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Columns

How to care for poinsettias this holiday season

Richard Hentschel
Richard Hentschel

With this Thanksgiving being one of latest on record, it’s no surprise that holiday gift plants are already making the rounds. Poinsettias are among the most popular of these flowering treats. Since 1825, when the poinsettia was introduced from Mexico, it has been the traditional Christmas season gift plant.

With good care inside the home, poinsettias can last for several weeks or several months. Just like our other houseplants, holiday plants have their own needs if you want to them to last.

If you have the chance to visit retail greenhouses during their open house events, you will quickly “feel” one of those needs, a cool temperature. I am not suggesting we lower the thermostat to 60 degrees, but if you can place the poinsettia in a cooler location, especially at night, that will extend the plant’s useful life as a holiday showpiece.

There are a lot of leaves using a lot of water, so pay close attention. Be sure the soil never completely dries out and be sure you water before the leaves wilt. To ensure your watering efforts pay off, that foil wrap should be removed so excess water can drain away. If the wrap is critical for the display, you can punch holes in the bottom so the excess moisture can escape into a saucer below, or you can remove it, then water, drain and return it.

You can easily see when the soil is becoming dry, as it typically will turn to a lighter color and pull away from the edge of the pot. The potted plant itself also will feel much lighter. If the soil is really dry, any watering you do will run down the edges and quickly collect in the saucer. In order to truly re-wet the soil, you will need to place the pot in the sink and run enough water into the pot for the soil to swell and turn a dark color again. Be sure to let the pot sit there so any excess water can drain away. More plants are lost to overwatering and waterlogged soils than those being kept too dry.

There are a number of other flowering plants that can be gifted or received during the holidays. All will brighten the home during the winter and remind us of spring by their bloom and fragrance. Two bulbs that are favorites are amaryllis and paper white narcissus. The larger amaryllis bulbs usually will have two flower stalks. Amaryllis bulbs can last years and bloom for many seasons if you grow the bulbs outdoors in the summer to create the flower buds to be forced the next winter. Paper white narcissus have been a longtime winter favorite because you can always have them in bloom by starting them over a period of weeks. Christmas cactus is another houseplant that we usually see in bloom from Thanksgiving on into January. It naturally is a late fall bloomer after being outdoors for the summer. Greenhouses bring it in to bloom for us for the holidays.

No matter the flowering holiday plant, remember that they enjoy lots of bright indirect light during the day and cooler temperatures at night to get the blooms to last many weeks. And, don’t forget to watch for your holiday plants getting overly dry or wet.

Watch short videos about caring for holiday plants and trees at https://go.illinois.edu/ILextensionDKKYouTubePlaylists or at https://www.facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos.

• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. This column originates on his blog at http://go.illinois.edu/overthegardenfence. You also can stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with “This Week in the Garden” videos at http://www.facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the “Green Side Up” podcast at http://go.illinois.edu/greensideup. The Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is closed for the season and will resume in spring 2020.

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