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Garden Help Desk: Tips for keeping poinsettias, Christmas trees in peak condition

By USU Extension - | Nov 25, 2023
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Poinsettias with young, unopened flowers like these will keep their elegant good looks much longer than poinsettias with fully opened flowers.
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This poinsettia checks all the boxes. It's young, with dark green leaves and brightly colored bracts, and has nice upright branches. With good care, it will be beautiful for several weeks.
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Today's poinsettias are available in a variety of sizes, colors and leaf forms.
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Clusters of fully opened flowers like these are a sign that the poinsettia's colorful bracts may soon begin to show their age.

Poinsettia season has arrived! The first several days after Thanksgiving are the prime days for finding the very best poinsettias for your holiday-season decorating. 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, like those in one of today’s photos. Also look for sturdy, upright branching. Ask to have your poinsettia “sleeved” to protect it from breakage on the ride home.
  • Make your poinsettia purchase the last thing you do on a shopping trip. Poinsettias are very sensitive to cold temperatures and may suffer chilling injury if left sitting in a cold car during a frosty day.
  • As soon as you get home with your plant, carefully remove the clear plastic sleeve on your plant. Poinsettias that spend too much time in a plastic sleeve are more likely to do poorly after just a week or two compared to poinsettias that were only sleeved for a short ride home.
  • Put your poinsettia in a room with bright light. If the lighting is bright enough for you to read small print, your plants will be getting enough light.
  • Don’t trust the decorative cover on the poinsettia pot, as they frequently leak. 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. Poinsettias are not poisonous, but because their branches are so easily broken, it’s best to place them out of reach of pets and young children.
  • 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 the drainage water that collects in the bottom of the pot cover or saucer.

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.

Christmas trees

Once you’ve chosen your perfect Christmas tree — right size and shape, plus fresh, green needles — how can you keep it looking good? Here’s a quick review of the tips we’ve shared in the past.

  • Keep it fresh! Cut the bottom few inches from the trunk when you get your tree home and prop the tree in a bucket of fresh water until you’re ready to bring it indoors.
  • Location, location, location! It’s important with Christmas trees! Avoid putting your tree by a heat register if you can, because that dry, warm air blowing through the tree can dry out the needles quickly. If you can’t avoid furnace vents near your tree, can you redirect the airflow or close the vent temporarily?
  • Don’t place your tree near a fireplace, wood stove or space heater, either. These locations won’t just dry out your tree more quickly, they’re also a fire hazard.
  • Trees get thirsty! A fresh-cut Christmas tree can use a gallon or more of water every day. Use a tree stand that will hold plenty of water. Check the water level at least once a day to make sure the bottom of the trunk is always at least an inch or two down in the water. A daily alarm on your smartphone makes this easy to remember.
  • Keep it clean! Clean water is important for your tree. Use a wet/dry vac, turkey baster or old towels to remove the water if there’s a bad odor or cloudy, slimy water and replace it with fresh, clean water.


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