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Yard and Garden: Handling Poinsettias during the Holiday Season

Crafts & Gardening |

Posted on: Dec 02nd 2016

Source: Iowa State Extension

One of the best parts of the holiday season is adding colorful seasonal plants to the home. That includes the poinsettia. However, poinsettias do require special care to reach their full potential.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help answer queries about poinsettias and other holiday plants. To have additional questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or

What should I look for when purchasing 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. In addition, there 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 plant with dark green foliage and brightly 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?

To prevent damage from cold temperatures, purchase the poinsettia at the end of the shopping trip, place the poinsettia in a plant sleeve or carefully wrap it before going outdoors and set the plant in a heated vehicle. Exposing the poinsettia to cold temperatures, even for a short time, 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 cover, water the plant in the sink, then place the poinsettia back into the pot cover.

Is the poinsettia poisonous?

Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous. However, it is not intended for human or animal consumption. It is still advisable to keep the poinsettia out of the reach of small children and pets.  
One potential health concern 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.  

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