Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Poinsettias: Who's Up For a Splash of Color?

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

I really enjoy having a poinsettia around the house during the Christmas season.  It provides a splash of color that I enjoy.  Despite poinsettias being a prominent plant this time of year there are some myths out there that continue to say that it is a poisonous plant.  However, through several research-based university fact sheets I have gleaned the following information.
Photo courtesy of Clemson University

According to a University of Illinois Extension fact sheet poinsettia are not poisonous.  Furthermore, an Ohio State University study showed that a 50-lb. child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect.  That’s a lot of leaves from a lot of plants when you stop and think about it.  Additionally, the leaves of the poinsettia reportedly have an awful taste so the ability to eat 500 of the leaves might prove difficult.  Even if the plant isn’t poisonous you probably still want to keep your pets away from the plant.  Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

On a more pleasant note regarding care of poinsettias, there is a M.S.U. Extension fact sheet that is free to the public.  I will just touch on a few tips from this fact sheet for the remainder of my article. First, poinsettias thrive in a bright location with at least six hours of daylight.  To maintain those bright red leaves, keep the room temperature between 67-70°F during the day and 60-62°F at night.  The plants do require a moderately moist soil, not letting it get too wet or dry.  This might be a delicate balance for many of us to keep as houseplants tend to actually get loved to death often.  Water it only until you start seeing moisture come out the bottom of the drain holes in the pot.  You would have to remove the cellophane that the plants come in to see this.  Beyond water and temperature there isn’t much to maintaining your poinsettia during the Christmas season.  They don’t need fertilizer while they are in bloom.  If you intend on keeping your poinsettia after the season you would want to provide a complete fertilizer after it completes its bloom period (usually 6-8 weeks).  This promotes new growth and ensures a dark green foliage. 

After the plant has bloomed you can enjoy them as a house plant.  Around May the leaves will turn a muddy green color, at which point you can cut the plant back to create a rounded appearance, leaving three to four leaves on the remaining stem.  By the end of May, you can expect to see new green growth coming.  To encourage a plant that has been kept during the year to re-flower continue the six to eight hours of sunlight each day but more importantly see that the plant gets at least 14 hours of complete darkness each day beginning October 1st.  Continue this until color appears in the leaves, approximately eight to ten weeks later.

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