away any frost-damaged black leaves that have been exposed to the cold with a pair of pruners.

Ensure that the poinsettia is in a location in the house with temperatures that do not go lower than 60°F (15°C) to keep the plant healthy.

Pro tip: When you are shopping for poinsettias, be extra judicious about your choice of plant. I personally scour the range of plants for at least 10 minutes to find the healthiest one! I often see poinsettia with black leaves whilst they are still for sale in the store so be careful!

(Read my article, why is my poinsettia dropping leaves?)

Do you have any more questions or insights about poinsettias? If so, please leave a comment below!!

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a dying poinsettia is often drought stress due to underwatering and low humidity which causes poinsettia leaves wilting and can drop off as a sign of stress. Temperatures colder than 60°F can cause poinsettia leaves to drop and turn black with a dying appearance.
  • Increase the watering and spray the leaves with mist to revive wilted poinsettia.
  • Ensure that the poinsettia is in a warm room with a temperature of at least 60°F. If the poinsettia leaves turn black, this is often due to cold temperatures. Trim the black leaves back with a pair of pruners.
  • If the poinsettia is turning yellow, this can indicate drought stress or overwatering. Water your poinsettia only when the top inch of the soil feels dry to avoid overwatering which can cause root rot.

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