Caring for Poinsettia Plants
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If red is the only color that comes to mind when you think of poinsettias then it may be time for you to visit your local garden center! Today there are over 100 different varieties of poinsettias available in a range of colors including white, pink, rose, coral, salmon, and every tint of red, crimson, and scarlet imaginable. Poinsettias can be found with leaves edged and frosted in white and with petal-like bracts that are marbled, dusted, or splashed in multiple colors. Whether you stick with a traditional red variety this Christmas or try one of the newer color creations, the following quick tips will help you get the most out of your poinsettia this holiday season.
Selecting Healthy Plants
When picking out poinsettias, look for plants that have lots of dark green foliage from top to bottom. Plants that have yellowing lower leaves will not last as long as those whose lower leaves are still dark green. Also look at the plant’s bracts – these are the large colorful leaves that resemble petals. Choose plants with bracts that are undamaged and brightly colored. Poinsettias dislike the cold and should be kept at temperatures above 50 degrees at all times. Once home, choose a location that is brightly lit and free from drafts. Plants kept in an area that stays between 55 and 75 degrees will look good the longest.
Poinsettias like to stay evenly moist – never completely dry or sitting in standing water. They are often displayed sitting in decorative foil coverings or ornamental containers that do not have drainage holes in the bottom. Be sure to take your poinsettia out of these types of decorative pots before watering. Water your poinsettia whenever the surface of the soil appears dry and the plant feels light when you lift it. The best way to water a poinsettia is to place it in a sink and add water until it begins to drip out of the bottom of the pot. Allow the plant to remain in the sink until all extra water has drained out of the pot and then place it back into its ornamental container. If your poinsettia is sitting in a container with a saucer underneath, pour out any extra water the saucer captures after watering.
There is little need to fertilize poinsettias until after Christmas since most plants sold have enough nutrients in their soil to keep them happy for at least 30 days. You also do not have to worry about keeping poinsettia plants away from pets, children, or hungry relatives. Despite common belief, poinsettias are not poisonous! This is just an urban legend that began in the early 1920’s and continues to persist. People with sensitive skin may develop a slight rash after coming in contact with the white sap produced in all parts of poinsettia plants.
Poinsettia Care After the Holidays
While it is possible to keep poinsettias living year after year, for the majority of us the most realistic thing to do with a poinsettia after it starts to look bad is to add it to the compost pile. For those with a green thumb, keeping poinsettias going from year to year is not too difficult. After the holidays, keep poinsettia plants in a warm, brightly lit area. Cut off the flowers once they begin to fade and either add a pelleted slow release fertilizer to the soil or fertilize plants twice a month with a water soluble fertilizer such as Miracle Grow, Peter’s Plant Food, fish emulsion, or compost tea.
When all threat of frost has passed in spring poinsettias can be placed outside in a partially shaded location until fall. Pinch the tips a few times over the summer to encourage bushy growth. To get poinsettias to bloom in time for Christmas, bring them back inside by the end of September and provide them with bright light during the day and at least 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness every night. These long periods of darkness are needed to initiate flowering. Poinsettia plants should begin to bloom after nine to 11 weeks of long night treatment.
To find out more about the care of poinsettias, visit the N.C. Cooperative Extension poinsettia portal: http://poinsettias.ces.ncsu.edu/