Poinsettias Need Proper Selection Care Notes LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Allen D. Owings  |  9/20/2006 12:17:33 AM

Though a sign of the season, poinsettias actually can be grown year round. Red is the most popular color.

News You Can Use For December 2003

Poinsettias are the featured plant in retail garden centers, florist shops and grocery stores from mid-November through December. Proper selection and care are important when choosing the holiday decoration, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings.

Poinsettias are available in a tremendous variety of leaf, or bract, colors - including red, white, marble, pink and combinations of these colors. Red poinsettias, however, represent around 90 percent of the market, although other colors are increasing in popularity, according to the LSU AgCenter horticulturist.

Points to consider when purchasing poinsettias for the holidays include the size and number of the colored bracts. Bracts should be large and extend over the lower green leaves. The number and size of bracts usually dictate plant price. A premium quality poinsettia usually has at least six bracts and should have more.

Owings recommends inspecting the lower green leaves. They should have good appearance and extend over the rim of the pot. Drooping leaves may indicate problems. Check for insects, primarily white flies, underneath the lower leaves.

"The most important observation that can be made before purchasing a poinsettia is inspection of the green flower parts (cyathia) in the center of the bracts," Owings says, explaining, "These flower parts indicate display life."

The LSU AgCenter horticulturist notes that plants having large cyathia, showing yellow pollen and sap, will have the least amount of display life left. Plants with smaller cyathia, little to no pollen and no sap, will have the longest display life. A poinsettia should last for four to six weeks in the home if properly cared for.

"To prolong the beauty and health of poinsettias once they are in the home, proper care is essential," Owings says, adding, "Although poinsettias do not become acclimated to interior settings as well as most foliage plants, success is not difficult."

Choose a location that receives some sunlight. Interior hallways are a poor site. It also is very important to avoid exposing the plant to sudden temperature changes, such as near a ventilation system or drafty spot.

Temperatures found in most homes are acceptable, and the ideal is to provide 70-75 F degree daytime temperatures and 62-65 F degree nights.

As for watering, the horticulturist says to allow the soil surface to dry out thoroughly before watering with warm water. Just the soil surface should be dry to the touch before watering again. Avoid water or mist on the colored bracts, and do not let the poinsettia stand in water for more than 30 minutes to an hour.

In extreme South Louisiana, poinsettias can be planted outdoors in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. To do that, cut the plant back halfway and select a sunny, well-drained location isolated from north winds and frost pockets.

Poinsettias placed on the south side of the house usually will do well. Poinsettias can be kept bushy and compact when growing in the landscape or a container by pinching the top inch from new shoots when these shoots reach 5-6 inches long. These branches will produce several laterals at each place where the pinching is done.

For poinsettias to bloom and develop foliage color, however, do not pinch after late August or early September, and prevent them from receiving any light during the night hours. Poinsettias need approximately 40 straight days of 13- to14-hour nights to bloom and develop bract color.

Normal accumulation of these hours will occur from about Oct. 5 through Nov. 15, and this period of continuous darkness at night should initiate color in time for the Christmas season. Any interruption of this darkness accumulation will delay flowering.

Owings recommends contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office to learn more about poinsettia selection and care. In addition, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com.

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On the Web: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/  

On the Web: www.louisianalawnandgarden.org.

Source: Allen D. Owings (225) 578-2222, or aowings@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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