Yard and Garden: Poinsettias

AMES, Iowa – The poinsettia is one of the most popular potted flowers in the United States. ISU Extension horticulturists tell how to select a healthy plant and the care involved to keep the plant attractive through the holiday season.

What should I look for when buying a poinsettia?

Poinsettias are available in a wide range of colors. Red is the most popular color. However, poinsettias also are available in burgundy, pink, salmon, white, cream and gold. There also are bicolored, marbled and speckled poinsettias. The colorful part of the poinsettia, commonly referred to as the plant’s flowers, are actually modified leaves or bracts. The true flowers are yellow to green, button-like objects located in the center of the bracts.

When selecting a poinsettia, choose a well-shaped plant with dark green foliage and well-colored bracts. The true flowers should be shedding little or no pollen. Avoid poinsettias with wilted foliage, broken stems or few leaves.

How do I care for a poinsettia?

Place the poinsettia in a plant sleeve or carefully wrap it before transporting the plant home. Exposing the poinsettia to freezing temperatures, even for a few minutes, may cause its bracts and leaves to blacken and drop. As soon as you get home, unwrap the poinsettia and place it near a sunny window or other well-lit location. However, don’t let the plant touch the cold window pane. Also, keep the poinsettia away from cold drafts or heat sources. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water needs can be determined with your finger. Check the potting soil daily. When the soil surface becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until water begins to flow out the bottom of the pot. The pots of most poinsettias are placed inside decorative pot covers. When watering a poinsettia, carefully remove the pot covering, water the plant in the sink, then drop the poinsettia back into the pot cover.

When given good care, a poinsettia should remain attractive for several weeks, well after the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays.

Is the poinsettia poisonous?

The poinsettia has long been regarded as poisonous. However, research conducted at various institutions has shown the poinsettia is not poisonous. While the poinsettia is not poisonous, it is not intended for human or animal consumption. Individuals are still advised to keep the poinsettia out of the reach of small children and pets.

One potential health problem associated with the poinsettia is dermatitis or an irritation to the skin. When a poinsettia stem is cut or broken, milky sap oozes from the wound. Some individuals may develop a skin irritation if the milky sap comes in contact with their skin. 

Yard and Garden FAQ Website

Visit the Yard and Garden FAQs website at http://expert.hort.iastate.edu/ to find answers to additional lawn care questions. This database has answers to more than 600 commonly asked questions on a wide range of gardening topics. Browse the FAQs by entering search terms or by categories. Can’t find an answer? The ISU Hortline offers assistance from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 515-294-1871, or by email to hortline@iastate.edu.