Poinsettias' Arrival Points to Holidays

By for CAES News

Photo: Paul Thomas/small>

Georgia greenhouses produce multicolored poinsettias big enough to hide behind, as 9-year-old Avery and 6-year-old Stuart (behind the plant) Thomas can attest.

You know it's getting close to the holidays when poinsettias start showing up at florist shops and chain stores. And if you want to buy the best plant, you need to know where to get it and what to look for.

Start by asking for Georgia-grown poinsettias. The very best-quality plants are locally grown and sold to florist shops and garden centers.

It's not easy to produce a perfect poinsettia. But Georgia growers do a great job. They grow more than 20 varieties in a dozen sizes and shapes, including some awesome 18-inch hanging baskets and 3-gallon floor planters, that fit almost any decorative scheme.

Worth the Price

Georgia-grown poinsettias may cost more, but they're bigger and will last longer. They'll be as clean and perfect as you can get with a live plant.

Florists do a much better job caring for poinsettias, too, while they wait in the store to be bought.

To get the best poinsettias, choose plants with thoroughly colored and expanded bracts. The red, white, pink and speckled "flowers" on poinsettias are actually bracts, or modified leaves. The real flowers are the tiny yellow things in the middle of the bracts.

Photo: Paul Thomas

Knowing what to look for can make buying holiday poinsettias more successful.

Look for:

  • Bracts with no blemishes.
  • Dense foliage all the way down the stem.
  • Plants about two and one-half times the height of the pot.
  • Strong, stiff stems and broken stems. Support rings make stems less likely to snap.
  • Small, yellow flowers just barely opened.
  • Green, healthy lower leaves.
Carefully slip off the pot and look for white and light tan roots that have grown to the sides of the pot. Brown roots, or few roots, can be a bad sign. A poinsettia without good roots won't last long in your home, so it pays to check out the root system.

During the holidays, you can place poinsettias just about anywhere to brighten things up. They'll last about three weeks in fairly dark places.

Water Carefully

While it's in the dark, water only when the soil is very dry. And don't fertilize it. Overwatering or fertilizing your poinsettia during the holidays is the most common cause of rapid death.

It's always good to remove dead leaves, however. Losing a few leaves is expected when poinsettias are in dark places.

Photo: Paul Thomas

You don't buy poinsettias for their tiny, yellow flowers, but for the modified leaves, or bracts, that surround them. And though newer colors like this pink are out there now, most Americans still prefer the red ones.

After the holiday cleanup, which for most of us is in mid-January, poinsettias must be returned to fairly bright light to remain healthy. South, east or west windows work well.

The bracts may begin to fall off fast. This is normal. If they last until March, your poinsettia was very happy where you put it.

Before you begin fertilizing, cut off the long stems halfway down to the soil. By early April, when the bracts begin to die, cut the plant back, leaving four to six nodes or segments in the stem.

Move Outdoors

At this point, the poinsettias can be grown outdoors in full sun. If watered and fertilized, poinsettias will grow great outdoors. Trim them in June and plant them in 1-gallon pots or large indoor planters.

Photo: Paul Thomas

Georgia greenhouse growers are readying millions of dollars' worth of poinsettias for the holiday season.

As a poinsettia grows, trimming the new growth will allow branching and will form an impressive, bushy plant. Trim back new growth again around July 1 and again by mid-August.

Outdoors, the plants will require fertilizing every week. Most houseplant fertilizers will do. Apply the same rate as you would for common houseplants. Continue to fertilize your plant all spring and summer, backing off the fertility rate as fall nears.

If watered and fertilized properly, poinsettias will grow quite large, as high and wide as 5 feet.

Trick Poinsettias Into Blooming Again Next Year
Poinsettias are absolutely safe, too. They've been scrutinized over many years and are proven to be nonpoisonous plants, perfectly safe for display around children and pets.

Paul Thomas is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.