by Rob Sproule
Every December the world turns red. Everywhere we look it’s a cacophony of Christmas bows, lights, inflatable Santas and, of course, poinsettias on every shelf. The humble red flower plucked from a Mexican roadside is a rags-to-riches story of Christmas, and an enduring tradition that’s been passed through family Christmases for a century.
Every year I have people tell me, for the sake of variety, that they want to mix it up a little. They say, “what else can I do with a poinsettia”. I tell them that there’s more room for creativity with poinsettias than they may think.
While a poinsettia on its own looks like, well, a poinsettia. It takes very little visual appeal to make it an eye-catching indoor arrangement. Besides a poinsettia that looks good from all sides (assuming it’s going to be seen from all sides), you’ll need a smart looking pot and some simple vertical elements.
Sticking evergreen boughs, which are widely available, into the soil is a popular but short-lived idea that combines poinsettia colour with evergreen smell. The boughs will desiccate relatively quickly if you don’t mist them, so keep a mister bottle handy or freshen the boughs every week or so.
Head into the yard to look for architectural elements to add. Mountain ash branches, with their clusters of red berries, are ideal. If those aren’t available, twigs of birch, aspen, or pretty much any tree will do as long as you like the look.
If you’re making a centrepiece, opt for a variety that your guests can see over. Several varieties of the short and stout persuasion are available, so your guests shouldn’t have to strain their necks to look over a two foot tall poinsettia.
Colours and More
If buying the family poinsettia is starting to feel like a chore, I’m guessing you’re buying a red one. The original, unmistakable, and still massively dominant rich red colour has kept us swooning for over a century. It also might be time to mix things up a little.
Outside red, there’s a rainbow of whites, creams, pinks, blushes, blues, speckles, apricots, marbles, bi-colours, and even purples. Head to the Garden Centre with your interior palette in mind and you’ll find something to match.
Putting multiples (three is preferable from a design perspective) of unique colours together will shift the mood of your home’s decor. Three white poinsettias on a mantle or across a shelf will soften the tone to elegant. A few speckled poinsettias, placed at different levels in a corner with some decorative Christmas presents, will bring a fun somewhat mischievous twist.
Caring for your Poinsettia
Poinsettias thrive on neglect. While infamously picky to grow, by the time you buy them all the work has already gone into them and they’re mostly a hands-off plant.
The most common cause of death in poinsettias is over watering that comes from over-exuberant doting. We often bring home poinsettias while we’re missing our summer container gardens the most and so we tend to lavish copious amounts of love and water on them.
The surface of a poinsettia’s soil needs to be dry to the touch before seeing water again. It’s easy to overwater them, but luckily the plant will tell you to slow down with yellowing leaves near the base. After watering make sure to empty the saucer to avoid waterlogged soil.
Poinsettias don’t like being near cold drafts from doors (which freeze them) or hot drafts from heat vents (which desiccates them). Their leaves will also freeze if they’re in direct contact with a cold window.