Holiday Plant Care & Safety

The holidays have arrived, and people will soon be decking the halls and decorating their homes, including adding garland, wreaths, poinsettias, and other festive décor to ignite the spirit. Here are some tips and guidance on how to keep your holiday décor long-lasting and safe.

Care and Safety of Poinsettias

Rows of poinsettias inside a greenhouse.

Take clues about preserving poinsettias in our homes from the place of their origin. They are tropical plants and love warm, humid environments. Did you know that they can get exposed to the cold just by carrying them from the shop where you purchased them to the car and to your home? Before you venture out with that beautiful and colorful bundle in your arms, make sure you cover it by wrapping it or putting it in a paper bag to protect them during transportation from a shop to a happy home.

Once at home, make sure you remove the decorative wrapping from the container and free drainage holes. Placing poinsettias into a decorative pot is an option, but just make sure you add about an inch or two of small stones at the bottom since these decorative pots do not have holes. The excess water gathered at the bottom will increase much-needed humidity. Poinsettias need to be watered regularly and evenly. Water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch. Overwatering or letting plants root sit in the water will “drown” the plant, leading to root rot.

Poinsettias do not like drafty and cold areas in the house, so close to a glass sliding door or near a cold window are not the best places for them. They prefer temperatures from 60 to 70 degrees, away from the hot registers.

If you want the poinsettia to re-bloom, it is a bit involved. It is possible, but it is cumbersome. After Christmas, the plant should be cut back. Once you cut it back, what’s important is that it gets plenty of light – at least 13 or 14 hours of direct light. That can be from incandescent lights, LEDs or fluorescent lights, but you must make sure the days are not too short. That’s how you keep the plant vegetative so it will keep growing without producing flowers. In September of the following year, you’ll want to begin exposing the plant to shorter days, and then the plant will start to initiate flowers again. At that point, it is very important that the plant does not get exposed to light at night. Even five days of inappropriate light will either prevent or trigger the blooming.

A common question about poinsettia is if it’s poisonous to humans or to pets. This plant is not poisonous, not from the standpoint of whether it actually produces poison. It is not edible though. If a human or pet would consume poinsettia leaves or other parts of the plant, they probably will have a little bit of an upset digestive tract. Most vets will treat it as poisoning even though the pet is not really poisoned in the strict sense of the word poison. And from that standpoint, the poinsettia is a fairly safe plant to have in the home.

Preserving the Lifespan of Wreaths and Garland

There is nothing better than freshly cut evergreen branches for a wreath on your door or a garland around the windows or fireplace. The smell is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. To keep the fresh smell all season long, you need to consider a few rules. First and foremost, use fresh-cut branches, regardless of the evergreen. If you are into a really strong, fragrant aroma, try opting for branches from a fir.

To prevent needle loss and the mess that goes with it, keep your garlands and wreaths away from drafty areas, hot registers or anything that will contribute to the needles drying out. Pay attention to decorative light choices. Use low-heat lights – usually LED, micro, or mini lights work well.

Mira Danilovich, WVU Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist and Associate Professor, and Sven Verlinden, Director of Plant and Soil Sciences and Associate Professor, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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