No matter what their color, great care is needed to keep poinsettias in the pink through the holidays. Consumers should know what to look for when browsing poinsettias at the store. Some defects to look for are bare spots along the stem, discoloration, leaf blemishes and wilting.
No matter what their color, great care is needed to keep poinsettias in the pink through the holidays. Consumers should know what to look for when browsing poinsettias at the store. Some defects to look for are bare spots along the stem, discoloration, leaf blemishes and wilting.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Christmas is just around the corner, and the classic winter flower, the poinsettia, can be found at most any grocery or floral store. Extension horticulture specialist Rosie Lerner shared her tricks for choosing and maintaining poinsettias this season.

With more breeds of poinsettia now than ever before there are many colors available, such as speckled pink, red and white. When browsing plants at the store search for strong, healthy plants, Lerner said.

“Look for stocky, well-branched plants that look fresh, not droopy, and free of discolored spots on the foliage or bracts,” she suggested. “And be sure to protect the plant from cold temps while taking it out to the car for transport. The plant should be sleeved, the car pre-warmed.”

Plants with healthy root systems should last quite awhile, even in homes with less than ideal growing conditions. Another tip is to look for plants with the least amount of pollen on the flower, which is located just above the colorful bract that is often mistaken as the flower.

Poinsettias are priced based on the number of blooms, so plants with more blooms cost more.

“The best way to extend their beauty is to match, as closely as possible, the conditions in which they were produced,” Lerner said. “Poinsettias are raised in greenhouses where cool temperatures can be maintained between 60 and75 (degrees) with high relative humidity and high light intensity.”

Unfortunately, these conditions are difficult to reproduce in a home where the air is dry, light intensity is low and short for most of the year.

The best practice it to place the poinsettia near a sunny window, close to the light, but away from frosty window glass. Those who want their plant to last longer may choose to use artificial light and a humidifier.

“Placing plants together on a pebble tray will help raise humidity around the plants themselves,” Lerner said. “Both hot and cold drafts can cause leaf drop, so avoid placing plants near doors or heating vents.”

Like many plants, it is easy to over- or under-water a poinsettia. When the top inch of the soil is dry to the touch, it’s time to water it.

Poinsettias are thought to be dangerous by many people. But in reality they aren’t proven to be deadly, Lerner said.

“I’m not a health expert but allergies are specific reactions within individuals, not in whole populations,” she said. “It’s like some people are allergic to penicillin but most people are not.”

Some people are sensitive to the plant’s milky sap, so it’s best to keep plants away from children and pets as a precaution.