Poinsettias have been admired in our culture since Joel Poinsett brought them here from Mexico in the early 1800s. Synonymous with Christmas, poinsettias are a festive and charming seasonal decoration. Deep, vibrant red is most commonly selected, but other colors add interesting flair. Pink, white, peach and sparkly varieties are becoming more popular.
“Bracts” are what many people consider the blossoms of the plant. Bracts are actually the leaves that have changed colors in order to attract pollinating insects to the small, yellow flowers at the center. Aesthetically-pleasing plants have stiff stems and healthy leaves (bracts) with no sign of wilting. Be wary of purchasing a poinsettia from a crowded sales display. Air circulation is crucial and crowding may cause premature bract loss.
Poinsettias are easy to care for. Avoid waterlogged soil; poinsettias do not like wet feet. Never water in decorative foil wrap. The sleeve traps water and kills the plant. Instead, water in sink and allow plant to drain before returning to decorative wrap. If the top inch of soil feels moist, no more water is needed.
Poinsettias need to receive indirect sunlight for at least six hours per day in order to thrive. Avoid direct light by diffusing with a shade or sheer curtain. Be mindful not to place near a heating vent, fireplace or on top of an appliance or television. Provide mild, comfortable temperatures between 65-70 degrees. Don’t expose plants to cold drafts as they may perish. When transporting, a large shopping bag will provide adequate protection from chilly winds and temperatures below 50 degrees. Never leave a poinsettia inside a cold, parked car!
Fertilize a poinsettia only after the “blooming” season is over. No fertilization is required during the holidays. In March, cut back to eight inches in height and continue to fertilize every couple of weeks and water, if necessary. Place the plant outdoors where it can bask in the warmth of spring and summer once night temperatures reach at least 55 degrees. Poinsettias will need to be transplanted to a pot one size larger with rich, organic soil in June. Prune no later than September 1st to keep plant compact and bushy. In October, plants must be kept in total darkness for fourteen hours each night. During October and November, plants require six to eight hours of bright sunlight.
Be aware that poinsettias can be mildly toxic to cats and dogs. The plants contain a sap inside their leaves that can irritate a pet’s mouth and esophagus. Pets who ingest the leaves or sap, may experience nausea, vomiting, excessive drooling or diarrhea. However, a cat or dog would have to eat a large amount to get seriously ill. Although poinsettias are not as toxic as some other plants, pet owners should either leave poinsettias out of their holiday celebrations or place the plants out of pet’s reach.
Although it can be difficult to time and re-bloom a poinsettia, following a strict plan can reward you with a vivid display of holiday décor! By an act of Congress, December 12th has been set aside as National Poinsettia Day in remembrance of Joel Poinsett. Enjoy the Christmas Spirit with this traditional holiday staple.