The chilly holidays separate the wheat from the chaff where plant sellers are concerned, and I’ve got a confession. I enjoy closely watching the sales clerks to see if they offer to wrap plants sufficiently when it’s frigid outdoors. Last year, as I was buying a poinsettia at a grocery store on a sub-zero day, the pleasant clerk cheerfully asked “would you like that in a bag or something?” “Yes, please, that would be nice,” I replied. That way it wouldn’t die in the parking lot on the way to my vehicle. I should be a better person, and stop judging people on whether they wrap poinsettias to my liking.
That brings us to the First of two ways to quickly kill a newly purchased poinsettia. Poinsettias are tropical natives and are easily injured by temperatures that drop below 50 degrees, even for a few minutes. Chill-injury causes wilting of leaves and flower bracts, and the plants usually don’t recover. The extent of drooping depends on the severity of the chill. Chill injury can easily happen if a newly purchase poinsettia isn’t wrapped sufficiently between the store and your vehicle, or within a too-cold vehicle. Only a few seconds or minutes of exposure can ruin a poinsettia permanently.
Also, observe the poinsettias in the store before purchase. Do they look healthy, or are some leaves and flower bracts drooping? Sometimes poinsettias are chill-injured as they are being transported into the retailer. Or they’re displayed by store doors that are continually opening, exposing the plants to blast of cold.
How to Wrap a Poinsettia after purchase to avoid chill injury:
- Florists and local garden centers do a wonderful job of protecting plants after purchase for your trip home. Keep an eye on mass-merchandisers and others who might not be accustomed to winter plant wrapping; sometimes they don’t have bags that close sufficiently at the top.
- The ideal method is to first enclose the plant in tissue or paper bag, then put the paper-covered plant inside a plastic bag.
- Blow a puff of warm air into the plastic bag, and then tie the top, which forms the plastic bag into a protective bubble around the plant.
- If paper isn’t available, and plastic is the only option, then consider double-bagging, and inflate the bag, creating the protective bubble. This prevents cold plastic from touching the tender plant.
The Second way to quickly kill a new poinsettia is by improper watering. The big culprit is OVERWATERING. Overwatering means that a plant is kept continually too soggy. It doesn’t mean applying too much at one time.
How to water a poinsettia to avoid killing it:
- Poinsettias are members of the euphorbia group of succulents. That means they’re cousins of cacti, and their waxy stems allows them to hold and conserve moisture. Succulents are easily damaged if they are kept too wet.
- First, always poke holes in any decorative wrapping around a poinsettia, and set the plant in a drainage dish, so excess water can drain.
- Allow the soil surface to dry “to the touch.” That means the top of the soil will feel dry, not moist. Poke a finger into the soil up to the first joint. If the soil is dry above, and you feel a little moisture at your fingertip, then the plant is still probably moist enough. Wait a day, then water. If the soil is moist in the upper inch, don’t water.
- When it’s time to water, apply enough to thoroughly soak the soil, until a little runs out into the drainage dish. Discard immediately. Never let poinsettias sit in excess drain water. If the poinsettia is inside a decorative basket, always check to be certain there’s no water accumulation inside. Plants can die within hours of this excess buildup.
- Over-watered poinsettias usually wilt, which might give the impression that they’re dry, causing people to add more water, compounding the trouble.