The Pryor Times

December 29, 2013

Proper care helps keep poinsettias healthy


PRYOR, OK — Trisha Gedon

OSU Extension

                         

STILLWATER — Just about everywhere you look there are signs of Christmas. Neighbor-hood homes are bathed in festive lights and nearly every store is playing holiday music over the sound system. If the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, that means the Christmas season is upon us.

One of the most popular ways to decorate and add festive color to the décor is with poinsettias, said Mike Schnelle, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension floriculture specialist.

“Poinsettias arrived in the United States from Mexico in the early 1800s and were red in color,” Schnelle said. “However, today’s selections come in a variety of colors that will fit the color scheme of just about any holiday decorations. Many new varieties have been developed over the years, including those with marbled bracts and variegated foliage.”

When shopping for the perfect plant, select the one with the most blooms. Look for dark green plants and foliage from the pot’s rim up to the showy bracts. The bracts should be well expanded and colorful. In addition, the plant should not show any signs of wilting, which may be an indication of root rot or chilling injury. To ensure maximum longevity, consumers should purchase their poinsettias from a business that specializes in greenhouse plants.

Once the perfect poinsettias have been chosen, it is important to take care in transporting them home. Poinsettias are very sensitive to extreme temperatures, so be sure to ask for a plant sleeve if the outdoor temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. An unprotected poinsettia exposed to freezing temperatures, even for just a short walk to the car, will wilt and begin to drop its leaves very quickly.

Schnelle said once you have arrived at your destination, place the plant in a location with bright, natural light.

“Don’t place them in direct sunlight because this will cause the bracts to fade. Ideally, the indoor temperature should be about 70 degrees,” he said. “Try to avoid placing your poinsettias in areas that are exposed to hot drafts such as heat from appliances, radiators, fireplaces or furnace ducts. Cold drafts from windows and doors also should be avoided. A nice, constant temperature of about 70 degrees is best.”

Proper watering is essential in order to keep the poinsettia healthy. Many commercial growers use a soilless mix. This mix is much lighter weight than a soil-based potting mix. The best indicator of the plant needing water is to pick up the pot and judge the weight. If it is lightweight, the potting mix is dry and a thorough watering is needed.

A good watering method Schnelle recommends is to remove the decorative wrap from the pot, then set the pot directly in a sink and water until water drains from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow the excess water to drain from the pot before returning the plant to the decorative wrap.

“It’s important to know poinsettias are very susceptible to root rot,” Schnelle said. “That’s why excess water should be given time to drain off before returning the plant to the decorative wrap. The plant’s roots will rot if allowed to sit in standing water.”

Try to fertilize the poinsettia on a weekly basis with a half-strength liquid houseplant fertilizer. You can also use a slow-release food when you first bring the plant home.

One old wives tale that has been around for years is that poinsettias are poisonous to people. This is not true, although the sap from the plant can cause some minor skin irritation to some individuals.

“However, we do recommend that you keep them out of reach of young children,” he said. “Poinsettias add such a festive look to holiday decorations, and with proper care, consumers are sure to enjoy them throughout the holiday season and beyond.”