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How to Pick a Poinsettias Plant That Will Last 'til Christmas

 How to Choose a Plant That Will Last Until Christmas

Right now, boxes of poinsettias are being loaded onto the back of trucks and headed to a store near you. Whether or not you end up with a beautiful plant that lasts until the New Year depends on what happens when it reaches its destination. From the way poinsettias are opened to where they are displayed and maintained in the store, you wouldn't believe how often stores handle poinsettias.

For a plant so easy to care for, it's surprising how many retailers get it wrong.

Before Santa eats cookies in your living room at midnight, your poinsettia is probably dead. This holiday season, let's take a look at retail dos and don'ts. Knowing how they should be handled can give us clear clues that they are not properly maintained. Ultimately, this will help you pick a healthy plant from an unhealthy one.

1. What do poinsettias have in common with bananas?

No, this is not the opening line of a bad joke.

One of the first things that usually go wrong when poinsettias reach the store this year. As I mentioned above, they are packed in cardboard boxes. The boxes protect the tender leaves during transport and also provide protection from the cold.

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It is important to untie the plants as soon as they arrive at the store.

Yep, guess how often this happens.

Like bananas, poinsettias emit ethylene gas. Ethylene is an important plant hormone released throughout the poinsettia's growing cycle and controls when the bracts turn red and when the plant drops its leaves during the season. If the plants are not opened immediately, the levels of ethylene gas can quickly reach a level that suffocates the plant. If the plants have to travel a long distance to the store, opening the boxes quickly is even more important.

Like those bananas that turn from green to spots in a matter of days, ethylene can drastically shorten the life of a poinsettia's colorful display. Unfortunately, once the plant is exposed to more ethylene, it is during this season. No regression. If you bring this poinsettia into a home, you can expect a rapid decline.

What to look for:

Asphyxiated plants look droopy and may already be losing leaves. Avoid these plants, especially if it's early in the holiday season as they hit the stores. Pay special attention to bracts (colored leaves) and look for curled, limp, or dropped leaves. If you buy a poinsettia, they will wrap it for you and unwrap it when you get home.

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2. Hey, let's put a tropical plant on the door in December!

Most retailers consider poinsettias as impulse buyers. You're more likely to buy them if they're there when you walk in. It's easy to throw a $6 plant or two in your cart on the way to the store, especially if you weren't planning on buying a poinsettia in the first place. This is why from mid-November until Christmas we are greeted by a bright display of red and green poinsettias upon entering the shop door, and it won't be long before they decide to leave the season and drop their leaves.

Poinsettias are tropical plants and do not tolerate cold well. They prefer a steady temperature between 65-75 degrees, and evening temperatures should not drop below 60. Putting them in a draft gate is one of the quickest ways to get them out for the season. But hey, we're here for a quick vacation.

What to look for:

Buy your poinsettia from a store that doesn't have a front door. Note - this is not Walmart. If displayed somewhere in the store away from drafts, you'll have better luck getting a plant that lasts.

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3. It is a plant. Just water it, right?

In general, most big-box retailers don't feel the need to train their employees on the care and feeding of a seasonal (and often disposable) plant that's only in the store for six weeks. Of course, this leads to the poinsettia facing one of two watering rules.


We all know the holidays are a very busy time, especially for those poor souls who work in retail this time of year. Let's take a moment to remind retailers to be extra patient and kind this time of year. Anyway, back to the underwater poinsettia. It is not uncommon for poinsettias to be underwater once they hit the shelves. Plants usually move quickly and end up in one's home before watering. But the closer we get to Christmas and the poinsettia sales slow a bit, the longer the plants are on display; Taking care of their watering needs is easy.

Soggy bottom poinsettias

Poinsettias do not like wet feet. They are very susceptible to root rot. That's enough to stop them when you get home. However, poinsettias come with a foil or plastic sleeve that covers the nursery pot. While it protects the shop floor and furniture, proper drainage isn't much better. The plants are watered intermittently and sit with water at the bottom of the sleeve for several days. Root rot easily develops in these conditions, which can shorten your poinsettia's vacation season or kill the plant altogether.

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What to look for:

An underwater poinsettia is easier to fix than one that is too wet. Put your finger in the soil; If the top inch of soil is dry, you can water it as soon as you get home. But watch out for plants with completely dry soil. Take the plant and pull the pot out of the sleeve; If there is water underneath, choose a different plant. Look at the leaves of the plant; If it's yellow around the tips or edges, it may have been sitting in water.

Purchase a Poinsettia from Plant People

You often run into these problems when purchasing plants from your average big box store, grocery store, or hardware store. If a poinsettia is truly an impulse buy, it won't make a difference to you. But if you want poinsettias that will last, or if you're buying them as gifts, it makes sense to buy them somewhere other than a big-box store that wants to move seasonal produce. If so, look for holiday poinsettias from a local garden center or reputable nursery.

Not only do these guys know what they're doing, but you're more likely to walk away with a healthy plant that will last for years. They will wrap it up for you to protect it for the silly ride home. Plus, it's a way to do a little 'shopping' during the holidays. Ultimately, even if your poinsettia sheds its leaves early, all is not lost. You can easily pull it out of sight and leave it dormant for the season. They are very easy to grow year after year. You can even propagate your poinsettia if you like. Next Christmas, you can cut out the irresponsible middleman.

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