Poinsettias

A common host gift we take to Holiday parties are Poinsettias. If you receive one for Christmas this year, do you know how to care for it? Poinsettias are a staple for the Christmas season, but they don’t have to be a short-lived gift that is thrown away at the beginning of the year.

Poinsettias are in the spurge family of plants and has a milky, white sap. The sap can sometimes cause an allergic reaction in people who come into contact with the sap. Most people believe that Poinsettias are poisonous to eat, however, Ohio State University did research that proved that a 50 pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have a harmful effect. The ingestion of the leaves by a pet can cause vomiting, but still nothing too harmful. Either way, the plant should be kept out of reach of children and pets.

On an old-fashioned poinsettia, the red colored portion of the poinsettia is not actually the flower of the plant. The colored, leaf-like structures are actually bracts, which are modified leaves. The actual flower of a poinsettia is the yellow center of the red, white, pink, or marbled bracts.

Poinsettias need to be cared for from store to home and then while in the home. When you purchase a poinsettia, protect it as you move it to its permanent location. Wrap it in a plastic bag when you take it outside to protect the plant from the cold, windy outdoor conditions. This should be done when you leave the store, when you move it from your car to your home, and if you take it to another house as a gift. Once in its permanent location, remove the decorative foil wrapping from the pot of the plant. This foil can retain water for the plant, but in a bad way. It can make it so that the plant roots are constantly wet and root rot may occur.

The care of a poinsettia can be tricky as these plants tend to be particular. Do not water a Poinsettia until the soil has dried outas these plants do not like to sit in water. However, don’t wait until the plant wilts prior to watering again because that is harmful as well. Place poinsettias where they receive indirect light for 6 hours a day. Keep the plant away from cold drafts and from touching a cold window. This plant prefers temperatures of 60-70 degrees F during the day and 55 degrees F overnight. Do not fertilize poinsettias during the flowering period. Poinsettias can be fertilized monthly with a houseplant fertilizer during the rest of the year.

You can keep the poinsettia year round if you wish. After Christmas, care for the poinsettia as you would any other houseplant. Keep it evenly moist and in bright, indirect light. In February or March, cut the plant back to 4-6 inches tall. In May, repot into a larger container. It can be placed outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. In fall, bring the poinsettia indoors before night temperatures drop below 55-60 degrees F.

To encourage poinsettias to bloom again, it takes a specific routine of light and darkness. Poinsettia flowering is induced by photoperiods, like Christmas Cactus. It takes at least 12 hours of darkness per night to initiate flowering. Starting at the end of September, place the poinsettia in a closet or cover it with a black cloth to keep it in total darkness from 5pm until 8am the next morning. Even the lights in our homes can interfere with the flowering cycle of this plant, so it needs to be completely dark around the plant. Once the flowers begin to develop in mid-December, you do not need to continue the dark period for the plant. It will help, though, if you continue this until the bracts are fully expanded.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico where it is displayed at celebrations on December 12th, which is Poinsettia Day here in America. Poinsettias were brought to the United States by Joel Poinsett, a U.S. Congressman and Ambassador to Mexico. Poinsettia Day is the day to mark the Death of Joel Poinsett in 1851. Poinsettias have been used throughout history. Aztecs used the sap to control fevers and made a red dye from the bracts. This history information comes from Illinois Extension.

The poinsettia is a great holiday plant, but it can be kept as a houseplant year round. Don’t forget to give the plant a dark treatment, or short days starting in September. Then you can enjoy them for many holiday events with your family. Happy Holidays!

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