Poinsettia might be one of the most iconic symbols of Christmas. But did you know they’ve only been part of American Christmas traditions since the 1830s? Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico, where they grow into trees as tall as 16 feet, blooming in December and coloring the hills a brilliant shade of red. They were brought to the states by Joel Roberts Poinsett (founder of the Smithsonian Institution) in 1828, and he started propagating them as houseplants and gifting them to friends.
Over the years, poinsettias have been adapted and hybridized to deliver the stunning mix of colors that are available today. We’ve got a wide selection at all of our stores this year. There’s plenty of options for different colors and sizes, so you’re sure to find one you like.
Before you head out to find your first poinsettia of the year, here are a few tips to help you pick the best one.
How to Choose a Perfect Poinsettia
Here are five things to look for when choosing a healthy poinsettia:
- Look for dense and dark green foliage. The lower leaves of a healthy plant should be a rich dark green, and the color should extend all the way down to the soil line.
- Choose a full and balanced poinsettia. A healthy plant should have lush leaves from just above the edge of its pot to the top, and it should look evenly dense from every angle.
- Check the center buds in the middle of blossoms. Choose ones that are still green and not showing pollen yet; this means the plant is still young.
- Check for yellowing or wilting leaves. If it is wilting, droopy, or yellowing, the poinsettia has probably experienced some sort of stress. Since they are such sensitive plants, a stressed one probably won’t last very long.
Poinsettias are Sensitive
Since they’re a tropical plant, poinsettias are pretty sensitive to cold. If exposed to temperatures colder than 50 ̊F, they’ll wilt and are likely to die. If you can, pick yours up on a warm day above 50 ̊F. If you have to get them when it’s below freezing, make sure they’re well-protected. We’ll pack them up in protective plastic for you, but it’s not a bad idea to bring a thin blanket to wrap around them while transporting them to your car and then into your house.
Whatever you do, don’t leave poinsettias sitting in the car while you finish other shopping. Our vehicles cool down fast in the winter, and even an extra blanket will not be enough to protect them from the chill.
How to Care For Poinsettia
Even though they’re sensitive to frost, poinsettias are actually fairly easy to care for. The most crucial care tip to know is that they do not tolerate overwatering. They need good drainage to flourish. Here are a few more tips to help your poinsettia last all season long:
- The best spot for a poinsettia is somewhere with at least 6 hours of bright light, with even temperatures of 65-70 ̊F during the day, down to 60 ̊F at night.
- Don’t leave your poinsettia in the foil. The foil might be pretty, but leaving it to sit in the foil is more likely to cause root rot. If you really want to keep the plant in the decorative packaging, poke several holes in the bottom of the foil and set it on a saucer so it can drain well.
- Water your poinsettia only when the soil is dry 1/2 to 1 inch under the surface, or when the pot starts to feel light when you pick it up. Make sure you check the soil and weight daily—they do tend to dry out quickly at this time of year due to the dry indoor air.
- The best way to water your poinsettia is to set it in a couple of inches of water in the sink. Let it soak up as much water as it needs, and then let it drain for half an hour before returning to its decorative pot.
Are Poinsettias Poisonous?
No, poinsettias are not poisonous to pets or humans. If your cat or dog eats a few leaves, they might get a sick tummy. If they eat all the leaves off your plant, you will want to call your vet. However, a few nibbles won’t hurt them. Likewise, kids are safe too. Eating a few leaves may cause some tummy upset, but fortunately, a 50-pound child would need to eat approximately 500 poinsettia leaves before it would cause any real harm.
With a little care and bright, warm location, your poinsettia should last you a minimum of 6-8 weeks. If you haven’t picked one up yet, stop by one of our garden center locations, in Lothian, MD, Alexandria, VA, and Belle Haven, VA, and have a look at all the festive colors available for 2019.