Poinsettias color the holidays

The poinsettia is typically the top-selling U.S. flowering potted plants, which has a lot to say about its colorful appeal during the winter season. The poinsettia’s  traditional sales period is just six weeks long, yet, USDA puts the value of last year´s U.S. poinsettia crop (wholesale) at nearly $250 million.

The poinsettia remains popular even though it´s also somewhat finicky. When its needs aren’t met, the plant will wilt, drop leaves and/or develop root rot.  But, poinsettias go on sale as they´re reaching their color peak, and you really have to work at it to kill one quickly.

In the wild, poinsettias are a perennial Central American flowering shrub that can grow 10 to 12 feet tall. Today´s commercial growers either apply a growth regulator or manipulate greenhouse conditions to keep their poinsettias small enough to sell as a potted plant.

Early Aztecs prized the poinsettia. They considered its red-colored bracts (leaves) to be a symbol of purity. They also used the poinsettia´s milky sap as a fever medicine into the 16th century, plus used its bracts to make a crimson dye. Study after scientific study has proven that no part of the poinsettia plant is toxic – but its leaves taste really bad.

Caring for poinsettia

With proper care, modern poinsettia varieties can stay attractive a long time.  Poinsettias are somewhat picky about soil moisture, light and temperature.    The most important part of poinsettia care is simply sticking a finger an inch deep into the plant´s soil to check for moistness – every day. The plant should be watered as soon as the soil is dry to the touch.   Poinsettias can’t be allowed to wilt, but they can’t be over-watered either.   .

“Wet feet” or soggy soil can quickly lead to poinsettia root rot. But, letting the soil dry until the poinsettia starts to wilt will make the plant lose some leaves.

When watering, keep the plant´s leaves dry by gently adding lukewarm water to the soil surface until water starts to run out of the pot´s drainage hole. When you water, be sure to discard the excess that runs out of the drainage hole and collects in the saucer or foil covering.  Any standing water can cause root rot.

Poinsettias also prefer the brightest light available. Although that often means a place near a sunny window, the plants will do better if a sheer curtain is filtering the winter´s intense, direct sunlight.

The plant shouldn´t touch a cold windowpane and shouldn’t sit in drafts from a door or in the forced air flow of a heating duct. Depending on your windows´ insulation values, at night you also may need to draw the drapes between window and plant – or actually move your poinsettia away from the window – in order to avoid cold damage.

The best temperatures to promote poinsettia health are 65-75 degrees F. in the daytime and 60-65 at night. Temperatures above 75 shorten bloom life. Temps under 60 promote root rot.