Q Every year I buy poinsettias and place them around my house. Some years they look OK until February or March, but last year the leaves dropped and they didn't last until Christmas. What do you think I did wrong?
- R.D., Roanoke, Va.
A There are three main reasons that poinsettias drop their leaves, says Laurie Scullin of Paul Ecke Ranch in California, which starts the cuttings for 80 percent of the world's poinsettias.
First, think about longevity when buying a poinsettia. The plant that has the darkest green leaves and is the healthiest looking will last the longest, Mr. Scullin says. Varieties with lighter green foliage have a shorter shelf life.
Also look for dense foliage all the way to the soil line and stiff stems, avoiding plants that are drooping.
The No. 1 cause of poinsettia leaf drop is overwatering. Often, consumers leave the plant in the colorful foil wrapper in which it came or place it in a decorative pot that has no drainage hole. Water collects in the bottom of the container and the roots rot from lack of air.
Wait to water until the surface of the soil feels slightly dry to the touch, he recommends. Then take the plant to the kitchen sink and let tepid water run through the soil until it drips out the bottom of the pot.
Finally, Mr. Scullin says, poinsettias are sensitive to drafts and cold. The plant could have gotten chilled on its way from store to home. Or it could have been placed in a draft or where it got a blast of air from a heating duct. All will cause poinsettias to drop their leaves.
Poinsettias like temperatures of 68 to 72 degrees F. and bright, indirect sunlight. They do not need fertilizing while in bloom.
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