Plain as Dirt: Healthy poinsettias are not impossible to find | VailDaily.com
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Plain as Dirt: Healthy poinsettias are not impossible to find

Tom Glass
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Eagle County CO, Colorado
Tom Glass
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” About a week ago, maybe a little more, I was in a grocery store that was playing Christmas music. A young couple was pushing a cart just ahead of mine and the young lady hissed incredulously to her companion, “Is that Christmas music?”

The young man simply deadpanned, “Amen, sister”, giving nothing of approval or disapproval. I thought his response perfectly funny. Apparently she didn’t, and proceeded to put on a pretty impressive holiday display of her own. She humbuggered him for an aisle and a half. That might have been funny, too, if her sarcastic take weren’t such a tired cliche.

Christmas begins for some earlier than others. It’s a matter of individual discretion.



I’m not sure how you collectively feel about poinsettias, tired cliche as opposed to a symbol of the season, but they are in the stores now and some of you are going to buy one or a few. You may as well get your money’s worth.

As potted crops go, poinsettias are a bear to grow. They’re fussy. Do everything right as a grower, and you can bank on the finished crop maybe breaking even. Do everything wrong, and last summer’s profit gets a bite taken out of its backside that will require a fattening spring before scarring over.



For that reason, not many greenhouses bite on growing poinsettias. Today, nearly all the growers continuing to grow poinsettias have a history of being quite good at growing them. That statement is inclusive of the growers supplying large discount retailers, ” the big box stores ” which means that with a little savvy, shopping you can get the same quality for $7.99 as you can for, say, $16.99 at a higher-end shop.

Does that mean the $48.99 you’ve dropped per poinsettia on florists has been an unfair transaction? No. You’ve probably heard the adage, many people can cook, but it takes a chef to prepare and present it. The same is true of florists. They prepare and present poinsettias without flaw to the door of your choice. Florists work hard, absorb a lot of bad plant losses, and deliver the goods. Most often you get what you pay for at a florist. Further evidence of that are the words profitable and florist are two that do not often share the same sentence unless followed by a question mark or an exclamation point.

Short of placing an order with a florist, how does one buy the perfect poinsettia? As I’ve said, poinsettias are fussy. So it makes sense that if one evidences any fuss, don’t bother; reject it. A poinsettia is not a plant you’re likely to nurse back to health once it begins declining.



Shop for poinsettias like birthday cards, if you see a good one; buy it, no matter where you are shopping. The name of a store carries no significance when it comes to a commodity. Poinsettias are commodities like beets.

With poinsettias, commonly you’ll see drooping leaves. This can be caused by a lack of water, a lack of roots, diseased roots, shipping damage, cold air, being too long in protective sleeves, and just sitting too long on a shelf. If the leaves appear wilted, shop onward.

Another common problem you’ll see are yellow or yellowing leaves. Yellow interior leaves indicate the plant has been dried out or the roots are dying. Pass. Yellow exterior leaves indicate a lack of fertilizer, a nutrient imbalance, a pH imbalance, or the resultant pallor of an insect infestation. Pass on those, too.

A persistent problem in the breeding of poinsettias, one that has put a cut in the market, is branches that simply fall or break off at the slightest touch. Breeding has solved some, maybe most, of that problem. But, you might give a poinsettia a bit of a shake before buying it. Don’t shake the dust out of a mop, but a little side to side shimmy wouldn’t be out of line. If branches break, don’t buy it. Sorry. Caveat emptor.

A good healthy poinsettia looks good and healthy; richly colored bracts over dark, almost black-green, leathery leaves that display themselves with some rigidity. No bugs ” particularly no little white flies. Good proportions and strong branches displaying leaves and bracts evenly. Plump, round pollen-bearing flowers in the center of the bracts might not be evident now, but you’ll want to see them in a couple of weeks. If they are carrying pollen now, it’s a bit early for peaking at Christmas, but a nice thing to find before a party.

Sound impossible to find? Poinsettias exhibiting those qualities are out there, but you’ll never know where that is going to be, and at what price. Buy them where you find them. No one has a corner on quality.

Tom Glass writes a weekly garden column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments or questions about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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