By Dr. Gary Bachman
The Meridian Star
I think most people will agree that besides the Christmas tree, the poinsettia is the plant that best accentuates the Christmas holiday season.
Thanksgiving week kicks off the poinsettia-buying season. When you go to get yours, prepare for the truly remarkable variety of poinsettia colors available.
With a range of red to white and even maroon for Bulldog fans, it can be hard to choose the ones you want to decorate with. Recent years have brought orange and even blue plants with sparkles as poinsettia growers use plant dyes to change the bract colors, expanding the variety available to consumers.
When poinsettia shopping, don’t be tempted to grab the first plants you see. It’s OK to take your time to find that perfect plant.
Poinsettias are fragile plants and must be handled with care because the stems tend to be brittle. Even with careful handling at the greenhouse, stems are sometimes broken when the sleeves are put on. This is inadvertent damage and may not be readily noticeable because the paper or plastic sleeves can hide any damage. Be careful when removing these sleeves to avoid damage. Never try to slide the shipping sleeves off, but rather carefully tear or cut the sleeve off.
Faced with an abundance of poinsettias, growers and garden centers have been looking for ways to increase their marketability. Combination containers with poinsettias are becoming more widely available.
For several years, Southern Gardening has promoted combining poinsettias with Mississippi Medallion-winner Diamond Frost euphorbia. Both are in the euphorbia family and used together, it looks like the poinsettia is growing on a bed of frost. Another combo I like for the holidays is red poinsettias combined with pure white chrysanthemums. The contrast of the red and white is striking.
If you want to keep your poinsettia looking good long after the Christmas holiday, following these tips can make it happen.
Poinsettias need at least six hours of indirect sunlight and comfortable room temperatures. They are grown in the greenhouse at about 72 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night. The closer you can provide to the same temperatures, the longer your poinsettias will last.
Don’t let the leaves or bracts touch the window glass because the cold outside temperatures readily transfer through the glass. A poinsettia might look great by the front door when guests arrive, but try to avoid the sudden temperature changes from drafts as the door is opened.
Low temperatures can harm poinsettias’ foliage and colorful bracts. When bringing your new plants home, keep them carefully covered, taking care not to break any branches or stems.
Do not overwater your poinsettias. This is a critical point, as poinsettias are sensitive to wet feet. Make sure the potting mix feels dry to the touch before watering. If you leave the decorative sleeve on the plant, be sure there are drainage holes because the sleeve can hold too much water.
Those with pets in the home may be relieved to learn that poinsettias are not poisonous to pets.
The latest information from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control indicates eating poinsettia leaves will induce GI tract irritation. This is true of all ornamental houseplants. To be on the safe side, keep poinsettias out of your pets’ reach.
A more real risk is the possibility of those with sensitive skin developing a skin rash or contact dermatitis from touching the milky sap, which is closely related to latex. To prevent this problem, always wash your hands after handling your poinsettia.
So head to your local garden center to pick out plenty of your favorite poinsettia colors to brighten the Christmas season.
• Dr. Gary Bachman is an assistant Extension research professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.