gardening compositions – poinsettias

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Several years ago my December consisted of spending 11 days with my new grandbaby, about a week with my momma who was recovering from surgery, a few days at work, and the remainder of the month with my husband’s clan down on the family farm.

There was little time for Christmas decorating—I LOVE to have holiday decor out during the holidays—and the thought of not having a cheery, festive look was out of the question.

So one afternoon I set out to purchase a large assortment of poinsettias, some fresh greenery, and some gold mesh ribbon and had the house decorated in just a few short hours. Granted, all my memorable holiday pieces were still packed away in the attic, but this year the poinsettia look was all we needed for the few nights of entertaining and visiting with friends that time allowed.

To honor those wonderful Christmas plants that saved the holiday for me, here are some interesting facts and tips to keeping your poinsettias growing. (Many thanks to the University of Illinois Extension for sharing their poinsettia info.) This native of Mexico is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and was introduced into the United States by Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico, in 1825. The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows over 80 percent of all the poinsettias for the wholesale market, and the poinsettia is the most popular potted plant in the United States. And just in case you want to put it on your calendar,’ December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

When my sons were young, I remember hearing that poinsettias were poisonous and that I needed to keep them out of the house with small children around. The truth is that poinsettias are NOT poisonous, though their milky sap can sometimes be irritating to the skin for some people. The showy, colorful part of the plant that many people think of as the poinsettia flower is in fact the bracts or modified leaves of  this plant. The flower is in the center of the bracts and is most fresh when there is little of the yellow pollen showing on the flower. When you see a lot of that bright pollen that contrasts so well with the colorful bracts, you’ll also soon see the plants start dropping their leaves. In their native habitat, poinsettias are considered flowering shrubs that can grow ten feet tall. There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias, not including the plastic or silk ones seen in the Buca di Beppo window boxes.

When choosing a poinsettia, look for one that has dark green foliage all the way to the soil and that have not been crowded with other plants. The plant should be 2.5 times taller than the diameter of the container. Plants kept in plastic sleeves will decline quickly. Poinsettias do not like to sit in wet soil and can quickly develop root rot. Water only when the soil is dry to touch and do not allow the pots to sit in saucers of excess water.  Look for plants with little to no yellow pollen on the flowers blooming within the bracts. Poinsettias do not handle temperatures below 50 degrees very well. Exposure to low temperatures, even for a short time, can cause harm to the bracts. These plants do best with around six hours a day of bright indirect light. Keep them from touching cold windows and from either warm or cold draft. Ideal growing conditions are between 60 and 70 degrees and the plants have prolonged blooms if night-time temperatures stay between 55 to 60 degrees. You can fertilize the poinsettia once a month when there are no blooms on the plant.
For a dynamic duo at Christmastime, combine poinsettias with Diamond Frost Euphorbia and Glacier ivy.

Today you can get poinsettias in just about any color of the rainbow, and even some that are rainbow colored or sprinkled with glitter. So treat your red, white, and even blue poinsettias well and they might just be around to help you celebrate another big holiday!

Editor’s Note: Barbara Wise, floriculture director with Southern Land Company, LLC, brings her gardening expertise and experience to readers of House & Home & Garden™.  You can now read more of Barbara’s plant musings at or follow on twitter@bwisegardens. E-mail your questions to her at

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