Poinsettias are everywhere at this time of year, their vivid red, white or pink bracts tempting us to brighten up our Christmas homes.

But so often, you get them home from shops, garden centres and nurseries to find that literally within a week, their leaves have dropped, they are looking forlorn and you have to consign them to the compost bin.

So, why do they so often die?

Problems may start before you buy the poinsettia

The source of your purchase may have a lot to do with it, says houseplant expert, author and social media star Tony Le-Britton, aka @NotAnotherJungle, who owns a rare houseplant shop in Northampton.

“The problems probably start before you’ve bought it. These plants, originally from Mexico, are just a bunch of rooted cuttings in a pot, and to get them to colour up in time for Christmas they have to be kept in very high heat, high humidity and are given a very specific calendar of light and dark. They basically have to have 15 hours of complete darkness between October and late November, to trick them into producing these red bracts.

Great British Life: A poinsettia which has wilted due to lack of waterA poinsettia which has wilted due to lack of water (Image: Alamy/PA)

“The plant has been mollycoddled in its perfect greenhouse environment and then taken out of it, probably hit the cold outside during its transport to the retailer, so it’s already starting to go into shock.

“A lot of the time, shops have them at the doors to attract you in because they look good, but they’re getting a cold draught, which they hate. They respond very badly to draughts – whether warm or cold.

“They don’t like central heating and they don’t like being wrapped in plastic for long. They may be sat in the shop for a while without adequate professional care.”

Wrong position

Usually we place a poinsettia somewhere that it looks good, whether on the side of a fireplace or a mantelpiece.

“But light levels are really important so it needs to be somewhere bright, where ideally it gets some direct sun. It also needs to be kept away from warm or cold draughts, so not next to a draughty window or in a door that’s opened a lot, but also not next to a fireplace or radiator.

“Ideally, place it within a metre or two from a bright window, with a view of the sky.”

Don’t place it on a windowsill unless it’s a deep one, because if the leaves touch the window they will go black and fall off, he says.

A good position may be a coffee table a metre away from a large window, or a kitchen island near large patio doors that aren’t open during winter.

“Wherever the plant is, if it has an uninterrupted view of the sky, that is likely to be a good position.”

Great British Life: Spraying is the ideal way to water a plant from the topSpraying is the ideal way to water a plant from the top (Image: Alamy/PA)

Poor watering regime

“Water it from the top rather than from the bottom, because they are likely to be rooted cuttings that won’t have a massive root structure to absorb the water from the bottom, and you are more likely to overwater from the bottom as well,” he advises.

“Water from the top, when the top is starting to dry out. Never let the whole pot dry out and never let it sit in water.”

If the plant dries out, it may recover and reshoot. If you over-water, recovery is less likely, he says.


Top tips on buying a poinsettia

1. Avoid buying poinsettias that have been placed outside or by draughty doors at the entrance to an outlet, like a petrol station or supermarket.

2. “Avoid buying a poinsettia that is wrapped in plastic, because they sweat and can suffer mould and fungal problems,” he advises.

3. Find out when your garden centre is getting its delivery and get the plant straight away.

4. Buy it somewhere responsible. Garden centres are more likely to know what they are doing. And make sure it is wrapped in something just to go outside, even just going to the car, he suggests.

5. Check the soil. Ideally it should be damp but not sopping wet and definitely not sitting in water.

6. Buy a poinsettia knowing that it’s a temporary plant and not something you are worried about trying to sustain to re-bloom again, he advises.