The poinsettia is a colorful symbol of the Christmas season. Poinsettias often appear in florist shops, greenhouses, and other retail outlets in late November. Careful selection and care should help insure an attractive poinsettia throughout the holiday season.
Poinsettias are available in red, pink, white, and gold. Variegated and marbled poinsettias are also sold. Modern varieties are compact, durable, and hold their bracts for several weeks. Select plants with dark green foliage and brightly colored bracts. Little or no pollen should be showing on the true flowers. (The true flowers are yellow to green, button-like objects located in the center of the colorful bracts.) Avoid poinsettias with wilted foliage, few or no lower leaves, or broken stems. Also, check the undersides of the leaves for insects. Obviously, no one wants to bring an insect infested plant into the house.
Before venturing outside, place the poinsettia in a plant sleeve or carefully wrap it to prevent exposure to cold temperatures. Exposure to freezing temperatures, even for a brief moment, may cause the leaves to blacken and drop. As soon as you get home, unwrap the plant and place it near a sunny window or other well-lighted area. However, don't let the plant touch the cold window pane. Also, keep the poinsettia away from cold drafts or heat outlets. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60-70 F. If the pot is wrapped with decorative foil, punch a hole in the foil at the bottom of the pot for water drainage and place a saucer underneath the pot.
Water needs can be determined by the finger test. Check the potting soil daily. When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until it freely flows out the bottom of the pot. Discard the excess water which drains into the saucer. Both over- and underwatering cause problems for poinsettias. The lower leaves of overwatered plants turn yellow and drop. Dry plants wilt and also drop leaves prematurely.
If given good care, poinsettias should remain attractive for several weeks. In fact, many individuals grow tired of their poinsettia long before it becomes unsightly.
This article originally appeared in the November 11, 1994 issue, p. 154.