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Poinsettia Care

Discover The Pleasure of Poinsettia Plants

Red poinsettias are the traditional Christmas flower in the United States and throughout much of the world. They provide a cheerful Christmas spirit and their bright colors blend well with other holiday decorations. White, pink and marble plants are also available. The showy, colored parts of the plant, commonly called flowers, are actually modified leaves, or bracts. The inconspicuous true flowers are located in the center of each whorl of bracts. They are green, have no petals and bloom with yellow flower parts and pollen.

Why Choose Poinsettias?

Poinsettias are not only the most popular Christmas plant, but the number one flowering potted plant in the United States. Historically, poinsettias have been marketed through flower shops, garden centers and nurseries. With the introduction of long-lasting varieties, poinsettias are now being sold in mass market outlets such as supermarkets and chain stores. Many new long-lasting varieties bloom earlier than the older varieties, and sales are starting in mid-November. It is possible to ensure flowering in time for early sales using black cloth treatment beginning September 15 for three weeks. Naturally early-flowering varieties will generally not require this treatment.

Growing and Maintenance Tips

Light - Poinsettia’s longevity is not affected by normal indoor light levels (50 to 100 fc). Avoid direct sunlight since plants will dry out rapidly.

Temperature - Maintain plants in cool (68° to 72°F; 20° to 22°C) areas.

Location - Place plants near a window but out of direct sunlight.

Irrigation - Keep plants uniformly moist at all times. If plants do become dry, it may be necessary to submerge the entire root system in water to thoroughly re-wet the peat moss-based media. Drying out will greatly reduce plant longevity.

Grooming - Remove dead bracts as needed.

Disorder - Faded bracts: Bracts that are just showing color when placed into the interior will develop into pale colored bracts. Only purchase plants with more open flowers, or place plants in higher light levels.

Cultivars - A number of cultivars-most with excellent longevity-are available with red, pink, white and variegated bracts. Some differences exist in flower drop and sensitivity to drying out.

Tips on Selecting a Poinsettia

Choose plants that have clean, healthy, dark green leaves and colorful bracts. Check the underside of the leaves for insects. Avoid plants with missing, bruised, broken or spray damaged leaves. Plants shedding yellow pollen are over mature and should be avoided. On a cold day (below 40’F) purchase the poinsettia at the end of the shopping trip and wrap the plant and pot in paper for the trip home. Even a slight chill can cause the plant to drop leaves later on. Unwrap the plant as soon as you get it home and place it in bright light away from cold and hot air drafts. Pierce the foil at the bottom of the pot for drainage. Water with lukewarm water if the soil is dry.

Winter Care

Place your poinsettia in a sunny window or the brightest area of the room, but don’t let it touch cold windowpanes. The temperature should be 65-75 ºF at night. Temperature above 75 ºF shorten bloom life, and those below 65 ºF cause root rot. Move plants away from windows at night or draw drapes between them. Examine the potting soil daily. Never let the plant wilt or lose it’s leaves. When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water the plant with lukewarm water until some water runs out of the drainage hole, then discard the drainage water. Poinsettias do not like “wet feet”. Repotting is not necessary during the winter.

Spring Care

Many poinsettia varieties hold their bloom until May, when they can be cut back and set outside after frost. As days lengthen and light intensity increases in March, side shoots often develop below the bracts. The old leaves and stems can be removed above this new growth. If all the old leaves have fallen and the bracts have faded, the old stems may be cut back to six inches above the soil. The plants may also be repotted at this time with a commercial potting soil or a mixture of 1-part soil, 1-part sphagnum peat and 1-part sand. If the plants were grown single stem (non-branched with several plants per pot), it is best to discard them. Reduce watering frequency in proportion to the amount of the foliage removed from the plant. Poinsettias can be grown indoors as foliage plants in summer or moved outside.

Summer Care Outdoors

When frost danger ends, poinsettias can be grown outdoors. Choose a sunny location with some protection from the wind and strong sun. Sink the pot to the rim in a well- drained soil. Rotate the pot every two weeks to break off roots growing out of the drainage hole. Fertilize monthly according to directions, with a house plant fertilizer. Check water needs frequently because the soil can dry out quickly in the summer. Cut off the tips of the plant occasionally to get a shorter, bushier plant with more branches. The last date of clipping should be August 1.

Care and Re-Blooming

Bring the plant indoors September 1 and place near the sunniest window. Beginning October 1, the plant must receive 14 consecutive hours of uninterrupted darkness each night, but it must also get bright light during the day Poinsettias bloom naturally by Christmas if exposed to normal periods of darkness and daylight after October 1, provided the dark period is not interrupted by turning on the room lights at night. Streetlights shining through room windows may also delay bloom. If the room is used at night, protect the plant from light by placing it in an unused closet or by covering with a cardboard box (tape the seams) from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. The night temperature during the dark period must be between 60-65 ºF while flower buds are being formed, or bud set may be delayed or terminated. Plants must receive bright sunlight during the day for good color to develop. An artificial light source is often required to supplement low fall and winter sunlight. Fertilize every other week and keep the soil from becoming too dry. Plants need extra nourishment while being forced into bloom. After the bracts show full color, usually by Thanksgiving, the dark treatment is no longer necessary. The key factor to producing a quality plant is good light during the day, which is often lacking in homes, and 14 hours of total darkness during bud set.

Poinsettias Are Not Poisonous

For years there has been adverse publicity during the holiday season concerning the alleged poisonous nature of poinsettia plants. Past research from The Ohio State University has disclosed that laboratory rats are not subject to any ill effects from eating leaves and bracts. This research indicates that the poinsettias are not harmful to humans and animals, though, of course, it is not recommended that they be taken internally.

Poinsettias Are Sensitive Plants

They must be protected in shipping with proper packaging and sleeving during transit. The plants must be unloaded immediately upon arrival at the store. Plant are very susceptible to chill damage, so never leave shipments out on a cold dock and never refrigerate. Poinsettia bracts are fragile and if the plants are handled roughly, bruises in the form of black or white marks will develop on the bracts. After un-sleeving, space plants apart in 65-75 ºF room with enough light to read fine print. Any substandard conditions or shipping damage should be reported to the supplier immediately. Make sure plants are thoroughly watered on displays. Soil should be moist to the touch at all times. Be sure to pass information on to the end consumer. Proper care instructions should go with every plant.

Summary of Poinsettia Care

During winter place plant in the brightest area of home.
In summer, protection is needed from midday sun and wind.
Day temperatures should be 65-70 ºF.
Night temperatures should be 60-65 ºF.
Protect from drafts of hot or cold air.
Move plants away from windows during winter nights.
Keep soil moist but not soggy wet.
Water when soil becomes dry to the touch.
Do not let plant wilt.
Use lukewarm water.
Discard drainage water.
Fertilize monthly with house plant fertilizer.

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