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Wheeler: Keeping poinsettias beautiful
1214poinsettias

Nothing says Christmas like poinsettias.

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 to 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 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 and kept away from drafts. Here are some tips for keeping your poinsettia healthy through the holiday season.

Place plants in very bright, but indirect light. Southern-facing windows with full sun exposure are never good because of 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 completely, as that will cause the color of the bracts to fade and leaves to drop. Water when the soil surface is dry to the touch.

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

Keep the temperature of your house between 65-75 degrees to prolong the color and health of the plant.

Even though they contain a milky sap, poinsettias are not poisonous, but the plant is not edible either. This rumor has survived through the ages, but extensive research in the private and public sectors have repeatedly shown they are not poisonous. They can be mildly toxic to pets if ingested.

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

These plants are always great to have in the home during the holiday season. They can be frustrating to keep pretty and colorful throughout this time of year, 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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