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Skaggs: Poinsettia can bring holiday cheer
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Along with evergreens, poinsettias embody the holiday spirit and help create festive displays. The challenge is deciding how many, what color, leaf shape, plant size and form to buy.

You can choose among plants with traditional red, strong white, creamy white, light pink, solid pink, bright orange-red, deep purple-red and various marbled or speckled bracts. Plants range from 4-inch pots to 18-inch hanging baskets, living wreaths, topiaries and 3-gallon floor planters.

You can use poinsettia stems as cut flowers in arrangements, too. If you supply enough water, as when using florist foam, some new poinsettia cultivars can last up to two weeks as cut flowers.

Some other poinsettia tips:

  • Look for Georgia-grown plants. This year the crop promises to be phenomenal. 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.) Avoid plants with too much green around the bract edges, a sign that it was shipped before it was mature enough.
  • Choose poinsettias with dense, rich green leaves all along the stem. They should be well branched and proportioned and about two and a half times the height of the pot.
  • Examine leaves for “hitchhikers.” Silverleaf 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.
  • Don’t buy plants with weak stems, few bracts or any signs of wilting, breaking or drooping. Often in stores, poinsettias are crowded. Sometimes they’re displayed in paper, plastic or mesh sleeves. They need their space. The longer they stay sleeved, the faster their quality deteriorates.
  • When you take your poinsettia home, protect it from chilling winds and temperatures below 50 F. Place it in a sleeve or large shopping bag.
  • Once you get home, place it where it looks best. It will last about three weeks in fairly dark places. Don’t put it near a cold draft or excessive heat or near an appliance, fireplace or ventilating duct.
  • Water a poinsettia only when the soil feels dry to the touch. But don’t allow it to wilt, as it may cause leaves to drop. Over-watering is a common cause of plant loss. Don’t leave the plant in standing water. This, too, may cause leaf drop. Always remove a plant from any decorative container before watering it and allow the water to drain completely.

One last bit of information on poinsettias: They are not poisonous. Although long believed to be poisonous, this myth turned out to be folklore. However, I imagine that if one consumed large amounts of poinsettia foliage, one would not feel very well. As with anything, common sense is the best guide.

Other holiday plants could be harmful, though, and bear watching when small children are around. Jerusalem cherry, Solanum pseudocapsicum, is sometimes sold as a holiday houseplant and does have non-edible, poisonous, round, bright orange or yellow fruits. Paperwhite narcissus leaves are also poisonous.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension Coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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