7 Reasons Your Poinsettia Has Yellow and Wilted Leaves

Are the leaves of your poinsettia turning yellow? There are a few reasons this occurs, and some easy fixes to try. In this article, gardening expert Danielle Sherwood explains the most common reasons poinsettia leaves turn yellow, and how you can address the problem.

Poinsettia with yellow wilted leaves in planted pot

No flower says holiday season quite like the poinsettia. They’re the perfect accent plant for festive holiday décor, a popular winter gift, and brighten even the gloomiest of days! Their specialized bracts (modified leaves) come in a variety of fun, seasonal colors.

Unfortunately, poinsettias can be a bit finicky about their conditions. This tropical member of the Euphorbia family grows naturally in the deciduous forest on mountain slopes of Central America and Mexico, making its ideal conditions quite a bit different from the inside of most of our homes.

If you’ve purchased a poinsettia to add holiday cheer only to see it fade and turn yellow, rest assured that this is a common problem. Happily, there are adjustments you can make to provide the correct balance of water, sun, humidity and temperature, and get your plant looking healthy again.

So, why do the leaves of poinsettias turn yellow? What can you do about it? Follow along for tips to fix the problem and restore health to this beloved holiday plant!

Temperature Fluctuations

Plant on windowsill next to snowy window. The plant has red leaves and sits in a plastic pot wrapped in burlap.
Poinsettias that sit next to a cold, drafty window can yellow and wilt.

A common reason poinsettia leaves turn yellow is the lack of stable temperature indoors. Constant changes in conditions can stress the plant, weakening it and causing its colorful bracts to droop and fade.

It’s popular to display poinsettias next to entryways or the fireplace, leading them to experience frequent extreme temperature changes. 

Poinsettias prefer an indoor temperature of a steady 65-75 ℉. Blasts of cold winter air from an opening door or the intense heat of a nearby radiator can stress the plant and make leaves turn yellow. 

The Fix

Provide a sheltered location, away from bursts of cold air and the heat of appliances or the fireplace. In their natural environment, nights are slightly cooler, so it’s okay to lower your temperature overnight, as long as it stays between 65-75 degrees.

Avoid moving the plant once it has found its happy spot. Frequently changing conditions are stressful for the plant.

Poor Drainage

Pot without drainage sitting on table. The container is made of terra cotta and has a water dish at the bottom that water is sitting inside of.
Proper drainage is critical for potted poinsettias.

Most poinsettia pots come in a pretty, decorative nursery sleeve. Many people keep poinsettias in their original container and wrapping, thinking it’s an easy way to add holiday décor.

However, poinsettias need excellent drainage to thrive. If you water it in its pot with the nursery sleeve, the water has nowhere to go. The poinsettias roots will sit in soggy soil, causing drooping, root rot, and other diseases.

Poinsettias that sit in wet soil cannot absorb enough oxygen and nutrients to stay healthy, affecting the look and health of the entire plant. While poinsettias are the perfect winter container plant, their pots require consistent monitoring for soggy soil.

The Fix

When you get home, remove the decorative sleeve from your poinsettia’s pot. If you love the look of the sleeve, take it off and poke holes in the bottom before placing it back. This will allow water to drain out and the roots to breathe. After watering, lift up the pot to make sure the plant isn’t sitting in water.

Your poinsettia can easily last the winter season in its original pot. If you prefer to dress it up a bit, find a pretty container that’s larger and has drainage holes, and place your poinsettia pot inside it. This is less stressful for the plant than transplanting.

Over or Underwatering

Wilted plant growing in container. The plant has red, green, and some yellow foliage. The plant is overwatered and is suffering.
Both overwatering and underwatering can cause leaf discoloration.

Poinsettias leaves often turn yellow due to too much or too little water. So which is it? If you have dry, hot air in your home, chances are your plant is drying out too quickly.

If you have high humidity, frequent watering is unnecessary, as the plant retains more moisture and needs to dry out some before it’s given additional water. .

If the leaves are wilting and turning yellow, improper amounts of water are a likely culprit. It would be nice if there was a hard and fast rule for providing the right amount of water, but since the temperature and humidity levels of homes vary, you’ll need to follow your plant’s cue to know when to hydrate.

Too much water, too often encourages fungal disease, while not enough leads to wilt. Fortunately, a quick check of the soil will provide you with the information you need.

The Fix

Poinsettias need water whenever the top few inches of soil are completely dry. Push your finger into the soil about 3 inches deep. If it’s dry, your plant may be thirsty. If the top layer of soil is still moist, wait a couple of days and check again.

 Poinsettias in appropriately humid environments (55%-75%) will need less water. Check soil regularly, and you’ll soon be able to tell how often your plant needs hydration.

When watering, you want to let the soil get thoroughly saturated all the way down to the roots. Place the nursery pot in your sink, and water until it flows out the bottom. Leave it there until all excess has drained out before returning it to its normal location.

If you water in a decorative pot that rests on a dish, make sure to drain the excess so your plant doesn’t sit in water and get soggy roots.

Not Enough or Too Much Sun

Crisp plant has been exposed to too much sunlight. The leaves are yellowish brown, and dried up. The plant looks like it may die.
Whether planted outdoors or inside your home, too much or too little sun can cause leaf discoloration.

