Now is the time when many homes will be adorned with holiday plants including cactus, amaryllis and poinsettias. I think that every home that decorates for Christmas should have at least one poinsettia, the No. 1-selling potted plant in the world.
Poinsettias were first introduced to this country by Joel Poinsett in the 1820s. He was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and had an interest in botany. He would wander the countryside looking for plant species. One day he discovered this large shrub with bright red leaves. Poinsett brought back cuttings to his greenhouse in South Carolina.
Poinsettias are fairly simple to keep alive inside the home as long as you follow a few simple rules.
First, poinsettias do not like wet feet. Do not allow the plants to sit in water because this will rot the roots. We see most poinsettias come with some type of a colored pot cover but they have a tendency to not allow the water to fully drain and they will keep the water around the roots.
Second, do not place the plants near a drafty door or vent. They prefer the temperatures to remain the same. When the temperature fluctuates, the plant has a tendency to become stressed and drop leaves.
Third, water the plant only when it needs it. There is no set time when a poinsettia should be watered. Here’s the simplest way to check — sharpen a pencil and put the pencil deep into the container. If the pencil comes out wet, don’t water. If the pencil comes out dry, it’s time to water.
The myth that poinsettias are poisonous always seem to raise its head during Christmas. Ohio State University did a study in the 1970s and found that a 50-pound child would have to ingest around 500 leaves to have an adverse effect.
Lucas Holman is the Horticulture UT-TSU Extension Agent in Wilson County. Contact him at (615) 444-9584 or Lholman1@utk.edu.