It’s that time of year when poinsettias show up in garden centers, grocery stores, and just about any other place that has a cash register. It’s hard to say no to a beautiful plant that makes a spectacular holiday centerpiece.
But how do you know which one to pick? It needs to be one that will last the whole season and not lose its color or drop its leaves. Here are some tips as to what to look for when choosing the perfect poinsettia.
• There should be dark green foliage from the top of the pot to the colored bracts (leaves).
• The bracts should be fully colored with no green around the edges.
• Check the maturity of the plant by looking at the true flowers. They can be found in the center of the colored bracts at the tips of the stems. Plants that will last the longest will have flowers that are swollen and are tipped with red or green with only two or three showing the yellow pollen.
• A good plant will be about 2 ½ times taller than the diameter of the pot it is growing in.
• The plants should be well branched to provide a full appearance.
• Plants that are displayed in their shipping sleeve or are crowded together on the display are less likely to last the entire holiday season.
• Check the plant for aphids and white flies. These insects like to hide on the bottom side of the leaves.
• Plants with leaves that are drooping, wilted, or turning yellow should not be selected either.
Now that you have selected the perfect poinsettia, the next task is to get it home safely. Poinsettias are tropical plants and temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit will cause frost damage on the plants. Don’t leave the plant in the car on a cold day or it may be all curled and wilted from the cold.
If the store has paper or plastic shipping sleeves, put one of these around the plant for transportation. Limbs of poinsettias are easily broken. The jostling of transporting the plant home could break off limbs and make the plant lopsided.
Once the plants are home the care of the plant is up to you. Three of the biggest factors to consider when caring for poinsettias are water, sunlight, and temperature. Poinsettias do not like to have wet soil; it causes the roots to rot. On the other hand, if the soil dries out even once it can cause premature leaf drop. The soil should stay moist without being too wet. Be sure to pour off any excess water after letting the plant soak for about 10 minutes.
When considering light, poinsettias need bright light for about six hours each day. This can be direct sunlight or just a bright location. Direct sunlight will result in more water being used by the plant. Not enough light will cause bract color to decline or early leaf drop.
Poinsettias will grow best when the daytime temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees and nighttime temperatures are dropped to between 60 and 65 degrees. Temperatures above 75 will cause premature bract fading and temperatures below 55 will cause cold injury. One way to avoid the temperature extremes is to not place the plant near a heating and cooling vent. The air coming out of the vent may be too hot or cold for the plant.
For more information on selection or care of poinsettias look for Horticulture Information Leaflet #8508 or find it online.
Shawn Banks is a Consumer Horticulture Agent with NC Cooperative Extension. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.