Is your poinsettia getting the right amount of light? These plants need at least 6-8 hours a day of sun. Too much or too little could be causing your yellow leaves.

Poinsettias are photoperiodic and require long periods of complete darkness to achieve their beautiful winter color, but once in bloom they prefer bright, indirect light. Too much sun leads to leaf scorch and loss, while too little causes them to wilt and lose their color.

Adequate sun keeps poinsettias healthy and is important to leaf and color retention. To enjoy this plant all season long, you’ll want to get it right.

The Fix

Place the plant in a location with 6-8 hours of bright, indirect sun. South-West or East facing windows are good choices. If your home doesn’t get much sunlight, you can supplement with artificial grow lights during the day.

Be on the lookout for strong afternoon sun, and move your plant if necessary. If it has scorched leaves from too much direct light, wear gloves to protect your hands from the plant’s sticky sap and gently remove them.

Unhealthy, burnt leaves can rot and harm the entire plant. Once you’ve pruned off the damage, find a spot with filtered light and give your poinsettia some time to recover.

Too Much Fertilizer

Overfertilized plant going into shock and dropping leaves at the bottom of the pot. The leaves are red in color, but are dry and dying.
When your plant has been overfertilized, it can cause leaf discoloration and dropping foliage.

We love our plants and want to give them a boost, so more nutrients is always better, right? Your poinsettia needed fertilizer to encourage lots of healthy green growth in spring, but during the holidays, it’s concentrating on providing pretty seasonal color before dormancy. Fertilizing during this time can be harmful for the plant.

The poinsettia’s colorful bracts, which are commonly mistaken for flowers, are actually modified leaves that change color in response to long periods of darkness in fall. Their appearance lets us know it’s time to stop fertilizing.

In fact, nutrient overload too late in the season can cause bract necrosis and bract-edge burn, leading to yellowed, crispy leaves with brown edges that fall off the plant or need removal.

The Fix

The soil from your original pot should provide all the nutrients your plant needs to stay healthy throughout the holidays. Many soils already contain a slow-release fertilizer, and more would be overkill.

Let your poinsettia focus on developing its winter color and preparing for dormancy, rather than triggering new growth with supplemental nutrients. Sometimes a little neglect is a good thing!

Pests

Spider mites crawling all over plant. The plant is outdoors and there is mites crawling on it with a web covering the plant.
Spider mites and other pests can cause leaf discoloration.

Pest issues in the middle of winter? While most bugs are slumbering during cold winter weather, your poinsettia was grown in a nice, warm greenhouse. You may have unwittingly purchased one that was already host to some unpleasant pest guests that followed you home from the nursery.

Pests can sap the juices from your poinsettia’s leaves, leading to spotted, yellow, and disfigured foliage. Common poinsettia pests that love warm greenhouse conditions are whiteflies, spider mites, and fungus gnats.

When purchasing a new plant, inspect the undersides of leaves for little white whitefly nymphs and sticky spider mite webs. Avoid taking home any plant that has spotted, munched on, or otherwise deformed leaves.

Fungus gnats feed on the root system and love consistently moist soil. They look like little gray flies, similar to fruit flies. If you see crawling bugs or fluttering insects when you water or move your plant, fungus gnats are likely.

The Fix

You never want to use a pesticide inside your home. They are dangerous to breathe and harmful for your family and your pets. Instead, capture bugs with sticky yellow traps, removing and replacing them when full.

Fungus gnats breed in the top few inches of soil. If you see them crawling or fluttering around the plant when you water, let the pot dry out for a couple of days. Only water when the top few inches of soil are completely dry.

Prune off and discard any foliage damaged by pests. Remove any insects large enough  to see by rubbing them off the leaves with a soft cloth.

Some gardeners even recommend carefully sucking them off with a handheld vacuum on the leaves. If you can’t get control of the problem, discard and replace your poinsettia before pests migrate to your other houseplants. 

Going into Dormancy

Plant with leaves that are yellow at the fringes of the plant. The plant leaves are yellowing as it goes into dormancy, but most of the leaves are bright red.
As poinsettias go dormant, their leaves will start to yellow.

Sadly, all good things come to an end. Your poinsettia puts on quite a show, and after a 5-8 weeks of color, it’s ready for its winter rest.

Poinsettias entering dormancy will begin to fade, yellow, and lose their leaves. With good care, some varieties have a long shelf-life and can last well-beyond the holidays. Early season varieties may begin to lose their color by Christmas.

If you know you are providing the best conditions by giving your plant the right amount of light, water, and stable temperatures, chances are its yellow leaves mean your poinsettia has finished blooming for the season.

The Fix

If you’ve provided the best care possible, know that this is a natural and unavoidable part of your poinsettia’s life cycle. The good news is that you don’t have to throw it out. With a few extra steps, poinsettias can be kept year round to bloom again next year!

Final Thoughts

Finding a remedy for yellowing poinsettia leaves isn’t too difficult if you keep in mind the their natural preferences for plenty of indirect light, infrequent deep waterings, and warm, humid tropical air. Remember to purchase a pest-free plant with healthy green foliage, and you’ll be on your way to a season of beautiful color.

If you want the challenge of helping your poinsettia stay alive and bloom again next year, don’t let the appearance of yellow, falling leaves discourage you. Poinsettias can last for years with good care! Whether you choose to keep it for one season or many, these beautiful holiday plants are worth the effort.

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