AgCenter horticulturist: ‘Tis the poinsettia season

Poinsettia crop at LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden Museum and Gardens in Baton Rouge.
--Allen Owings photo

The new poinsettias of various colors and those with different leaf shapes are referred to as novelty types,” LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings said.

HAMMOND — The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season means it’s time for poinsettias.
“You can start selecting poinsettias most years around Thanksgiving week, and they are generally available in good numbers until Christmas,” said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings.
People can expect poinsettias to last well into 2014 if they give proper consideration to selection and care, he said.
Poinsettias are available in a tremendous variety of leaf — or bract — colors, including red, white, marble, pink and combinations of these colors. Red poinsettias continue to represent around 90 percent of the market, although other colors are increasing in popularity.
“The new poinsettias of various colors and those with different leaf shapes are referred to as novelty types,” Owings said.
He said points to consider when purchasing poinsettias include the size and number of the colored bracts. They should be large and extend over the lower green leaves.
“The number and size of bracts usually dictate plant price,” Owings said. “A premium-quality poinsettia usually has at least six bracts and should have more.”
Purchasers also should inspect the lower green leaves on poinsettias. Leaves should have good appearance and extend over the rim of the pot. Drooping leaves may indicate problems.
“You also should check for insects, primarily white flies, underneath the lower leaves,” the horticulturist said. “The most important observation that can be made before purchasing a poinsettia is inspection of the green flower parts — called cyathia — in the center of the bracts. These flower parts indicate display life.”
Plants with large cyathia showing yellow pollen and sap will have the least amount of display life left. Plants with smaller cyathia, little to no pollen and no sap will have the longest display life. A poinsettia should last for four to six weeks in the home with proper care.
“To prolong the beauty and health of poinsettias once they are in the home, proper care is essential,” Owings said. “Although poinsettias do not become acclimated to interior settings as well as most foliage plants, it is easy to be successful.”
Select a location that receives some sunlight. Interior hallways are a poor location. It also is very important to avoid exposing the plant to sudden temperature changes, so don’t place a poinsettia near a ventilation system or in a drafty spot near a doorway, he said. But temperatures in most homes are acceptable, and the ideal is to provide 70- to 75-degree daytime temperatures and 62- to 65-degree nights.
As for watering, Owings said to allow the soil surface to dry out thoroughly before watering with warm water. Just the soil surface should be dry to the touch before watering again.
Avoid water or mist on the colored bracts, and do not let the poinsettia stand in water for more than 30 minutes to an hour, he said.
“Along with poinsettias, amaryllis, Norfolk Island pines, orchids, Christmas cactus and several other plants can be used to brighten your home during the holiday season,” Owings said.

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