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Choose perfect poinsettias for festive holiday displays
Ashley Ho0pers ext agent
Ashley Hoopers is UGA Extension agent for Liberty County - photo by File photo

Along with evergreens, poinsettias embody the holiday spirit and help create festive displays. Poinsettias are one of the bestselling potted plants in the United States, with over 30 million plants being produced each year for the holidays. The challenge is deciding how many and what color, leaf shape, plant size and form to buy. 

Poinsettias come in several colors, including scarlet, ivory, pink and mauve. The colorful part that we might consider the poinsettia flower is actually a collection of colored leaves called bracts. The plants true flower is the tiny yellow bloom in the middle of the bract called a cyathia.

To have the best chance of surviving past the holidays, poinsettias need to be healthy and strong before you bring them home. 

Here are the County Agent’s top tips for caring for poinsettias:

• To get the best quality plants, consider purchasing your poinsettias from a florist’s shop or nursery. Locally grown plants may cost more, but they keep better. They’re usually sold to florist shops and garden centers.

• Select plants with fully colored and expanded bracts. (Bracts are the colored leaves. The actual flowers are the yellow centers.) Make sure it has strong, sturdy stems, dense foliage all the way down its stems, and that its bracts have no blemishes and its small yellow flowers have just barely opened.

• Examine leaves for “hitchhikers.” Whiteflies get on the underside of the leaves and suck the juices. This is the giveaway: whiteflies excrete “honeydew” onto the leaves below. Don’t buy plants with sticky leaves and dots on the leaf undersides. The dots are whitefly nymphs.

• Lastly, carefully remove the plant from its pot to inspect the plant’s root system. If the plant has just a few roots or lots of dark brown roots, don’t buy it. Healthy poinsettias have plenty of tan and white roots.

Basic poinsettia care

• During the holidays, you can place poinsettias just about anywhere to liven things up. They’ll last about three weeks in fairly dark places. 

• Since the plants are native to Mexico, they prefer at least six hours of bright light a day and temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees. However, they can spend a few weeks on a fireplace hearth or in the shade of a Christmas tree with the proper care. Don’t put it near a cold draft or excessive heat or near an appliance, fireplace or ventilating duct.

• These plants are susceptible to root rot, so don’t overwater them or let them sit in water filled saucers. The holiday foil that florists wrap around some poinsettia pots can trap water in the pot, so it’s best to remove it. Only water when the soil surface feels dry, and just water them until water drains out of the bottom of the pot.

• While it’s in the dark, water only when the soil is dry. And don’t fertilize it. Overwatering or fertilizing your poinsettia during the holidays when it is in dark conditions is the most common cause of rapid death.

After the holidays

Come February or March, many of these cheery decorative Christmas gifts are droopy, yellowed or worse — in the trash.

After the holiday season is over, move the poinsettia to a bright spot in either a south-, east- or west-facing window. Eventually, the bracts will start to fall off. This is normal. If your poinsettia holds onto its bracts until March, then your poinsettia was very happy where you put it!

By early April, cut the plant back to about 10 inches or until there are four to six nodes of the stem above the soil. At this point, it can be grown outdoors in full sun. If watered and fertilized, poinsettias will grow great outdoors. Fertilize it weekly with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer at the same rate you give houseplants.

Trim your poinsettia in June and plant it in a 1-gallon pot or large indoor planter. Trim back new growth again around July 1 and again by mid-August. Keep fertilizing through spring and summer, applying nutrition once every two to three weeks as fall nears. With enough water and nutrition, poinsettias can grow as high as 5 feet!

For more information on poinsettias and their care, contact the Liberty County Cooperative Extension office at 912-876-2133 or

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