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How to keep poinsettias happy and blooming

Tips for selecting healthy holiday plants

Poinsettias these days come in many more colors than the classic red, including white, yellow, gold, pink and variegated.

Poinsettias these days come in many more colors than the classic red, including white, yellow, gold, pink and variegated. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

Christmastime has flower lovers seeing red – as in poinsettias. In recent years, yellow, gold, pink, white and variegated poinsettias are showing up in the mix, too.

It’s poinsettia season and this Mexican native is everywhere, forced into December bloom. The poinsettias available today are better than the ones sold a generation ago – and it’s not just the wider range of colors.

“Breeders are also enhancing features that make the plants more enjoyable for everyone,” says Diane Blazek, executive director of National Garden Bureau. “They’re developing varieties that bloom earlier, have longer-lasting blooms, and unique bract shapes.”

The bracts – what most people think of as petals – now come curly, skinny or extra wide. No matter the bract shape, the key to selecting a fresh poinsettia that will last until New Year’s is focusing on what’s at that center of those bracts – the small yellow true flowers or cyathia. They should look fresh and not turning brown. Any poinsettias missing those little yellow flowers are past their prime.

The bracts should appear fresh, too, but also notice the dark green leaves lower on the stem. Make sure the foliage looks healthy and not drooping or falling off.

According to experts, the most common problem with poinsettias is overwatering. People kill them with kindness. Take off the foil wrapper or punch holes in the bottom (and place a saucer underneath). Poinsettias – semi-tropical members of the Euphorbia family – demand good drainage and prefer soil on the dry side of moist. Give the plant a drink once a week (or as needed) and don’t let the poinsettia stand in water. The best way to know if your poinsettia needs watering? Pick it up. If it seems light, it’s time to water.

Cold kills poinsettias; they can’t take prolonged temperatures under 50 degrees. So, if decorating with poinsettias outdoors, bring them inside or protect them at night. They prefer bright light and temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees (just like most people do).

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous – to people, dogs or cats. Studies at Ohio State and Washington State universities debunked myths about poinsettia toxicity. A 50-pound child would need to eat more than 500 poinsettia bracts to reach a toxic level.

That doesn’t mean poinsettias are edible. Their milky sap will cause mouth and skin irritation (and keep any person or animal from munching them).

For more on poinsettia care: https://ucanr.edu/sites/urbanhort/files/80155.pdf

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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