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Bill Starr: Poinsettias require special care

Christmas poinsettias are a Christmas tradition just like Christmas trees, holly and mistletoe. Poinsettias are native to Mexico. Knowing this you can figure that they may not be the happiest inside your home. Have you ever wondered what makes poinsettias turn red? It is actually the plant’s leaves that provide its color through a process called photoperiodism. This process, in response to certain amounts of light or lack thereof, turns the leaves from green to red (or pink, white, and other shade variations).
What most people mistake as flowers in fact are specialized leaves, or bracts. The small yellow flowers are found in the center of the leaf branches.
They need lots of light and just enough water to keep alive. Typically, we don’t have enough light in our homes and we overwater. So, to get the poinsettia to last longer we have to put forth a little extra effort.
Usually a poinsettia in a home is a decoration. That means that we place them where they will look best, not where they get the most light. And that means that the plant will go downhill fast. To prevent this, keep the plant in plenty of light when you are not entertaining or when you are not using it as a decoration. It is easy enough to move the plant to that special place for the dinner or party. Just put it back in a sunny location as soon as you can.
Windows that face the south or west will give the most light. If you have sheer curtains on the windows pull them back so the poinsettia gets the most light possible.
The best advice I can give on watering is to check the soil before you water. Stick your finger in the soil to the second knuckle of your index finger. If you feel moisture in the soil, do not water, if it feels dry, then water.
Remove the decorative foil (if your poinsettia came with it) around the pot before you water so excess water will not be held. If the roots sit in water for too long they will start to die. An easy way to water is to sit the plant in the sink. Water thoroughly so that you see water running out the bottom of the pot. Let the plant sit about 30 minutes and then return it to its decorative foil and its high light spot by the window.
Poinsettias don’t like cold weather either. If we are going to have temperatures of 32 degrees or below, move the plant away from the window a few feet. That little move will keep the leaves a little warmer and keep them from being damaged by the cold.
Even with good care you will have some leaves dropping. Don’t worry. Just remove the leaves as they fade and discard them.
Poinsettias are not the only plant that needs care during the Christmas season. Be sure to keep water in your Christmas tree stand. It is easy to get busy and forget to keep water in the stand. No water in the stand and the tree will dry out and start dropping needles, and could potentially become a fire hazard. The scientific name for poinsettia means most beautiful, and to keep them beautiful throughout the holidays be sure to follow these simple suggestions.
Enjoy your Christmas plants as long as possible by taking good care of them. (Mine usually die shortly after the Christmas holidays.)

Bill Starr is county agent and coordinator, Sumter County Extension Service, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.