Expert tells how to select a poinsettia for the holidays

Richard Bogren, Owings, Allen D.  |  12/4/2009 1:30:12 AM

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News Release Distributed 12/03/09

Christmas tree and holiday decoration shopping has started, and an LSU AgCenter expert has some guidelines for buying poinsettias.

Poinsettias are the most popular Christmas holiday plant in the United States, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings. And Louisiana has several poinsettia growers with an abundance of good, locally grown plants.

“The colored leaves – actually they’re bracts – are the main attraction of poinsettias,” Owings says. “And an ever-increasing range of colors is available – from the traditional red, to white, pink, peach, yellow, marbled and speckled. Some poinsettia varieties now have purplish and burgundy-colored foliage.”

Owings says the bracts start changing from green to other colors in late October to early November as the length of daytime shortens in the fall.

When selecting poinsettias, look for plants with fully mature, thoroughly colored and expanded bracts, he says. Avoid plants with too much green around the bract edges. An abundance of dark, rich, green foliage toward the lower part of the plant canopy is a sign of good plant health.

Look for plants with dense, plentiful foliage all the way down the stem. Leaves should reach to the edge of the container and ideally cover it. Typically, pink and white poinsettias have lighter-green leaves than red poinsettias.

Proper proportion of plant height and shape relative to container size is also an important key to an aesthetically pleasing poinsettia, the horticulturist says. Plants should appear balanced, full and attractive from all angles. A generally accepted standard is that the plant should be approximately 2 1/2 times taller than the diameter of the container.

“Select plants with stiff stems, good bract and leaf retention, and no signs of wilting, breaking or drooping,” Owings says. “Be wary of plants displayed in paper, plastic or mesh sleeves. A poinsettia needs its space, and the longer a plant remains sleeved, the more the plant quality will deteriorate.”

He also recommends examining the growing medium in the container. It is best to avoid waterlogged soil, particularly if the plant appears wilted. This could be a sign of irreversible root rot.

When transporting the plant, protect it from chilling winds and temperatures below 50 degrees, Owings adds. Putting the poinsettia into a sleeve or a large, roomy shopping bag will usually provide adequate protection for taking the plant home when weather is cold and windy.

“These guidelines will help you enjoy your poinsettias through the Christmas and New Year’s seasons,” Owings says.

Rick Bogren

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