If you go out shopping for Christmas presents and Christmas trees, don't forget to add poinsettias to your list. They can really brighten your homes during the holidays.
If you haven't selected your poinsettia yet, I have some tips for you in what to look for and how to care for it once you've taken it home.
As insignificant as those tiny yellow flowers are in the center of the plant, 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 flowering cycle.
Large amounts of pollen and nectar in the flowers means it's past its prime. You also want to select a plant that hasn't completely turned red or whatever color you have chosen unless you need it to peak within the next couple of days after you buy it.
Also, pick a plant that has a nice number of bracts (leaves). A good selection would be six to eight. Check the foliage, too. Search for a plant with dark green foliage and a stiff stem. A good sized, full plant with five or more branches would be an excellent selection.
Above all, make sure you don't bring home any unwanted guests. 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 white flies is usually obvious. When you shake a plant, it almost looks like smoke going up when the whiteflies fly out.
When they excrete the plant juices, they drop a sticky honeydew onto the leaves below. If you see sticky leaves andor dots on the underside of the leaves, don't buy it. The scale-looking dots are whitefly nymphs.
Once you get your poinsettias home, place them in well-lighted 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 party and need to put them in a darker location, wait to do that until the day of your party. 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.
Plants should be watered when the soil is dry to the touch. 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 houses a little warmer may need to water twice a week, while those that keep their houses cooler may only need to water once per 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). Use a clear plastic container to catch the water.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.eduga/columbia