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Garden Help Desk: Tips for keeping your holiday poinsettias healthy, pretty

By Meredith Seaver - Special to the Daily Herald | Nov 26, 2022

Courtesy USU Extension

There are poinsettias in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, so there's something to compliment any room or decor.

I’m getting a few poinsettia plants for my house right after Thanksgiving and I want them to look good until after a New Year’s Eve party. What do I need to do?

Poinsettias are popular holiday plants. Their brightly colored leaves and small yellow blossoms are attractive accents for any room. The first few days after Thanksgiving are the best days to shop for poinsettias. Many stores will be offering special deals, but even more important, you’ll find the best selection of healthy, good-looking plants. Here are some tips for getting your poinsettias home safely and keeping them looking their best.

  • The green leaves on poinsettias should be deep green. When you choose your plants, select the ones with dark green leaves and small, unopened blossoms. Also look for sturdy, upright branching.
  • Poinsettias are very sensitive to cold temperatures. Ask to have your plants double-bagged to protect them from the cold and go straight home after your purchase. Don’t leave them sitting in your car while you do other shopping.
  • Carefully remove the clear plastic sleeve on your plant as soon as you get home.
  • Put your plants in rooms with bright light. If the lighting is bright enough for you to read fine print, your plants will be getting enough light.
  • Don’t trust the decorative cover on the poinsettia pot. Protect your carpet and furniture by putting a waterproof tray, saucer or container under the pot.
  • Poinsettias are brittle and easily damaged. Don’t put them in high traffic areas like entryways and position them where they will be out of reach of young children and pets.
  • Avoid cold or warm, drafty locations — doorways, nearby furnace registers, radiators, wood stoves and fireplaces, for example.
  • Be careful about placing your poinsettias near windows. Leaves that are touching the window during the night can easily be frost damaged.
  • Keep the daytime temperatures for your poinsettias no warmer than 72 degrees and the nighttime temperatures no cooler than 60 degrees.
  • Don’t overwater! Water thoroughly when the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch and the pot seems a little bit lightweight. Discard any drainage water that collects in the pot cover or saucer. Never leave your plant sitting in water.

Your poinsettias won’t need any fertilizer during the holiday season. If you decide you want to keep the plants after that, you can use any liquid houseplant fertilizer once every few waterings. Check the product label for directions.

My orchids have white flies. They were healthy all summer but now some leaves are yellowing, and I’ve seen a few white flies around them. Is there anything I can do to save my orchids without using poison sprays?

White flies can be a problem for indoor plants. Out in the landscape, there are natural predators that help to keep white fly populations at lower levels and any surviving white flies die once freezing winter weather arrives. Indoors, those predators aren’t available and home temperatures make it easy for white flies to flourish.

Courtesy USU Extension

Shopping for poinsettias early in the holiday season means you'll find the best selection of healthy, good-looking, long-lasting plants.

Yellowing or dry leaves are two symptoms of white fly activity. Leaves that look shiny or sticky and leaf drop are also symptoms that white flies have been feeding on a plant.

Did you have any plants that spent the summer outdoors and were moved back into the house in the early fall? That is one common way white flies come into homes. Another way white flies make their way indoors is on houseplants purchased at nurseries or greenhouses.

You’ll need to inspect all the other plants in your home. Check for white fly nymphs on the underside of leaves and put yellow sticky cards by your plants to monitor for adults. It’s probably best to treat all your plants for white flies, not just your orchids.

The best “non-poison” treatment for your white flies is insecticidal soap. Test the soap spray first on just one orchid leaf and wait a few days to make sure the leaf hasn’t been damaged. You can do the same thing with all your plants. When you spray, make sure you get good coverage on the undersides of the leaves. Repeat the spray two to three times at the interval recommended on the product label. Then watch carefully for signs of white flies for the rest of the winter.

You can reduce your chances of getting white flies in the future by carefully inspecting any plants that you bring into your home. Consider isolating new plants in a separate room for a few weeks before bringing them into rooms where you have other plants. Chronically or heavily infested plants may need to be discarded to protect your more valuable plants.

Courtesy USU Extension

Look for poinsettias with tightly closed flower buds. They're a sign that the plant is just reaching its prime and will look good for several weeks.

Avoid poinsettias with mostly open flower buds. They are already past their peak quality and will show their age more quickly.

Adult white flies are usually noticed before nymphs because they fly out from the plant when the leaves are disturbed.

When white flies are suspected, the undersides of leaves should be checked for nymphs. Because nymphs are on the undersides of leaves it's important to get thorough coverage when spraying insecticidal soap.

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