Popular Holiday Plants: Poinsettia Selection and Care Tips

The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to think about decorating your home and finding some hosting gifts for your friends and family. During this time of year, your focus might be on trimming the tree and wrapping the gifts that go under it, but there are other plants that deserve your attention, too. Traditional holiday flora can make an excellent addition to your seasonal decor or a thoughtful present to show how much you care. Just make sure you actually know how to care for the plants.

Undoubtedly, the poinsettia is one of the most recognizable Christmastime flowers. Although the red-hued version is the most traditional, there are varieties that come in white, pink, and purple. There are also variegated poinsettias, which feature different colors in splotches or streaks. It’s a stunning, beloved plant — but it won’t remain that way for long if you don’t choose wisely at the garden store or tend to its needs.

When choosing a poinsettia, you’ll want to find a full plant with dark green leaves and a good amount of color. You should see very little of the golden pollen in the center of the flowers. As a general rule, you should avoid buying plants that are in full bloom, as they’ve been in their pots for too long and won’t thrive upon bringing them home. Keep in mind that that colored cellophane sleeve around the plant may not be a good sign; it’s a nice way to present the plant to your recipient, but if the plant stays in such a sleeve for too long, it can actually cause ethylene to build up. This can result in drooping, yellowing, or dropping of flower petals. They can, however, be placed in the sleeve before bringing the plants home or transporting them elsewhere, as this can help to protect the branches from breaking. You will need to remove this wrapping once it reaches its final destination to keep the plant healthy.

Before making your final poinsettia decision, take a moment to inspect it for whiteflies. These small insects, which really look like white gnats, may be on the underside of the leaves or fly out when the plant is touched. They’re commonly found in plants that are kept in greenhouses and should not be welcome in your home. They will actually infect your other plants and are extremely hard to get rid of. And while there are currently 27,000 pest control businesses operating in the U.S., chances are you won’t want to interrupt your holiday celebrations with a visit from the bug man.

When it comes time to bring home your poinsettia, make sure it doesn’t get too chilled. These plants may be popular Christmas gifts, but that doesn’t mean they fare well in the cold. In fact, they can become damaged if they’re exposed to temperatures under 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be wrapped in several layers of paper, with air space captured in between, before it goes outdoors. You should bring your poinsettia inside as soon as possible and refrain from leaving it in your car for any length of time. Once it’s inside, you should keep them in indirect sunlight and away from any cold drafts.

You’ll also need to be careful about how much you water your poinsettia. Although humans can last three or four days without fresh water, we’re all about hydration these days. The same cannot be said for a poinsettia; in fact, you may be in danger of overwatering it. You should water when the soil is dry and give the plant enough so that the soil is moist (not wet). Another reason you should remove the decorative foil around the plant is that this foil tends to trap water and oversaturate the soil. Take care to pour out any excess water.

Many families worry about bringing home a poinsettia (or giving one as a gift) if the household is pet-friendly. But contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia will not poison humans or pets. While their milky sap can be mildly irritating to some and you don’t necessarily want your cat to chew on these plants, research shows doing so won’t kill them. That’s excellent news for the 44% of households in the U.S. that own a dog, since this won’t hold them back from decorating for the holidays. There are plenty of other seasonal plants to outlaw in your home if you have furry friends, though. Amaryllis, American holly, mistletoe, and other popular plants can be fatal if ingested, so make it a rule to not have them in or around your home if you have pets.

If you want to make things merry and bright, there’s really no better way than with a poinsettia — especially now that you know how to care for it correctly.

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