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Wheeler: Keep poinsettias looking great through the holidays
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A popular Christmas plant, poinsettias are actually native to Mexico and can be seen growing in the wild of their native land.

The plant made its way to the United States when Joel Poinesett, the first United States Ambassador, sent some cuttings back home in South Carolina. There, the climate was just warm enough to allow the plants to survive.

Poinsettias naturally bloom in Mexico in the late fall through early winter, but in order for them to be in bloom for us north of the border, special care must be taken.

The "flowers" of poinsettias are actually colorful bracts, which are leaves that form at the base of the flower. The actual flowers are the yellow structures, called cyathia, which the red bracts surround.

Even though the holiday season is when poinsettias are in bloom, the cooler temperatures in the United States sometimes make it difficult to keep the plants alive and healthy.

This is true even if they are brought inside mostly due to drafts. Here are some tips for keeping your poinsettia healthy through the holiday season.

Place plants in very bright, but indirect light. Southern windows with full sun exposure are never good places because of window drafts and temperature fluctuations.

Keep plants away from sudden drafts. If possible, do not place them near doors.

Keep soil evenly moist, but not wet. Do not allow the soil to dry out, as that will cause the color of the bracts to fade and leaves to drop.

Allow the water to drain from the pot. Standing water will kill the plant.

Keep the temperature between 70-75 degrees in the day and 55-65 at night.

Even though they contain a milky sap, poinsettias are not edible, but the plant is not poisonous either.

This rumor has survived through the ages, but extensive research in the private and public sectors have repeatedly shown they are not poisonous.

However, if you have a latex sensitivity, you might get a rash when you handle the plant or come in contact with the sap.

And always keep pets from nibbling the leaves as it can cause digestive problems.

These plants are always great to have in the home during the holiday season. They can be frustrating to keep pretty and colorful, but understanding what they like will allow them to last for the weeks ahead.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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