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The most common causes of poinsettia leaves falling off are that the plant has been in a cold environment, that you’ve under- or over-watered it or that it’s been in a draughty place. And usually, it’s the lower leaves that go first.
It’s also common that they have been stored incorrectly in garden centres or more likely in supermarkets in a drafty position and it’s only once you get it home that it starts to drop its leaves. You then think you have done something wrong when it’s in fact not because of anything you did. This is why I always advise buying a poinsettia you know has been for sale for at least a few days.
Here’s how to deal with these stress issues in your plant and prevent poinsettias from shredding there leaves.
Choose a healthy poinsettia
When you buy your poinsettia in its pot, make sure to notice where it’s been kept in the garden centre, supermarket or where it was for sale. Avoid plants that were near the store entrance where the door frequently opens to the chilly outside, letting in cold air. Poinsettias are tropical plants from Mexico and need a consistently warm environment.
Don’t buy any plant whose leaves are wilting, look yellow or are drooping. Touch the top of the soil with a finger. If it’s overly wet, don’t buy that poinsettia. These plants need to be moist but well-drained and not waterlogged. This can be worst than a plant that has not been watered enough.
Keep the poinsettia warm
If it’s a cold or even cool day when you buy your plant, ask to have your poinsettia wrapped in paper to keep it warm as you take it home. Alternatively, you can place a plastic bag over the top of it to keep the warm air in. Or wait until a mild day to make your purchase. I actually buy a few plants each Christmas and use an insulated shopping bag, such as a cool bag. (obviously not to keep it cool)
Choose a place in your home for your new plant that’s warm with sunlight. But don’t put the plant in direct sunlight or near a source of dry heat such as a radiator. Poinsettia prefer to be in temperatures of 13˚C to 16˚C, minimum. A little warmer is not a problem. A cold room is!
If you place your plant on a windowsill, make sure none of the leaves or bracts touch the glass. This could lead to scorching, and more leaves will fall off. In addition, don’t pull the curtains over the plant at night time and leave the plant in the cold space between the curtain and the window. The change in temperature will surely stress the plant out and further cause the leaves to drop. I like to position mine on tables or stands in the middle of the room.
Somewhat confusingly, poinsettia leaves falling off is a sign both of under- and over-watering. A general rule is to water the plant only when the top of the soil feels dry. I have more details about this in my article How often do you water poinsettias?
If the top of the soil is soggy when the leaves start to wilt and drop off, then it’s over-watered. Too much watering and not enough drainage contribute to root rot which weakens the leaves. (See Poinsettia pests and diseases to watch for more information.)
I the top of the soil is very dry, and you haven’t watered the plant for a few days, then under-watering is the problem. You may notice the leaves wilting before they fall off. Sometimes they also become crispy. Adjust your watering to what the plant wants, not your schedule.
It’s especially important to drain the excess water from the plant pot when watering. The watering guide I mention above gives two ways to correctly water your house plant.
It’s also worth checking my guide out on how to feed poinsettias here as incorrectly feeding poinsettia can lead to root scorch and also cause leaf drop.
You may think that your home is draught-free, but poinsettias are vulnerable to changes in temperature and breezes. Draughts may come from single-glazed windows, fireplaces or near doors that you open and close frequently. Place your poinsettia in a sheltered space, even in your own home.
If nothing works
Even though you correct the growing environment around your plant and change your watering frequency, there may be nothing you can do to stop the leaves from falling off. This is especially the case if the poinsettia was held in non-ideal conditions before you bought it. You just have to compost it and buy another one from a different source. I have seen supermarkets store poinsettias on top of open front fridges. These were all destined to drop their leaves. They just didn’t know better. This is why I always but my poinsettias from a garden centre or nursery as they usually have good knowledge on how to store them.
Good general care will usually help prevent poinsettias from shredding their leaves, you can learn more about caring for poinsettias here