How to Kill a Poinsettia

Poinsettias growing in a greenhouse in Chicago.png
I can’t think of a plant I hate more than the poinsettia. My intense hatred of this tropical plant, native to Mexico, has little to do with its association with Christmas and holiday cheer. My hatred of this plant stems from my childhood and spotting it in the windows of burger joints, Laundromats and storefront offices around Chicago. Even before I knew I liked plants, I knew I hated poinsettias
By the time summer rolls around Chicago these poinsettias are tall spindly things with barely two leafs. They grow desperately towards florescent light fixtures or smash their ugly faces against windowpanes in a pathetic attempt to either illicit sympathy from passersby or to get some light. A plant that doesn’t know when to give up the ghost will need some help in passing onto the big greenhouse in the sky. 
How to Kill a Poinsettia in Three Easy Steps
Unfortunately for the poinsettia, and its haters, most people who buy them don’t know how to care for them so they remain lush, healthy plants. So, here are some tips on how to kill a poinsettia that someone either gave you for Christmas or that you bought in a misguided attempt to decorate your house, office or small business.
1. Cold. Being tropical plants they don’t like cold temperatures. Place it on your deck, patio, balcony, fire escape or garden today. The snow covers a multitude of sins, even plant murder. For the faint of heart; placing it in a drafty window or near a door where it will be subjected to regular blasts of cold air works too. It is a slower death, but gets the job done.
2. Drown ’em. Poinsettias like even moisture, not too soggy and not too dry. When you’re watering your houseplants give your poinsettia extra water. If they still have that ridiculous foil wrapping around the pot pour a bit of water in there to ensure soil remains constantly wet.
3. Darkness. Place it dark place where it will not get any sunlight or be able to grow upwards to any light fixture. The leaves will soon drop and you can throw it away because everyone knows that a houseplant with no leaves is pretty much dead. 
Any one of these three steps will lead to a quick death for most poinsettias. Combine two of the steps if you notice your poinsettia isn’t getting the hint. I omitted allowing them to dry out as a method of poinsettia murder. A droopy poinsettia may illicit a sympathetic watering from someone who doesn’t know you’re purposefully trying to kill your poinsettia.  Alternately, you can go on vacation and forget to put anyone in charge of your poinsettia or put it in the care of someone with a black thumb. When you come back from your vacation you will be rested and poinsettia free.
The Poinsettia FAQ on the University of Illinois Extension has good info for those who actually like poinsettias. 


Leave a comment
  • Didn't work. I got a baby one as a gift last year. I decided what the hell, let's keep it going. Left it in the foil, in a freezing cold greenhouse window (okay, so I missed the "darkness" step) and alternated letting it dry to the point of leaves falling off and then drowning it, still in the foil, by filling it with water. The damned thing is now three times its size and healthy and I've been starting to wonder how to get it to bloom again. And now, after it survived me for a year, I can't do what I normally do with pointsettias, which is to "accidentally" leave them on the back porch.

  • In reply to naxn:


    I think the alternating between watering and drying is what kept it alive. Better to stick to either watering it like crazy, so the roots rot or letting it dry out completely do the roots dry out and die works best.

    But if yours is doing good I say it should get a stay of execution. Check out the link to the FAQ to get it to "bloom." Basically it needs a good light/dark cycle to get the leaves to turn colors.

  • Diane,

    If you like them that's all that matters. Over on the Gardenweb in the houseplant forum there are usually a couple of threads by and for people who are serious about growing them. You should see if they've bumped them back up during the holidays to give you some tips.

  • MBT Just added a photo to Chicago Garden, just for you. I'll know you've seen it when I hear the scream.

  • In reply to naxn:


    The picture in the post was taken last year at a greenhouse on the South Side where they only grow poinsettias in the winter. For a second I thought your was taken there too.

  • Hi Bren!

    Thanks for signing up for an account to comment. Appreciate it. Good luck with your poinsettia.

  • I like your recent dark postings, LOL! I do like poinsettia; well, I don't hate them anyway, but I do understand hating certain plants. And I do HATE the weird colors some growers spray on poinsettias and I HATE the sparkles. UG! Even Mini-Me Piney came with sprakles, but they're all gone now, a year later. Like plants aren't cool enough on their own--they have to be MARKETED! (I guess that's why I'm not always on board with all new cultivars, either. And especially not native plants. Once a native plant is made into a cultivar, it's no longer a native plant!!!!! I don't care if people like it or grow it, just don't pretend it's native!!! (Sorry, that is a pet peeve of mine.))

Leave a comment