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How to care for your poinsettia

I was in Wal-Mart last night picking up gifts for a ministry that our church does called Starlight Ministries. This is a great thing that our church has been doing for the past few years. Folks from the church in need of something just hang a star on the tree and then others pick them up to bless them with a gift. While we were walking out, I noticed all of the poinsettias lined up from Metrolina Greenhouses. This is one of, if not the largest, greenhouse in the United States covering approximately 160 acres based here in North Carolina. They grow so many things, it would be difficult to list them all!

Poinsettias are a wonderful gift this time of year. They come in so many different colors and are just gorgeous to gift or spruce up your holiday decorating. There are over 100 different varieties from which to choose and colors range from white to pink to nearly every shade of red you have ever seen. The question is, how do we keep them looking so good through the holidays?

This process begins with picking out your poinsettia, the best place to begin is always a happy healthy plant! Look for plants that have lush dark green foliage, these will last the longest. Pay particular attention to the base or lower portion of the plant. If the leaves are yellow or curled, even if just in the lower portion, this is an indicator that the plant has gotten cold or had too much or not enough water. Take a look at the bracts to see that they are undamaged and brightly colored. The plant’s bracts are the large colorful leaves that look like petals on the top of the plant. Check the moisture level in potting soil by sticking your finger into the soil. It should be moist to the touch but not saturated.

Now you have your happy, healthy plant, what should you do when you get it home? Location, Location, Location! Poinsettias are native to Mexico and as such they like it consistently warm. Place your poinsettia in a window that receives plenty of indirect sunlight. This location should be away from cold drafts or direct heat from vents or fireplaces. The ideal temperature for the plants will be between 60°F and 70°F and remain fairly constant.

Where most of us go wrong is in the watering. I always have a tendency to overwater! Unfortunately, there is no magic number of hours or days to wait in between watering. I wish it were like cooking a holiday turkey but this isn’t the case. The best test for moisture is the finger probe tool! Put your pointer finger in the soil up to the second knuckle, if it is moist, then the plant is in good shape. If it feels on the dry side then it is time to water. It is important to keep the soil moist but not saturated. Many of the holiday poinsettias come in a pretty foil wrapping or maybe a festive basket. This can make watering somewhat difficult. Remove the plant from the foil and take the liner to the sink. Water the plant thoroughly, making sure that the water is coming out of the holes at the bottom of the liner. Allow the plant to sit in the sink for a few minutes for water to drain through and then place the liner back in the decorative foil or container.

Holiday poinsettias do not need fertilizer so do not worry about feeding them. If you want to keep your poinsettias for next year, fertilize with a slow release fertilizer after the first of the year to keep them going. I hope this helps you to enjoy these beautiful plants for the entire season!

If you are having an issue in your home garden or landscape, send your questions to Gene Fox, Consumer Horticulture Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, please email at Gene at gene_fox@ncsu.edu. Learn more on Facebook at the Blacklands Area Horticulture page or visit the Extension Office located at 155 Airport Road in Washington, NC!

Gene Fox is the area consumer horticulture agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension.