Poinsettias will brighten up the garden – and your Christmas table!

Styling Melissa Rautenbach

Poinsettias are synonymous with Christmas. Although these showy red plants are mostly winter-flowering, many are available as potted plants in retail stores and nurseries over the Christmas period – and provide lovely colour for the festive table.

In a garden setting, poinsettias bloom from late autumn throughout the winter.The red you see on

the plant isn’t the flowers but bracts (modified leaves) that form around tiny, inconspicuous blooms at the ends of bare branches.

Poinsettias do well in warm,humid areas that get little or nofrost. Plant the shrub or small treein a sunny spot in your garden (but beware of the scorching summer sun) and protect it from wind. In cooler regions, plant it in a warm, sheltered spot. Poinsettias like compost-rich soil and sufficient water in summer, but allow the soil to dry out between each watering.

Prune the shrub back hard in spring to encourage new growth and fresh bracts. There are several cultivars available, some with single blooms and others with double flowers in red, pink and cream.

Plant guide

Common name Poinsettia 

Botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima

  • Full sun
  • Frost-sensitive
  • Average water needs
  • Deciduous
  • Grows about 2.5m tall and 2m wide
  • Originates in Mexico

Potted poinsettias

Don’t discard your potted poinsettia when the bracts die back. Trim off all the stems on which the coloured bracts were borne and repot it in compost-rich soil. During summer, move your pot plant to a cool spot. When the weather cools down again and daylight hours get shorter, the plant should form new coloured bracts. Potted poinsettias have a more compact growth habit than the shrub that grows in gardens, so it will remain small.

Not all poinsettia blooms will last as well in water. Pick one for the vase and see how it fares before you use it for a special occasion.

  • Gardening with Keith Kirsten by Keith Kirsten
  • The South African What Flower is That? by Kristo Pienaar
  • Reader’s Digest A South African Garden for All Seasons with chief contributor Jennifer Godbold-Simpson
  • Cape Garden 021 988 4137
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April 2023

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