Greg Bowman

Greg Bowman is the Gordon County Extension Agent.

The holiday time is here.  I have stated before that I may not be a fan of shopping, but I sure do like the festivities of the holiday season. I really don’t mind the chore of checking the water levels in the Christmas tree stand or being the one that turns off the Christmas lights at night.

Many folks have already put up their decorations while others are just now in decorating mode. One item that is used as gifs or to give a  home more pop for decoration is the poinsettia. It is the most popular flowering plant sold in the United States. In fact, the most recent number I found was that 70 million poinsettias are being sold annually.

Today, I will be sharing information on this popular plant from a University of Georgia publication by UGA horticulturists Paul Thomas and Mel Garber, plus from a Clemson Cooperative Extension factsheet.

  The history of the poinsettia is interesting. In fact, the introduction of the plant to the United States can be traced back to Joel R. Poinsett in the early 1800s.  Poinsett was the first United States ambassador to Mexico.  He saw the plant and brought samples back to our country.

The wild Mexican plants that became named poinsettia after Poinsett looked different than the plants of today. The plants found in Mexico could grow 12-15 feet tall and only had one or two stems. The red floral bracts were narrow and droopy in appearance than the poinsettias we see at the stores today. The bracts or modified leaves provide the color to a poinsettia.

When most people think of poinsettia, they think of a red poinsettia, but there are various options on the market. Through plant breeding there are cultivars that are white, pink, peach, yellow, marbled or speckled in appearance. I will add that the red poinsettia is still the most popular and the data I found stated the red poinsettia are over three-quarters of the sales.

  I would venture that most people may find the history interesting, but the main purpose of buying is to either give a nice gift to a person or to make the home more decorative during the holidays.

In addition, when you buy the plant the goal is to have it looking great for the entire holiday season.

The Clemson factsheet gives some tips on poinsettia selection.

First, look for a plant with fully mature and completely colored bracts.  You need to select plants with an abundance of dark, rich green foliage that goes down to the stem. The leaves and bracts of the plant should not be drooping either.

It is also suggested to look for poinsettias that are full and attractive on all sides. Do not select plants that are wilted or show signs of breaking or drooping. You need plants with stiff stems with good bract and leaf retention. Another tip is to choose plants with the yellow flowers in the center that are not quite open.

  To keep the plant looking great after you get it home, you need to keep the following steps in mind.

The poinsettia needs a spot in the home that will receive at least six hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Keep in mind, we state indirect and not direct light. Direct light may fade the bracts of the plant. If direct light cannot be avoided, use a shade or a sheer curtain to filter the light.

Temperature is important too for plant quality. Keep the poinsettia away from drafts, excessive heat or dry air, fireplaces or ventilating ducts. Daytime temps in the plant area should not go over 70 degrees. If the room is too hot, the heat will cause foliage yellowing, leaf drop and the bracts to fade. Chilling injury can be a problem too if the area drops below 50 degrees.

The plants need soil that is moderate on moisture. They will need a good watering when the soil is dry to the touch. Do not overwater and do not let the soil dry out completely. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. This may mean taking plants out of the decorative wrapping they may come in when you water. You want to see the water coming out of the drainage holes when watering and saturate the soil. Do not fertilize a blooming poinsettia.

  You can re-flower a poinsettia if you commit to the time and effort. After the holidays, keep the plant indoors until we are past frost time. You can move the plant outdoors then. Remove bracts when they wither and discolor. The plant will need a morning sun and afternoon shade area. The poinsettia will need often watering and fertilization. Pruning or pinching will encourage branching. You can shape the plant as you like.

You will bring the plant indoors when night temps fall below 60 degrees. Keep fertilizing and watering. Starting Oct. 1, the plant will need 14 hours of complete darkness daily until bract color is achieved. This may take till middle part of November. The dark time is important and putting the plant in a closet or covered with a box can work. Night temps should be in the 60-70 degree range. The plant will need maximum light the other 10 hours of the day.

For more information, contact UGA Extension- Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email UGA Extension Agent Greg Bowman at gbowman@uga.edu.