How to Choose and Care for Your Poinsettia

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Poinsettia Cultivars

A variety of poinsettia plants at Poinsettia Field Day in a Raulston Arboretum greenhouse.

Poinsettias are the flowers often associated with Christmas and they come in a variety of colors ranging from red, white, pink and various shades in between. Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico and Central America and were introduced to the U.S. by Joel Poinsett, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, in 1825. Poinsettias have a bad reputation for being poisonous, and although they are not recommended for food consumption, they are not poisonous. Some people may have an adverse reaction to the latex that exudes from the leaves and stem when they are broken; however, usually this is only a minor skin irritation.

When choosing a poinsettia for purchase, be sure it is not wilted and the bottom leaves are not yellow. This could be an indication of over-watering or temperature damage and the plant will not recover.

The care of poinsettias is much like any other house plant, with water and temperature being the main concerns. Poinsettias do not like to be overwatered but prefer evenly moist soil. When in doubt about whether or not to water poinsettias, err on the side of dry. How often you need to water will depend on location and the type of soil in which they are growing. Temperatures for poinsettias should range between 55 degrees F and 75 degrees F. Temperatures below or above this will shorten the life of the plant.

If you want to keep your poinsettia and have it re-bloom next year, treat it like other houseplants with once a month fertilization schedule. When the day length begins to shorten next fall, place the poinsettia in an area that receives at least 13-14 hours of uninterrupted darkness until it turns the appropriate color. For more information about poinsettia care please visit: NC State Poinsettia Care