Growing Green: Success with Poinsettias
‘Tis the season, autumn is definitely stepping aside. My houseplants have survived the move indoors, I have some perennials growing on the window seat, and this year I may even try growing an Amaryllis (more on this adventure later.) I love November and December: the first snow, the crisp air, holiday music, my kitchen full of the aromas of holiday cooking, and the stores are full of beautiful poinsettias. I’m a bit of a traditionalist. The blue and purple sparkly poinsettias don’t do anything for me. However, I think the red, pink and white poinsettias are stunning.
My ongoing problem with poinsettias is that I kill them before New Year’s. I either over or under water them, expose them to a cold draft, or the cats end up knocking them off the piano, (Not good if you’re the poinsettia.) Did you know that poinsettias rank as the number-one selling potted flowering plant in America? (More than 70 million are sold annually!) They are natives of Mexico and Central America, where they grow in moist woodlands and rocky hillsides. (This is a far cry from our Minnesota winter climate!) If you have found poinsettias to be a holiday challenge rather than a seasonal delight, here are a few tips to help you enjoy them to the fullest.
Place your poinsettia in bright, natural daylight. At least 6 hours daily is recommended. (A sunny, draft free window is ideal.) Temperature should range from 65-70 degrees to maximize the time the outer bracts retain their color. Don’t place your plant near drafts or fluctuating air currents. (No heating ducts, fireplaces or heat generated by home appliances.) Chilling damage (yellowing or falling leaves) will occur if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees, and frost will kill them.
Overwatering is the prime killer of poinsettias, as they rapidly develop root rot. Water your poinsettia when the surface feels dry to the touch. If your pot is covered with decorative foil wrap, make sure there are holes in the bottom to allow for proper drainage. Remember that a wilting plant can be a sign of either over or under watering. If the soil is damp, overwatering is most likely the culprit.
It is a common misconception that poinsettias are extremely toxic if ingested. This just isn’t the case. Although the plant could be mildly irritating to the stomach, and the white sap could cause minor skin irritation, there is no need to worry about having this plant around small children and pets. However, those sensitive to latex may suffer an allergic reaction and it is therefore not advisable to bring the plants into the home of sensitive individuals.
Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.