He asks, “I see all of these beautiful poinsettia plants at the stores and I really want to get some but every time I do I kill them! Can you help?”
So I thought I would cover the ‘tricks’ of poinsettia care and keeping this plant alive the subject of this week’s blog. So here we go…
- Warm Is Important - The very first point I want to make about bringing home these plants is that you must keep them warm. We hope the stores will keep them warm while they have them but it is equally up to you to keep the plant warm as well. Do not put them in the trunk on the way home either, it could still get too cold. Do not leave them in the car while you do a few more errands, it could still get too cold. You get the idea? Keep them warm and do not allow them to get chilled - this is a common problem with poinsettia care and it leads to leaf drop. Just remember that this is a tropical plant and if it is too cold for you to be outside in a summer t-shirt that it is too cold for the poinsettia as well!
- Poinsettia Choice and Leaf Dropping - When you do buy a poinsettia, never chose one of the plants the store leaves in the plastic wrappers with the plastic pulled up around the leaves. As the plants sit in those protective wrappers, the leaves produce ethylene gas and this collects around the leaves. It only takes about 24 hours of this protection and the plant will start dropping leaves and no amount of great poinsettia care on your part will help this. You'll take the plant home and as you unwrap the poinsettia, it will begin dropping leaves on the spot. Unfortunately, once the plant starts dropping leaves, there is no stopping it. It will drop a few more every day no matter what you do or do not do to the plant. So save yourself the heartache and pick a plant that has leaves all the way to the soil line and make sure those bottom leaves are big and well connected to the stem.
- Poinsettia Flowers - The little yellow ball-like things in the middle of the red leaves are the true poinsettia flower and if they are missing, the plant is old and likely mistreated. If these little flowers are not there or fall off easily, it means the plant is already on the downward slide to the compost pile. Do not buy a poinsettia in this shape.
- White Flies - Before you adopt a plant this season, turn over some of the leaves to look for white flies or their larvae - tiny, oval to circular raised bumps on the underside of the leaves. If you see anything tiny and white flying off the plant when you pick it up - simply return the plant to the shelf and look for another plant or maybe even another vender. CAUTION - if one plant has whitefly, nearby plants are almost certainly infected as well. It will not take long for these whiteflies to spread to other plants in your home.
- Lots of Light - Poinsettia love high light levels and the more light you give them, the longer they will last in your home. If you do put them in a low-light space, be prepared for them to drop their leaves. Remember, they have been grown in high-light greenhouses and the shock of moving to your darker home will encourage them to shed leaves. Brighter is better in the poinsettia care world.
- Watering - Watering, or the absence of it, kills more poinsettia than any other thing the homeowner does. Try to keep the soil evenly moist. Remember again that this is a tropical plant and it likes soil that is not dry but is also not swampy. Get used to doing the finger test. Put your finger on the soil, if it comes away dry - soak the plant so water pours out the bottom of the pot. If your finger comes away wet, do not water but repeat the test the next day. As long as your finger comes away wet from the soil, do not water. There is no hard and fast rule that says, "Water every second day." It all depends on your home humidity, temperature and location for the plant - not to mention the kind of soil used by the grower and the size of pot and plant. In the rules for great poinsettia care, the finger test is the only true way of knowing for sure. Some folks use those water stick gizmos to tell them if their plants need water. They've never worked well for me but if they work for you - use them. Whatever you do, remember the rule of keeping the soil evenly moist.
- Feeding – Nope!! You don't have to feed your poinsettia during the blooming time.
- And finally my friends, poinsettias are not poisonous - As members of the Euphorbia family, they do have a milky white sap that is bitter. But you would have to eat several bushels of leaves before you got enough sap to give yourself an upset stomach. So the do not worry if the kids or pets get it on themselves, (it is sticky) or on their mouth; it isn't going to hurt them.
And those are the rules for poinsettia care during the Christmas season. And yes, you can get them to rebloom but it's only for the most dedicated among us. I’ll cover more on that after the New Year Holiday.
Happy Gardening and MERRY CHRISTMAS!