To get the best poinsettias, choose plants with thoroughly colored and expanded bracts. The red, white, pink, and speckled “flowers” on poinsettias are actually bracts, or modified leaves. The real flowers are the tiny yellow things in the middle of the bracts. But as insignificant as those flowers are, they hold the key to selecting a healthy poinsettia. You want to pick a plant where the tiny yellow blooms haven’t opened yet. This means the plant is still early in its holiday flowering cycle. Large amounts of pollen and nectar in the flowers mean it’s past its prime.
Pick a plant that has a nice number of bracts. A good selection would be six to eight. Check the plant’s foliage, too. Search for a plant with dark green foliage and a stiff stem. A full plant with five or more branches would be an excellent selection.
Examine the plant for insects. Whiteflies are a major pest of poinsettias. They inhabit the underside of the leaves and suck the juices and sap from the plant.
Evidence of whiteflies is usually obvious. When you shake the plant, it almost looks like white smoke going up when the whiteflies fly out. When they excrete the plant’s juices they drop sticky honeydew onto the leaves below. So if you see sticky leaves and/or dots on the underside of the leaves, don’t buy it. Those dots are the whitefly nymphs.
It is not a bad idea to take the plant out of the pot and look at the roots. White and tan roots that have grown to the sides of the pot are signs of a healthy plant. Brown roots, or few roots, can be a bad sign. A poinsettia without good roots won’t last long in your home, so it pays to check out the root system.
During the holidays you can put your poinsettia just about anywhere to brighten things up but they will perform much better and last longer in well-lit areas, usually the higher the light intensity the better. Sunny windows are good locations. Optimal day temperatures range from 70-75 degrees, with optimal night temperatures of 55-65 degrees. They basically like what we like. If you are having guests over for a visit or party and need to put them in a darker location, wait to do that until the day of your get together. Then move them back to a brighter location the next day.
Droopy foliage sometimes occurs when plants have been in a dark, cool place for more than 24 hours. Plants will usually revive when placed in light and warmer temperatures.
Proper watering is extremely important. Plants should be watered when the soil is dry. The watering frequency will vary with the size of the plant, container and environmental conditions. Those of you who may be cold natured and keep your house warmer may need to water twice a week, while those that keep their house cooler may only need to water once a week. Apply enough water to thoroughly wet the entire soil volume in the pot. This means having enough water so that it drains out of the bottom of the pot. Punch a hole in the wrapping at the bottom so it can drain. Use a clear plastic container to catch the water.
There is no need to fertilize plants. Fertilizing is stopped in the greenhouse after they bloom. But overwatering or fertilizing during the holidays is the most common cause of rapid death.
Finally, poinsettias are absolutely safe, too. They have been scrutinized over many years and are proven to be nonpoisonous plants, perfectly safe for display around children and pets.
Reach Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County, at (706) 821-2349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.