My Poinsettias Survived the Season … Now What?

By Jane Malec, EMGV

This is the first time ever that not only are my Christmas poinsettias alive after the holidays but they still look wonderful. Normally, these beautiful plants begin the slow painful death march in my car shortly after I purchase them. I have made every mistake possible … over water, under water, too little light, to hot or too cold … well, you get the idea. My job often involves the care of poinsettias and, yes, I kill them there too.

So it’s February, the poinsettias look like they aren’t going anywhere and, in the meantime, here come all the spring plants into the stores. Beautiful tulips, daffodils and hydrangeas. Their colors are pretty and announce the promise of spring not the memories of cold winters.

What sorry thing to be a healthy poinsettia living past your season. I wonder why is this? Red is a great color plus I have one that is variegated pink and spring green. Why is it we only want this interesting plant around during the Christmas season?

Poinsettias have an amazing history. The Aztecs called them Cuetlaxochitl and used them to control fevers in the 14th and 15th century. Their botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was assigned when a German botanist, Wilanow, discovered it growing through a crack in his greenhouse. The colors impressed him so much that he gave name Euphorbia pulcherrima which means very beautiful. While a US Ambassador in Mexico,  Joel Roberts Poinsett,  brought cuttings back to his greenhouse in South Carolina in the 1820’s. They were finally grown as landscape plants in southern California in 1900’s. Now 70% of all poinsettias purchased in the United States are grown in that region.

By nature, poinsettias are flowering shrubs that, if planted in the ground, will grow up to 10′ tall. However, they aren’t frost tolerant so definitely aren’t bedding plants in the Triangle. The colorful parts of the plants are the bracts, which aren’t flowers, and are produced by photoperiodism. This means they require 12 hours of total darkness for five days in a row followed by abundant light during the day to achieve the beautiful colors.

So, how did I manage to keep these beauties alive this year? The care for poinsettias is complicated and not all that different from other house plants. Keep them away from temperature extremes, 60 – 70 degrees during the day, and take care on how you water.  This year, I pulled them out of the shiny paper sleeves, watered them thoroughly and let them drain before putting them back to their spots and they got more sunlight in our new home then in the past.  Wow … I have to roll my eyes at myself as I write this. It feels like I should have my EMGV title yanked. Seriously, though, I amazed at how wonderful they all look. Poinsettias will last 6-8 weeks in your home with this care and, if you fertilize them, they will continue to thrive.

Back to the original question … they lived so now what? For the first time, after Valentine’s Day, I’m taking my poinsettias to the compost pile without the feeling of failure. I am not going to hide them in the dark of my closest so that they will produce dramatic colors next Christmas. That is more than I can commit to or really more than I want to do.

The truth is I love spring and all that comes with it. Easter is the eternal birth of spring and we celebrate early by bringing the promise of it into our homes as soon as we can. I will bring home iris, hydrangea and hyacinth plants. When their flowers drop and it’s warm enough, I will plant them all in my yard hoping to see them flower next year.

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Hydrangeas

However, next December, I will buy more beautiful poinsettias knowing that I corrected my techniques and that there won’t be any plants sobbing on the trip home.  Maybe I’ll get one of those glittery poinsettias…hmm now that would be a challenge!

Resources:

http://extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/care.cfm

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/consumer-care-of-poinsettias

Photos credit: Jane Malec

 

NC State Poinsettia Sale

The NC State Horticultural Science Graduate Student Association will
be selling poinsettias at the JC Raulston Arboretum/Horticultural
Field Labs, 4415 Beryl Rd, Raleigh
Thursday (December 10th) from 11 am – 5 pm,
Friday (December 11th) from 11 am – 5 pm, and
Saturday (December 12th) from 10 am – 1 pm.
Prices range from $5 for a 4.5″ pot to $25 for  10″ pot.
They grew over 150 varieties of Poinsettias this year.
Please see the link below for more details and pricing.
Cash or check only, please. If you have any questions please contact
Whitney Phillips (wdphilli@ncsu.edu).

2015-NC-State-Hort-Science-Poinsettia-Sale

NCSU Poinsettia Open House

2014 Poinsettia Open House Information:

Consumer Open House:

The Consumer Open House will be held at the Ruby C. McSwain Center at the JC Raulston Arboretum on Sunday, Dec. 7, from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. The event is free, and no registration is required. Come see the latest trials with over 100 cultivars and studies on Augeo, substrates, propagation and color combinations.

JC Raulston Arboretum:
4415 Beryl Rd.
N.C. State University
Raleigh, N.C.

poinsettia interview

Choosing and Caring for Poinsettias

As you decorate for the holidays, you may want to buy a Poinsettia or two to add some bright color to your home.  The Poinsettia’s showy bracts, which are modified leaves, can be red, white, pink, or bicolors. Small round yellow cyathia, located in the center of the bracts, are the true flowers.

When choosing a Poinsettia, look for plants with dark green leaves and brightly colored bracts. Leaves should cover most of the stem. Plants that have a bluish or white discoloration have suffered a chilling injury and will not last as long as undamaged plants. If leaves or bracts are wilted, falling off or yellowed, or if bracts are discolored, faded or torn, the plants have not had proper care and should be avoided. In older varieties of Poinsettias, the cyathia drop off as the plant ages, so purchasing a plant with many cyathia ensured a younger plant. Newer cultivars have been bred to hold cyathia longer or to not have many, so this is no longer a reliable indicator of the age of your plant.

Once you have chosen your Poinsettia, place it in a sunny area of your house. Poinsettias are sensitive to temperatures below 55 degrees, so take care that your plant is not touching a cold window or in a drafty location. They prefer a daytime temperature between 70 and 75 degrees – warmer temperatures can cause premature bract discoloration and leaf drop. A slightly cooler evening temperature (60-65 degrees) will help to prolong bract coloration.

Check the moisture levels of your Poinsettia often. Poinsettias don’t like to have “wet feet”, so make sure there is adequate drainage in your pot (and in the decorative foil cover, if you choose to have one). Allowing the plant to dry out will result in leaf drop and is the most common reason Poinsettias don’t last. Don’t allow your Poinsettia to become so dry that the leaves begin to droop!

Although the milky sap can cause minor skin irritation for some people, the plants are not poisonous. However, eating them is not recommended.

-Ann Barnes