University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Holiday News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Poinsettias are synonymous with the holiday season. To get the longest life and enjoyment from the ones you purchase or receive as gifts, here are some suggestions.

Start with proper selection. This means choosing plants with healthy, dark green foliage and brightly colored bracts with the true flowers (the cyathia) still closed or just beginning to open.

Poinsettias are available with red, white, pink, peach, yellow, marbled, or bi-colored bracts. Bracts are the colored leaves that look like flower petals, but aren't. The "true" flowers are found in clusters in the center of the colored bracts. Poinsettias are in flower when the pollen-bearing clusters are open.

You also need to consider the shape and proportion of the plant. While plant height and pot size aren't significant by themselves, the relationship between height and pot size is critical. The ratio of plant-to-pot size should be about two to one (a 12-inch plant in a six-inch pot, for example.)

Poinsettias are extremely sensitive to cold and freezing temperatures, so make sure your plant is wrapped when carrying it between the store and your car. Never transport it in the trunk where it is apt to freeze even in protective wrapping.

To enjoy your poinsettia for as long as possible, place it in an area with sufficient natural light to read fine print (150- to 300-foot candles) and away from heat outlets and drafts from open doors and windows. Provide uniformly moist soil with good drainage and a night temperature of 65 to 70 degrees F.

Poinsettias also benefit from regular fertilization. Use a complete, water soluble fertilizer at the rate and frequency recommended on the label. With good care in the home, poinsettias often retain their colored bracts for two to four months or longer.

If you are concerned that poinsettias are poisonous, don't be. Studies conducted at Ohio State University with rats (fed the equivalent of 250 poinsettia leaves eaten by a 22-pound child) showed no poisoning symptoms or changes in general behavior of the rodents.

The U.S. Department of Health has reported no serious illnesses or mortality from a number of cases where poinsettia parts were ingested. However, since some people respond differently to ingestion of plants than others, it's best to refrain from tasting plants not known to be edible. For safety's sake, keep plants out of the reach of children or pets, just as you would any household chemicals, electrical cords, or other potentially harmful products around the home.

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