How to Prune a Poinsettia

Overhead view of someone pruning a poinsettia plant

The Spruce / Jayme Burrows

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 20 hrs, 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Poinsettias are popular plants that most people enjoy as potted annuals during the holiday season. However, if properly cared for these beautiful plants can be enjoyed year-round both indoors and outdoors. Poinsettias are perennial shrubs and, like many shrubs, pruning is an important part of caring for a poinsettia. Not only does pruning help to encourage fuller growth, but regular pruning will result in a more prolific show of blooms the following year. Here’s what you need to know about how to prune a poinsettia plant.

When to Prune a Poinsettia

Poinsettias should be pruned twice a year, once in the early spring and once in the summer. The spring pruning should be done once the plant has finished blooming, and the second pruning should be done during late summer. April and August are good months to aim for, but it's okay if your pruning schedule looks a bit different. Whatever you do, ensure that you do not prune your poinsettia after early September if you want it to bloom again.

Before Getting Started

Before you start pruning your poinsettia, it’s a good idea to lay down a small tarp or plastic sheet under the plant. When cut poinsettias exude a milky, latex-like sap that can easily drip onto the surfaces around them if they aren’t protected. You should also sterilize your pruning shears to ensure that you don’t accidentally introduce harmful bacteria to your poinsettia through unsterilized shears. A quick wipe-down with rubbing alcohol is all that is needed to sterilize pruning shears effectively.

Laying a tarp down beneath a poinsettia plant

The Spruce / Jayme Burrows

Safety Considerations

Poinsettia’s sap can be quite irritating to the skin. To prevent coming into contact with the sap during pruning, we recommend wearing a pair of gardening gloves to protect your hands. Also be aware that poinsettias are considered toxic to pets, including cats and dogs, if ingested so if you have furry friends that are particularly curious or mischievous it may be best to keep them safely locked away during pruning.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pruning shears
  • Gardening gloves
  • Tarp or plastic sheet

Materials

  • Poinsettia

Instructions

Materials needed to prune poinsettias

The Spruce / Jayme Burrows

How to Prune a Poinsettia in Spring

Spring pruning is considered heavier than summer pruning and lays the groundwork for the type of growth that you can expect throughout the rest of the year from your poinsettia. While it may seem scary to prune your plant aggressively if you wish to keep your poinsettia compact, spring pruning is the time to ensure this happens.

  1. Remove Foliage

    Before trimming any branches, it is helpful to remove dead or dying foliage from the plant so you can see the branches clearly. It is usually recommended to leave between one to three leaves on each stem after pruning. Remember: you will be pruning the ends of the branches off, so any leaves that are left on the plant should be towards the base of the stems.

    Pruning dead blooms off of a poinsettia plant

    The Spruce / Jayme Burrows

  2. Cut Branches Back

    If you want to keep your poinsettia relatively small and bushy, you should trim the branches back to about four to six inches in height. For smaller plants, this may mean that you are left with rather a measly-looking plant. Don’t worry, it will reward you with plenty of luscious blooms in the long run! If you are okay with your poinsettia growing into a larger shrub, you can use the ⅓ rule of pruning to trim back the branches.

    Cutting the branches back on a poinsettia plant

    The Spruce / Jayme Burrows

Tip

Don't throw away your stem cuttings. Any cuttings that are still soft and green (not woody) can be rooted and used to propagate new poinsettia plants. Easy DIY Christmas gifts here we come!

How to Prune Poinsettia in Summer

Summer pruning is less aggressive than spring pruning. The primary purpose of pruning a poinsettia in the late summer is to prepare the plant for blooming. 

  1. Cut the Branches Back

    Using sterilized pruning shears, cut the branches of your poinsettia plant back. Each branch should have three to four leaves remaining. This will encourage further branching and plenty of buds once your plant is ready to bloom.

    Cut-back poinsettia branches

    The Spruce / Jayme Burrows

In addition to pruning your poinsettia in spring and summer, these perennial shrubs also benefit from regular pinching back during the growing season. Like most shrubs, this will result in bushier growth. You can pinch off new buds as they sprout from May to August to encourage branching. To ensure that your poinsettia blooms in the winter months, you should stop pinching it back in early September.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Poison Control. “Are poinsettias poisonous?” poison.org. N.p., n.d. Web.