Holiday decorating with poinsettias

Mike Lascelle is a nursery manager in Pitt Meadows and a gardening author

I no sooner get my daughters’ massive Halloween display (it encompasses the whole front yard) packed away in the half of the garage that is used to store it, when I realize that most of the houses on the block already have their Christmas lights up – which means that the other half of the garage needs unpacking.

There will be Charlie Brown cut-out displays to be repainted, garlands to unravel, extension cords to be found, icicle lights to untangle, pine cones to wire – in short, a heck of a lot of work.

And while I may grumble a bit while I’m doing it, I also realize that our Christmas traditions need to be maintained, after all, I have definite standards when it comes to the 25th of December.

There are certain things that I do not tolerate – among them can-shaped cranberry sauce (ours is made fresh on Christmas morning), store-bought Christmas cake (mine is homemade and marinated in brandy for at least a month), and seasonally ‘flavoured’ coffee, which is just code for crappy grounds with a little added hazelnut or vanilla extract.

There are no plastic trees in my house (mostly because I grew up with those dreadful things), the berried holly around the picture frames is fresh cut, and the poinsettias are red.

The only problem with the latter is that once the Christmas décor starts coming down on New Year’s Day, those red poinsettias look really out of place, and it seems a shame to throw out something that will probably keep blooming for weeks to come.

So for those of you facing this same dilemma, I have come up with three options to help you avert the post-Christmas colour crisis:

• work with poinsettias outside traditional red tones;

• combine poinsettias into mixed arrangements;

• create your own poinsettia colours.

Firstly, there are a lot of non-traditional poinsettia cultivars out there, including those with balled flowers (‘Christmas Rose’ series, ‘Valentine’), crested petals (‘Carousel’ series), variegated bracts (‘Marblestar’), variegated foliage (‘Silverstar Red’), pink (‘Da Vinci’, ‘Mars Pink’), burgundy (‘Cortez Burgundy’, ‘Plum Pudding’), reddish-orange (‘Orange Spice’), coral (‘Maren’), peach (‘Cinnamon Star’), white (‘Polar Bear’, ‘Mira White’), pale yellow (‘Limelight’), spotted (‘Monet Twilight’), tie-dyed (‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Ice Punch’) and holly-leaved (‘Holly Point’, ‘Strawberries N’ Cream’) – so you certainly can’t complain about a lack of choice or colour options to match your décor.

Secondly, if you buy a big poinsettia, you’re stuck with a big poinsettia. A better option might be to use smaller two- to six-inch, pot-sized poinsettias in combination with other seasonal plants (cyclamen, Christmas fern, indoor azaleas) and foliar houseplants such as Alocasia x amazonica, variegated English ivy or brake fern (Pteris) in a large mixed planter, with your choice of container to match the interior decorating.

The best part of this option is that you can choose your own plants and the smaller poinsettias now come in a full range of colours. You can just have your local florist or garden centre put it together for you once you pick out exactly what you want.

Thirdly, poinsettia dye kits have actually been commercially available for a few years now, but it has taken awhile for people to get accustomed to the unfamiliar hues. These are vegetable-based dyes that can be safely used on certain white poinsettia cultivars, such as ‘Mars White’ and ‘Cortez White’. The most popular custom colours to date have been in the blue and purple range – although I’ve seen variations of pure orange, canary yellow, fuchsia, brown and even copper out there. These should be available at most garden centres, with some of them being able to customize your poinsettia colours.

So now you can stop complaining about those boring red poinsettias and start creating your own Christmas décor masterpieces. In fact, there are so many options out there, that you could probably change it up from year to year.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author. Email him at hebe_acer@hotmail.com. He blogs www.soulofagardener.wordpress.com and has plenty of festive plant suggestions at mikesgardentop5plants.wordpress.com.

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