add a splash of holiday color with poinsettias
For many people, as soon as Thanksgiving dinner dishes are washed and leftovers are stored in the refrigerator, it is time to break out Christmas decorations – lights, ornaments, garland and maybe even a light-up Christmas village.
One easy way to punctuate the transition with a splash of color is to bring in a few poinsettias, said Mike Schnelle, Oklahoma State University Extension floriculture specialist.
“Most people are very familiar with the various shades of red poinsettias they find during the holidays. In fact, when the plant made its first appearance in the United States, red was the only color option,” Schnelle said. “Today, however, many new varieties – well over 100 – have been developed that are commercially available in a wide range of colors, as well as marbled bracts and variegated foliage.
“These varieties should blend well with the color scheme of your holiday decorations. Dwarf selections and tree-like forms are available, too,” he said.
When shopping for the perfect plant, a few tips will be handy:
- Select the one with the most blooms.
- Look for dark green plants and foliage from the pot’s rim up to the showy bracts. The bracts should be well expanded and colorful.
- Avoid plants that show signs of wilting, which may be an indication of root rot or chilling injury.
- Purchase poinsettias from a business that specializes in greenhouse plants.
Once the perfect poinsettias have been chosen, transportation home needs to be considered. Poinsettias are sensitive to extreme temperatures, so be sure to ask for a plant sleeve if the outdoor temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. An unprotected poinsettia exposed to freezing temperatures – even during a short walk to the car – will wilt and begin to drop its leaves.
Schnelle said once consumers have arrived at their destination, place the plant in bright, natural light.
“Don’t place them in direct sunlight because this may cause the bracts to fade. Ideally, the indoor temperature should be about 62-70 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “Try to avoid placing your poinsettias in areas that are exposed to hot drafts such as heat from appliances, radiators, fireplaces or furnace ducts. Cold drafts from windows and doors also should be avoided. A nice, constant temperature of about 62-70 degrees is best.”
Proper watering is essential to keep the plants healthy. Most commercial growers use a soilless mix, which weighs less than a soil-based potting mix. The best indicator of the plant needing water is to pick up the pot and judge the weight. If it feels lighter and the potting mix feels dry to the touch, a thorough watering is needed.
A good watering method Schnelle recommends is to remove the decorative wrap from the pot, then set the pot directly in a sink and water until water drains from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow the excess water to drain from the pot before returning the plant to the decorative wrap.
“It’s important to know poinsettias are very susceptible to root rot,” Schnelle said. “That’s why excess water should be given time to drain off before returning the plant to the decorative wrap. The plant’s roots will rot if allowed to sit in standing water.”
Try to fertilize the poinsettia on a weekly basis with a half-strength liquid houseplant fertilizer. Consumers also can use a slow-release fertilizer when first bringing the plant home.
One old wives’ tale that has been around for years is that poinsettias are poisonous to people. This is not true, although the sap from the plant can cause minor skin irritation to a small percentage of individuals.
“However, we do recommend keeping them out of reach of young children and pets,” he said. “Poinsettias add such a festive look to holiday decorations, and with proper care, consumers are sure to enjoy them throughout the holiday season and beyond.”