Keeping Poinsettias Healthy During the Holidays

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Poinsettias make colorful additions to holiday displays. In fact, they are the number one potted plant sold in the US.

Breeding efforts have resulted in many varieties of the plant, including ones that are ruffled or speckled. Some universities, like NC State, conduct poinsettia trials to see which varieties perform best and are most desirable to consumers.

Poinsettias are named after the ambassador to Mexico who introduced the plant to the US. In their native environment of the tropical highlands of southern Mexico, poinsettias grow as an upright shrub often reaching 10’ in height.

When choosing poinsettias, look for plants with dark green leaves from top to bottom. Plants with yellowing lower leaves will not last as long as plants with green lower leaves. Poinsettia bracts (the large, colorful, showy leaves which resemble flower petals) should be brightly colored and not torn or ratty.

Poinsettias will be damaged if exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees. To keep poinsettias looking good throughout the holiday season, keep them between 55 and 75 degrees. Plants should be placed away from drafts, in an area with bright sunlight.

Allow the potting mix in which poinsettias are grown to dry out before watering. Remember, they’re native to Central America, where rainfall is low. Water plants when the potting mix is dry to the touch or when the pot feels lightweight.

Often, poinsettia pots come wrapped in a decorative foil, which should be removed or have holes poked in it so that excess water can drain from the pot. If you choose to poke holes in the foil, a saucer can be used to collect drainage water. Poinsettias that are sold have enough nutrients to last them through the holidays, so they don’t need to be fertilized if you’re only using it for the season. The plants can be composted when they start losing their luster or they can be treated as perennials and encouraged to re-bloom for the following holiday season.

Like other plants in the Spurge family, poinsettias produce a milky sap, which discourages plant-eating animals. This sap is produced in all areas of the plant and can irritate sensitive skin.

For information on poinsettias, including how to get them to re-bloom, visit http://go.ncsu.edu/poinsettia or call the Caldwell Extension office at 828-757-1290.