Avoid Premature Loss of Poinsettias

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch
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Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I enjoy spending time with family, giving to the less fortunate, keeping family traditions, and reflecting on the real reason for the season. One of our family Christmas traditions is decorating our home with large poinsettias. My mother and grandmother always took much pride in their selection and care of their Poinsettias, and at the time, seemed to be competing for a ‘blue ribbon’ to see whose would last the longest.

Poinsettias are a traditional Christmas plant for many homeowners due to their modified brilliant red leaves, known as bracts. These bracts are green like all other plants, until deprived of light by the grower. As a result of this management practice, the chlorophyll which normally turns the leaves green cannot be produced and the only color that the plant is able to form is red. The traditional red and green colors make the poinsettia a holiday favorite. Whether you purchase a plant for your home, or are gifted a poinsettia, there are several practices to help make it last well past the holiday season.

Take a few minutes daily and observe the plant for symptoms of failure. Most problems arise from inadequate watering, over watering, low light conditions, or fluctuations in temperature, all of which can be easily rectified with a few simple changes in management. If the pot arrives in a foil wrapper, poke a few holes in the bottom of the foil and place the pot on a saucer. This allows water to drain from the pot and helps to avoid root rot. If the plant’s lower leaves begin turning yellow or drop, and the roots appear white and healthy, increase watering’s to keep the soil moist but not wet, and move the plant to a more lighted area. If the plant’s lower leaves begin turning yellow or drop and the roots appear discolored or slough off, decrease watering and do not allow water to stand in the saucer.

To observe the roots, gently hold the crown of the plant at the soil line in one hand and turn the plant upside down. Gently remove the pot from the root ball and observe the root appearance. After making your observations, place the pot back onto the root ball and return the pot to the saucer. True flowers (small yellow flowers between the bracts) may begin to drop due to low light conditions. Move the plant to a more lighted area if you observe flower drop.

Fading colors of the bracts are also caused by low light conditions, or temperatures being too warm. Move the plant to a more lighted and cooler area of the home if the bracts begin to fade. Bracts turning blue or white are caused by the plant being too cold. Move it to an area of the home above 55°F and make sure it isn’t touching a cold window pane.

Following these tips will help your poinsettias look fantastic during the holidays and before you know it, you’ll be competing for a ‘blue ribbon’. For more information on poinsettias, visit the NCSU poinsettia portal at https://poinsettias.ces.ncsu.edu/.