By Kimberly Toscano
Poinsettias are quintessential holiday décor, but they are also finicky plants. The following tips will help you select and maintain healthy plants throughout the holidays season and beyond.
1. Purchasing Poinsettias
Look for plants with dark green leaves as an indicator of good health. Poinsettias are very sensitive to cold temperatures. Be sure to wrap plants before leaving the store because exposure to cold temperatures for even a short time can cause leaves to fall off. A simple paper bag works if plant sleeves are not available.
2. Lots of Light
Good lighting is the secret to retaining leaves and colorful bracts. Place poinsettias in a bright location near a sunny window, but out of direct sunlight. Do not place poinsettias directly in the windowsill as cold drafts can cause injury. The same is true of hot drafts; avoid placing plants close to heat registers. Poinsettias perform best between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Proper Watering
Poinsettias are often sold with a colorful foil wrap. One of easiest ways to kill or stress your poinsettia is watering with the foil sleeve around the pot. Water stands inside the foil, which suffocates roots. To water, remove the foil wrapper and place the poinsettia in a sink. Run water over the soil, allowing it to move through the container and out the drainage holes. Wait until water stops draining from the pot before replacing the foil wrap. Water plants when the soil feels dry to the touch.
4. A Word About Toxicity
Parents and pet owners are concerned about reports that poinsettias are toxic. Recent research suggests poinsettias are not poisonous to people, however some people are allergic to the milky sap found in plant stems, which can cause rashes. Protect young children from accidental exposure by keeping all houseplants out of reach. Plants are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs, causing drooling, lip-licking and potential vomiting, but rarely requiring medical attention.
5. Next Year’s Poinsettia
Though we generally treat them as seasonal color, poinsettias are naturally long-lived plants. You can save your poinsettia and force it to bloom again next season with these steps:
- In March, cut stems back to 4-6 inches in height leaving 1-3 leaves per stem.
- Fertilizer in spring with a slow release fertilizer.
- Plant poinsettia in your garden in early summer.
- Cut stems again in mid-August, leaving 2-3 leaves per stem.
- Bring plants indoors when temperatures start to dip into the 60’s.
- Starting late September, place in complete darkness (such as a closet) between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. daily.
- Put poinsettia on display once color begins to show.
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