Choosing and Caring for Poinsettias

As you decorate for the holidays, you may want to buy a Poinsettia or two to add some bright color to your home.  The Poinsettia’s showy bracts, which are modified leaves, can be red, white, pink, or bicolors. Small round yellow cyathia, located in the center of the bracts, are the true flowers.

When choosing a Poinsettia, look for plants with dark green leaves and brightly colored bracts. Leaves should cover most of the stem. Plants that have a bluish or white discoloration have suffered a chilling injury and will not last as long as undamaged plants. If leaves or bracts are wilted, falling off or yellowed, or if bracts are discolored, faded or torn, the plants have not had proper care and should be avoided. In older varieties of Poinsettias, the cyathia drop off as the plant ages, so purchasing a plant with many cyathia ensured a younger plant. Newer cultivars have been bred to hold cyathia longer or to not have many, so this is no longer a reliable indicator of the age of your plant.

Once you have chosen your Poinsettia, place it in a sunny area of your house. Poinsettias are sensitive to temperatures below 55 degrees, so take care that your plant is not touching a cold window or in a drafty location. They prefer a daytime temperature between 70 and 75 degrees – warmer temperatures can cause premature bract discoloration and leaf drop. A slightly cooler evening temperature (60-65 degrees) will help to prolong bract coloration.

Check the moisture levels of your Poinsettia often. Poinsettias don’t like to have “wet feet”, so make sure there is adequate drainage in your pot (and in the decorative foil cover, if you choose to have one). Allowing the plant to dry out will result in leaf drop and is the most common reason Poinsettias don’t last. Don’t allow your Poinsettia to become so dry that the leaves begin to droop!

Although the milky sap can cause minor skin irritation for some people, the plants are not poisonous. However, eating them is not recommended.

-Ann Barnes

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