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Never buy a poinsettia without taking this common household item with you

Is it just me, or are poinsettias showing up in stores earlier each year?

I went to the grocery store last week and was met with a wall of red and green foliage as I entered. It was the week before Thanksgiving. Of course, I smiled and walked right past them, making a note to hit up my linen closet when I got home.

You see, I’ve gotten smart over the years through lots of trial and…dead poinsettias.

Nowadays, I know what’s what when it comes to these plants. I can even buy mine a week before Thanksgiving, and it will still look great at Christmas and well into January—the secret lies in my linen closet.

Yes, that’s right, my linen closet.

The key to a beautiful poinsettia that still looks good well into the New Year is at home in your closet, but it should be in your car. But we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s talk about all the dead poinsettia – the completely innocent plants I have murdered over the years so you can learn from my mistakes.

I have bought my fair share of this favorite holiday plant every holiday season, along with millions of other people.

I’ve gotten more choosy about what plants come home with me.

I have also had to purchase numerous replacement plants well before Christmas because the plant that looked so beautiful and healthy in the store started dropping leaves as soon as I got it home.

The problem was that I was doing what we all do – picking up my Christmas poinsettia on a whim.

Oh, look, poinsettias are in the stores!

I would immediately pop one into my cart, trek it out into the windy parking lot, into my cold car and back home. And that’s if I was going straight home.

Poinsettia dropping leaves.
Um, excuse me, it’s only December 9th. What are you doing?

It’s this time in the cold that causes poinsettia to drop their leaves. Your plant that looked great in the store can just as quickly die on you if it gets too chilled.

These beautiful (but slightly temperamental) plants cannot abide the cold. Cold, to them, signals dormancy. Oh, it’s cold out? I guess I better ditch all my leaves and sleep until next summer.

I thought the cellophane sleeves would be enough to protect them, but it turns out a flimsy piece of clear plastic doesn’t offer much insulation from the elements. Shocking, right? But you know what (surprisingly) makes all the difference?

Woman's hand holding car keys and pillowcases

Adding a pillowcase, especially if it’s a flannel pillowcase.

Yup. When you see those first poinsettias show up in the stores, resist the urge to buy one right away. Instead, go home and grab a pillowcase or two and put them in your car. You could even put the pillowcases in your reusable shopping bag so you don’t forget to bring them into the store.

Sure, you might look a little silly bringing a pillowcase into the store, but you know what else looks a little silly? A poinsettia with no leaves at Christmas.

Woman's hand holding pillowcases up next to two poinsettias.
I got you guys covered.

There, now you’re ready to make that impulsive holiday plant purchase we all make each year and keep your poinsettia looking amazing all season long.

Once you check out and before you head outside, shimmy the cellophane wrapper up around your poinsettia. Now, slip the pillowcase down over the top.

Poinsettia covered in a pillowcase sitting in shopping cart.
One down, one to go.

The cellophane will protect the leaves from bending or snapping. The added layer of the pillowcase will keep your plant protected from the cold, especially if you use a flannel pillowcase. (I’ve heard that the blue poinsettias sprayed with gold glitter prefer 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton.)

Poinsettia covered in pillowcases in the trunk of a car.
Hey! Shut the door! Were you raised in a barn?

Granted, this is only important if you live somewhere cold.

If the weather is below 50F, you should cover poinsettias before bringing them home, especially if you aren’t going straight home. The colder it is, the quicker they can succumb to cold damage.

Speaking of Cold Damage…

Retailers know that poinsettias are usually impulse purchases; that’s why they put them right at the entrance to the store. I’m looking at you, Every Single Big Box Chain in Existence. You’re more likely to grab one on your way in if they’re right there. And now that you have your trusty pillowcase in the car, you can do that.

But don’t.

Grab one while you’re walking in the door, that is.

A display stand of poinsettias right next to the doors of a store.
Sigh. Every year.

Avoid purchasing poinsettias that are kept right inside the doors of the store. These poor plants are subjected to chilly drafts nonstop. Unfortunately, the whole retail persuasion thing works, and these carefully positioned plants are home with some poor, unsuspecting person by the time they start dropping their leaves.

Luckily for you, most stores have poinsettias positioned elsewhere in the store, too. Choose one of those instead.

Many poinsettias

And be a little picky when you’re choosing. Stick your finger in the soil, it shouldn’t be dried out. On the other side of that coin, you don’t want a plant with soil that’s too damp. Cool temps and too much water can cause root rot or mold on the soil’s surface. Choose a plant that looks full and healthy.

Of course, once you get it home, the same rules apply.

Be sure you put your poinsettia where it will receive bright, indirect sunlight. Keep it away from drafty exterior doors or chilly windows. Likewise, you don’t want to place them somewhere overly warm. If you have a fireplace, the mantle isn’t the greatest spot for your poinsettia. Keep them away from direct heat sources.

Three poinsettias sitting on a coffee table in a brightly lit living room.

Water your plant when the first top inch of the soil is dry, and don’t worry about fertilizing it. When late January or February rolls around, the leaves will begin to drop, and that’s fine. That’s when they’re supposed to start falling off. It’s done its job – beautify your home for the holidays. It’s time for a nice, long, dormant period.

At that point, you need to decide if you’ll be one of the millions of people who pitch their poinsettia in the trash or if will you join the “Oh, this old thing? I’ve been getting this poinsettia to rebloom for years” club.

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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,