There are plenty of alternatives for the holiday poinsettia

The last week of December is time to consider your holiday gift plants. Poinsettias are the most popular potted plant to give and one of the easiest to keep alive.

  • Tuesday, December 23, 2008 2:20am
  • Life

The Compleat

Home Gardner

The last week of December is time to consider your holiday gift plants. Poinsettias are the most popular potted plant to give and one of the easiest to keep alive.

Poinsettias just need a bit of water when the soil is dry and a spot that is not too warm or too cold. The biggest problem after the holidays is what to do with these cheerfully-enduring plants. If you have room to continue to enjoy them as houseplants, extend the Christmas season and keep your poinsettia happy with a bit of water.

If you feel the urge to purge and declutter after the New Year there are a couple of ways to dispose of your poinsettia plant without feeling so guilty. Gardeners often think of living plants the same way they do living people and can’t stand to see them suffer or (gasp!) kill them outright. Here’s some alternatives to a slow death:

1 – Cut up your poinsettia and use the flowers in a low table centerpiece by floating them in a bowl or poking the stems into floral oasis.

Don’t expect the cut blooms from a poinsettia plant to last more than a few hours unless you seal the stem. This means you need to stick the freshly cut stem into a flame or dip it into boiling water. I’ve tried both methods and burned my fingers each time. Obviously this design idea is too hot to handle.

2 – Dump out your potted poinsettia soil and all into your compost pile.

At least you’ll get to recycle all that potting soil and organic matter and if you arrange the plant just right you‘ll have a festive looking compost pile for a few hours.

3 – Still feel guilty about composting a healthy plant? Then set your potted poinsettia plant outdoors on the front porch or deck in the afternoon to give it some fresh air. Now forget that you did this. In the morning you’ll have a limp and frost bitten plant. Now your poinsettia will look so ugly that you won’t mind throwing it away or placing it into the compost pile.

There is a way to overwinter and save your potted poinsettia so you can enjoy it next Christmas. This involves keeping it alive all winter, letting it sit outdoors in the summer and then placing it indoors in September in a spot where it gets 12 hours of continual darkness for six weeks in order to initiate flowering. If you forget just one time to cover it with a box or place it in a dark closet at night the poinsettia will stay green with no blooms. This is a lot of work with lots of room for error. Read No. 3 above, then buy a new poinsettia next year.

Q. I was given a bright red cyclamen plant in a decorated pot for the holidays. It is doing well. When spring comes, can I transplant this plant into my garden? I can see it is growing leaves and flowers from a large bulb.

G.H., Bellevue

A. Enjoy your potted cyclamen indoors but don’t expect many happy returns. The florist’s cyclamen that blooms red is not hardy in our climate. Once the blooms are done the bulb needs to go dormant and dry out for a few months so place it in a dark closet until May. Then bring it back into the light and water. Fertilize lightly when you see sprouts of new growth. If you’re lucky you could persuade the cyclamen corm to bloom again next winter. Otherwise, see No. 3 above.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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