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Gardening News: Keeping your poinsettia alive

December 21, 2011

By Debra Levey Larson
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

URBANA, Ill. — Poinsettias represent 80 percent of all potted plant sales in the United States during the holiday season, said University of Illinois Extension educator Ron Wolford.

There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today,” Wolford said. “And they come in a myriad of colors like red, white, pink and burgundy. Keeping your poinsettias healthy during the holiday season can be a challenge, considering the dry indoor environments in many homes.”

Following are a few tips from Wolford to help you keep your poinsettia healthy.

• Purchase a poinsettia with fully-colored bracts (modified leaves) and tightly-closed flower buds. The plant will start to decline after the flower buds have completely opened.

After you have purchased your poinsettia, make sure it is wrapped completely, because exposure to cold temps below 50 degrees in just the short walk to your car can damage the bracts and leaves.

Place the poinsettia near a south-, west- or east-facing window. Six hours of indirect light is ideal. Placing the plant in direct light may cause the colorful bracts to fade.

Indoor temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees are ideal for long plant life. Placing the plant in a room a few degrees cooler at night will extend the color show of the poinsettia. Temperatures above 80 degrees will shorten the life of the colorful bracts.

Keep your poinsettia away from warm or cold drafts. Drafts can cause premature leaf drop.

Overwatering is the No. 1 poinsettia killer. Water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch. After watering, thoroughly empty any water in the pot’s saucer. Be sure to punch holes in the decorative foil to allow water to drain through.

Do not fertilize when the poinsettia is in bloom. Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month after it blooms.

Research at The Ohio State University has shown that poinsettias are not poisonous,” Wolford noted. “Some people are sensitive to the plant’s sap, causing skin irritation.

For pets, the poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea,” Wolford added. “It’s probably best to keep pets, especially puppies and kittens, away from the plant.”

For more about poinsettias, Wolford recommended the University of Illinois Extension website, “The Poinsettia Pages,” at www.urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2011, issue

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