Carmen Cosentino holds up a large poinsettia at Cosentino's Florist.

The Citizen file

When I have lunch with my business friends

Investment counseling? No thanks

I’ll let my friend contend with banks

I trust the advice of my friend

But I would rather flowers tend

And trust my skill with flowers

Today I want to talk about poinsettias. They are, of course, our most important Christmas flowering plant. You see them everywhere this time of year. Because they are so prevalent, prices on small plants have dropped seriously and those of larger plants have remained static. Actually, all are available at bargain prices, even at $30 or $40. As with most things we spend our hard-earned dollars on, you get what you pay for. The plants that come in 6-inch pots, or even smaller, are perfect for the person who wants to have a bit of color, a bit of tradition in the house or apartment during this holiday season. Move up a bit to larger plants in 7- or 8-inch pots, and you have a relatively inexpensive gift that makes a great showing for you. Or the perfect plant on a table in the living room. And then there are those great big pots, the 10-inch ones. They are beautiful in your own home, or as a gift to a colleague, client or best friend.

Size is only one part of the equation of value. The basic plants generally are undecorated or come with an inexpensive foil pot. As you increase in value, there are beautiful ribbons, ornaments and evergreen additions. It is important to determine what you want the plant for before you make a purchase. Is it going to be a gift to a friend or relative, or someone you really want to impress? Is it going on the kitchen table to give you a spot of color, or to make your living room more festive? Or do you want a conversation piece for your home Christmas parties? Think about these things before you make your decision.

As I mentioned above, they are everywhere. But there are a few things to consider before you make your decision. It is early in the season, and while poinsettias are tough to kill, and while we are great with our houseplants, they do not last forever in the home environment. If you want to enjoy it for yourself and your family throughout the season, buy it now. They are inexpensive; buy two or three. If you want it as a gift or to decorate for an event at your home, I would call your florist now and have them deliver it a few days before the event. They will give it proper care until the delivery date. It won’t be sitting on a cart in a warehouse.

Now, let's look at the flower itself. Actually, the leaf-like sepals are not the flower. In the trade, we call them the bracts. The actual flower, and there are several of them, are the little green balls in the center of that thing we call a flower. This is where you look to see if your plant will last well. Look closely. If that little ball has burst open and you see the pistils and stamens, that plant will not last nearly so long as one with closed flower buds. Look at the leaves, too. Yellowing and limp leaves are an indication of the plant having been in high heat, or wrapped for too long. They also indicate that either the plant was overwatered at some time or it had been on a cold floor for an extended period. Either of these last two things will cause the little rootlets to die. When that happens, the plant tends to wilt, and so we all believe that the plant needs more water. So we give it more water and kill more roots so that it wilts more, then we give it more water, and on and on.

I hope that I have helped you to buy the right poinsettia based on your needs and what to look for if you are purchasing at a non-floral store. Next week: How to care for your poinsettias.

Carmen Cosentino operates Cosentino's Florist with his daughter, Jessica. He was elected to the National Floriculture Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2008, received the Tommy Bright award for lifetime achievements in floral education. He can be reached at cosenti@aol.com or (315) 253-5316.