Everyone loves Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima). They are the best selling potted plant in the United States and Canada. California is the top producing state of Poinsettias.
There are more than 100 varieties, with red being the most popular. Other colors are white, pink, purple, yellow, salmon and multicolor.
It was introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He got the plant from the wilds of southern Mexico, where it can grow 10-15 feet tall.
Dec. 12 is Poinsettia Day as it marks Poinsett’s death in 1851.
When picking out a Poinsettia to bring home make sure it has dark green foliage; it should not have any fallen or damaged leaves.
Look at the true flowers, which are yellow and tiny in the center of the flower head. They should be unopened and the plant should not be shedding any pollen. When taking it home, be sure it is well wrapped to avoid exposure to low temperatures which can injure the plant — even if exposed for a short time. Unwrap as soon as possible.
Place the new plant near a sunny window or some other well lighted area. It should receive about 6 hours of light daily. Keep it away from warm or cold drafts and don’t let it touch cold windows.
Water only when it feels dry and don’t let the plant stand in a saucer of water. It likes daytime temperatures of 60-70 degrees, and night time 55-60 degrees.
It is a challenge to keep it for the following season but with special lighting and temperature it can be done. (Read the December issue of the Master Gardener eNews for how to keep it alive year after year.)
Poinsettias are not poisonous but can cause problems for some people, as the milky sap can cause skin irritations.
Keep pets, especially puppies and kittens, away from the plant.
Another nice plant at this time of year is a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi). It is an old favorite for many people and makes a very special gift. The flowers range in color from yellow, salmon, pink, fuchsia, white or a combination of those colors. It is a native to South American jungles.
Keep the plant in a sunny location indoors; it likes bright indirect light and needs well-drained soil. Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil in the pot feels dry to the touch. It also requires 50-60 percent humidity. Place a glass vase or tray of water near the plant. You can also make a humidity tray by placing the plant in a saucer that is filled with gravel and half filled with water. The ideal temperature for this plant is 55-70 degrees.
Keep it away from cold drafts and heating ducts or fireplaces. They will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures.
To rebloom, they need a resting period and time outdoors from June to mid-September. Keep it in a shady or semi-shady location and also be sure to protect it from slugs.
Poinsettia and Christmas cactus are two sure plant gift ideas that will add much joy to someone’s Christmas.
The public education class schedule is done for the remainder of the year but will resume on Jan. 4 with “Pruning Fruit Trees and Grapes.”
Master Gardeners are available to answer home gardening questions Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon by calling 530-621-5512. Walk-ins are welcome at the office, 311 Fair Lane in Placerville.
For more information about the public education classes and activities go to the Master Gardener Website at ucanr.edu/sites/EDC_Master_Gardeners/. Sign up to receive the online notices and e-newsletter at ucanr.edu/mgenews/. You can also find Master Gardeners on Facebook.