By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener
Christmas Day is tomorrow (gasp!) and with that we have a few tips on how to care for your Christmas plant — the poinsettia. This plant came to Europe from Mexico. Because of its bright red colour, it became a popular Christmas decoration and nowadays it’s hard to imagine Christmas without it. You may not know this, but the colourful parts of the plant are actually leaves, and that all poinsettias have tiny yellow flowers.
Having a poinsettia is a great way to brighten up your house this winter and if you follow the tips, your plant may last even until Easter.
Water your plant when it feels dry to touch, but take care not to drown it by ensuring that adequate drainage is available. Place a layer of pebbles on a tray beneath the plant to keep it out of water and increase the humidity. Avoid letting it sit in a water-filled saucer as this can lead to root rot.
Place your plant in bright, but not direct sunlight; give it a minimum of six hours of light each day. South, east or west facing windows are preferable to a north window. Maintain Temperatures between 18 – 22C in the day, and cooler at night. Avoid extreme temperature changes by ensuring that it’s not near near fireplaces, drafts or ventilation ducts.
If you notice that the leaves are falling off, you can usually still save the plant. Environmental factors such as a room that is too warm or too dry is most often the reason. Keep the plant in a coolish, draft-free area and provide plenty of water.
Fertilizing a poinsettia is never recommended while it’s blooming — and you should fertilize only if you plan to keep it after the holiday season. If so, apply fertilizer every two weeks using a complete houseplant fertilizer. While it is possible to keep the plant from year to year, it is a very fussy exacting process. Since they are not that expensive, you might just choose to start fresh next year.
For years poinsettias have had the bad reputation of being poisonous. They certainly are not meant to be eaten by humans, pets, or livestock and ingesting poinsettias would probably cause some stomach upset, as would eating most any houseplant. However poinsettias have undergone extensive testing and there is no evidence that they are toxic or unsafe to have in the house. They are also safe to put into the compost.
If you are interested in keeping the plant after the holidays, here are some tips: