By Larry Hodgson
The Internet is full of ridiculous horticultural information: really lame things that you are recommended to do and that are supposed to help your plants grow better. Of all these, I think one of the most ridiculous—and it’s repeated on more than 14,000 Websites!—is that you should water your Christmas poinsettia with ice cubes.
The absurdity of it just boggles the mind. Why would you take a tropical plant like the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), one that never ever sees frost in the wild, and put ice cubes around its base? And, at least while it’s in bloom and uses more water than usual, it prefers that its soil kept evenly moist, whereas ice cubes release very little water at a time—only spots here and there—, keeping the plant drought-stressed at all times.
Plus, it’s a lot of extra work. Compared to normal watering, where you water once, then walk away, coming back to repeat a week or so later, you now have to do the following:
- Prepare the ice cubes (freezing water just so you can unfreeze it later: not terribly logical, is it?).
- Successfully remove the cubes from their tray (something, personally, I’ve always failed miserably at doing).
- Place 4 to 8 ice cubes on the soil of the poinsettia, depending in the size of the pot, hopefully without freezing your fingers.
- Keep the ice cubes from touching the plant’s stem so the cold won’t kill it.
- Repeat the above daily (yes, you read correctly! If you don’t apply the ice cubes every day, the plant will quickly wilt, because the ice cubes don’t release enough water to adequately humidify the soil).
The result is a drought-stressed poinsettia that struggles to survive, but may still look quite presentable … if you magically find just the right number of ice cubes for your plant under its specific growing conditions.
The Easy Peasy Way to Water a Poinsettia
Instead, why not just water your poinsettia by applying the oh-so-simple golden rule of watering? When the soil is dry to the touch, take a watering can, fill it full of tepid to room temperature water (not cold water, poinsettias hate that) and pour it slowly over the soil at the base of the plant. When water starts to drip out of the bottom of the pot into the saucer below, stop watering. That will ensure that the entire root ball is thoroughly moist, always the ideal situation when you water a plant. Then wait until the soil is dry to the touch before watering again.
That can be somewhere between 5 and 14 days later under most indoor conditions, but don’t trust a given number of days. Always touch the potting mix: it has to be dry—not bone dry, but just feel dry to your finger—before you water again. Or use a moisture meter: when it shows dry, it’s time to water. Or lift the pot: when it feels light, it’s time to water.
What Not to Do
Do not wait until your poinsettia wilts before you water. It’s the classic beginner’s error. Yes, the plant will perk up when you water it thoroughly, but it will also lose leaves and bracts (the colorful part of the plant’s flower). And each time you let it wilt, your poinsettia will lose more leaves and bracts until it is soon any unsightly mess.
Helpful Hint: The plastic or foil pot cover the poinsettia often comes in can actually kill it, as it’s usually impermeable and therefore prevents any excess water from draining from the pot. Either remove it or punch a hole in the bottom, then set the pot in a plant saucer. That way any surplus water can safely drain away.
True enough, you do have to supply reasonable basic growing conditions to your poinsettia over the holidays. Like normal room temperatures (it hates the cold), keeping it away from the drying air of heating vents, making sure it has good light during the day, etc. And it won’t need fertilizer … at least, not until spring.
With reasonable care and by following the golden rule of watering, your poinsettia should remain in top form not only through Christmas season, but well into the New Year.
Just don’t give it ice cubes!