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Ruth Correll: Tips to keep poinsettias beautiful

Ruth Correll • Dec 5, 2017 at 10:51 PM

It is the time of year to be reminded about the care of the most popular flowering potted plant in the United States, the poinsettia. Poinsettias are a holiday tradition that come in a wide array of colors, red, white, marbled, speckled and yellow but the deep red is the traditional color.

Did you know that the poinsettia’s main attraction is not its flowers, but its leaves? The flowers of the plant are the green or yellow clustered buds in the center. The colored leafy parts are actually bracts or modified leaves. Poinsettias can last well beyond the holiday if a high-quality plant is selected and then cared for in the correct way. 

When selecting a plant, the plant you choose should have flowers that are just beginning to open, or better still, the plant should have fully colored bracts with the flower buds still very tightly closed. The plant should appear full with uniformly dark green leaves attached from the colored bracts to almost the base of the plant. The leaves themselves should be completely free of disease and insects. The plant should be strong enough to stand on its own. No ties or stakes should be needed. If possible check the roots and make sure they are very light colored and there are plenty of roots to sustain the plant. 

When taking the plant home, do not allow it to be exposed to cold drafts or extreme hot. A blast of air colder than 50 degrees will give a severe shock to your plant and may result in leaf drop. Before you leave the store, ask for a protective sleeve to save the plant from wind, rain, or frigid temperature as you transport it. Beware plants that were stored in a sleeve or that looks wilted when wet.

Your poinsettia can add beauty to your home throughout the holiday season if you place it in an optimal location for its growing needs. Even if such a location is not the most prominent place to display it, you can put the plant on display when you have company, but be sure to place it back into its growing area later. 

Poinsettias thrive in bright, but not direct, sunlight. Put the plant next to a sunny window. Direct sunlight could discolor the bracts. On the other hand, low light can cause the plant to lose some of its leaves. Consider displaying it in a shady location like the dining room table but maintaining it near a window. 

Poinsettias will not tolerate moisture extremes. Do not keep the potting mix too wet or too dry. If allowed to dry out too much, the plant will wilt and drop its leaves. Conversely, don’t allow the plant to remain in standing water. This could result in root rot, which will cause the plant to decline. 

Fertilizer should not be a concern until after Christmas. Then you can use a soluble fertilizer at a rate of about ¼ teaspoon per gallon of water. This should be done once a month until April. 

Poinsettias do not last long when exposed to extremes in temperature, particularly in drafty locations. This can cause overall plant decline and leaf drop. Keep the plant away from heat vents and outside doors or windows. Try to maintain the temperature at no higher than 70 degrees. If possible, keep the plant with other plants or set the container in a gravel-filled pan half-filled with water. Doing this will keep the humidity a little higher around the plant in an otherwise dry, winter home. 

The poinsettia is a perennial plant, so it can live for many years with some special attention throughout the year. However, the average span of time in which a poinsettia is most attractive in the home is two to four weeks. With excellent care, it could last from six to eight weeks. The maturity of the plant when it was purchased also plays a role in longevity of your poinsettia. 

True or false – the poinsettia is a poisonous plant. If you answered false, you’re correct. The plant has been tested repeatedly and cleared of this charge by the National Poison Center in Atlanta. 

However, this doesn’t mean poinsettias are meant to be eaten by people or animals.

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson.

Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or acorrell@utk.edu.

 

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