Poinsettia 101: Taking care of the traditional Christmas plant

Dec. 06, 2012 @ 12:23 AM

Nothing says the holidays are here like seeing the traditional Christmas poinsettias pop up during the month of December.
The brightly colored flowers show up in waves of red, pink, yellow and white at local florists and supermarkets.
Karen Neill, horticulturist at the Guilford County Cooperative Extension Office, debunks the myth that the plants are poisonous.
“They are classified as a poisonous plant, but they really aren’t. They are not as poisonous as other things people use around their house at Christmas time,” Neill said. “Poinsettias are an Euphorbia, which means that they have a milky sap on the inside, and with some people, not everyone, that milky sap can cause a tremendous irritation.”
According to Neill, shoppers should look for plants that are upright with stiff limbs. Healthy foliage usually will be deep green, and the flowers are normally brightly colored and fairly flat.
If you buy a large poinsettia, consider moving it to a clay pot for better stability. Also, remove any holiday wrapping from the pot so it does not act as a water trap, potentially turning the container into a mini-swamp.
“You don’t want to buy them if they have lower leaves that are turning yellow on them. That means it hasn’t had enough sunlight or maybe water,” Neill said. “Because they are grown in greenhouses, they need to make sure there aren’t any insects on them. You don’t want to buy any pests.”
The Central American plant needs temperatures to range from 60 to 70 degrees. Treat the plant to at least six hours of sunlight a day by sitting it near a window or constant exposure to bright indoor lights. According to Neill, temperature regulation will help prolong the bright colors on the plant.
Water it when the soil’s surface is just dry to the touch. Watering every three to four days is adequate enough. Use tap water that has been allowed to warm to room temperatures.
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• Place your plant in the sunniest part of the room
• Avoid cold drafts or excessive heat
• Water your plant when needed
• Fertilize your plants if you are planning to keep them
• Anyone with pets should be cautious about buying the plant; cats tend to eat the plants