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Garden Checklist: Keep poinsettias looking good

“Jingle Bells” poinsettias at one of the greenhouses at Eisley Nursery in Auburn.
“Jingle Bells” poinsettias at one of the greenhouses at Eisley Nursery in Auburn. Sacramento Bee file

What would a California Christmas be without a pretty poinsettia?

Poinsettias rank as America’s favorite holiday plant (besides Christmas trees, of course). In fact, poinsettias are the No. 1 best-selling potted plant in the United States and Canada, totaling more than $250 million in sales each holiday season.

How do you keep these festive plants looking their best? Here are tips on poinsettia care from Auburn’s Eisley Nursery, a source of many local gift plants:

▪ Poinsettias will last longer if placed in a warm sunny location away from heating vents or drafts. Poke holes in the foil wrapper for drainage and place the potted plant on a plate or saucer.

▪  Place potted poinsettias indoors in indirect light. Six hours or more of light (natural or fluorescent) is best.

▪  Keep them comfortable. A tropical shrub native to Mexico and Central America, poinsettias don’t like it too cold or too hot; their comfort zone is between 65 and 75 degrees, day or night. Lower temperatures will make them drop leaves almost immediately and shut down. Higher temperatures also shorten their life cycle, blasting out the true flowers – those tiny yellow knobs at the center of the red bracts.

▪  Limit their exposure to outside temperatures – they can’t take any chill for extended periods. If using potted poinsettias for a porch display, place them outside just before your guests arrive. Don’t leave them outside overnight.

▪  The red, yellow or pink bracts are actually modified leaves (not flower petals), but they’ll retain their color long after the true flowers brown and wither. When choosing a plant, look for tight flowers that haven’t opened. The plant will keep its color longer.

▪  Check the soil daily. Water the plant when soil feels dry to the touch, but don’t let it get soggy. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess water. Wilted plants tend to drop bracts sooner.

▪ In late spring after nighttime temperatures have warmed above 60 degrees, potted poinsettias can be moved outdoors.