Selection and Care of the Poinsettia

The poinsettia is one of the most beautiful symbols of the holiday season. The bright, colorful poinsettia has become an integral part of holiday decorations in both the home and office.

Selection   Poinsettias are available in red, pink, white, and gold. Variegated and marbled poinsettias are also available. (It's even possible to purchase poinsettias that have been dyed blue, purple, orange, or other colors.) The colorful part of the poinsettia, commonly referred to as the plant's flowers, are actually modified leaves or bracts. The true flowers are yellow to green, button-like objects located in the center of the bracts.

When selecting a poinsettia, choose a plant with dark green foliage and brightly colored bracts. The true flowers should be shedding little or no pollen. Avoid poinsettias with wilted foliage, broken stems, or few leaves. Also, check the plant for insects. Obviously, no one wants to bring an insect-infested poinsettia into the home.

Care   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 and 70 degrees F.

Water needs can be determined by the finger test. Check the potting soil daily with your finger. When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until water begins to flow out the bottom of the pot. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, punch a hole in the foil at the bottom of the pot for water drainage and place a saucer underneath the pot. Discard the excess water which drains into the saucer. Today, most poinsettia growers and florists use molded plastic pot covers rather than foil. When watering these plants, carefully remove the poinsettia from the pot covering, water the plant in the sink, then drop it back into the molded pot cover. Both over- and underwatering cause problems for poinsettias. Overwatering will cause the lower leaves to turn yellow and drop. Dry plants wilt and also drop leaves prematurely.

If given good care, poinsettias should remain attractive for several weeks, well after New Year's Day.

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