I’ll tell you the secret for a gift that fits everyone: the poinsettia. It says “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Thanks for your business,” “Thank you for hosting.” It does not require wrapping paper, a trip to the mall, a gift receipt or ordering online.
A blooming poinsettia is the quickest way to decorate a home for the holidays – with class and without electricity, nails in the wall or needles on the floor.
Early December is when you should purchase a poinsettia plant. The selection is best and you have all month to enjoy the world’s most-loved holiday houseplant.
Here’s a guide to buying and keeping one alive.
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Why you should want a poinsettia plant: A living plant is your best defense against the plastic commercialism and fake sentimentality of Christmas.
Gift plants such as poinsettias have no calories, are one-size-fits-all, can help clean indoor air of pollutants and you won’t have to store it away or cart it to the thrift store when the season is over. (I just add my poinsettia to the compost pile each spring – a great way to recycle the potting soil.)
Where to use poinsettias: March a line of potted poinsettias up a stairway (indoors only, they hate the cold); line up a few poinsettias on the mantel; display a single plant in a silver bowl on a dining room table; arrange a dozen poinsettias on risers to create a living tree form; or place a tiny poinsettia in the guest bathroom, on the kitchen counter, in an office cubicle or beside the bed on a night stand.
My favorite way to use poinsettias: Take a beaded bag or glittery purse and use the handle to hang it from a stairway post, mantel or even a sturdy branch on the Christmas tree. Line the fancy purse with a plastic bag, insert a potted poinsettia (a small one might fit best) and you’ll have a living ornament and a practical way to get some use from a party purse.
Or try draping your potted poinsettia with jewels from your own collection – a string of pearls draped over a red poinsettia is a decadent scene of shocking beauty. Go ahead and clip on those earrings or a dazzling brooch for a super diva look with real or costume jewelry.
Beyond the red poinsettia: Garden centers and nurseries offer new poinsettia varieties in many exotic shades. Experiment with different colors.
Go modern: Place a gold or yellow-leaved poinsettia inside of a glass bowl and fill in the sides with shiny silver and gold ornaments to hide the pot.
Go rustic: Place a pale pink poinsettia in a recycled basket or metal tin. Mulch with wine corks and pine cones to hide the rim of the pot.
Go Sweet: Choose a duo-colored poinsettia with red and white, or pink and white leaf bracts. Place in a holiday serving bowl. Surround the pot with visions of peppermint drops and candy canes.
How to kill your poinsettia plant after the holidays: Leave it in a cold car, place it on top of a warm appliance, never water, give it too much water or let it sit in drainage water. No need to feel guilty about dumping your potted poinsettia after the holidays.
Part of the reason we appreciate holiday traditions is because we know the beauty is to be enjoyed for just a limited amount of time – a bright spot of living color during the shortest days of winter.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply. She also can be reached atbinettigarden.com