A poinsettia Scrooge



Poinsettias have a special place in my pantheon of overused seasonal potted plants. Actually, the main thing that annoys me about them is not even their appearance (though we’ll get to that in a minute). Like the potted gift hydrangeas one sees at Easter, or the potted mums one sees at all times, poinsettias torture lower-zone recipients in a special way.

After their six weeks or so as viable houseplants are up, well-meaning gardeners everywhere start gnashing their teeth, pulling out their hair, and calling into their radio gardening shows with questions: “How can I overwinter my poinsettia?”, “How can I protect the supermarket mums I just planted?”, and “Will my gift hydrangea bloom if I plant it outside?” If the radio experts have any mercy, they will answer thusly: “You can’t.” “You can’t.” “No.” “Please compost.”

But often they don’t. They want to help, so they give advice; they describe strategies that just might work (but usually not under zone 5 or without a greenhouse). You have to envy the non-gardeners who are given these plants. They enjoy them exactly for what they are and then they toss them without a qualm.


Getting back to poinsettias. I have actually found some varieties I like: the rose-shaped varietals, for example, are quite attractive, and once a nursery owner gave me a tree form that was very impressive. And then there are the spray-painted, glitter-covered ones I started seeing a couple years back. These, for many, come under the category of “so tacky they’re cool.” Or for others, the reaction might be “Why? For the love of (your seasonal deity here), why!!??” I realize that painted poinsettias are a style thing. As explained by Adrian Higgins in the Washington Post when they first started appearing:

… the dyed poinsettias allow people to match the poinsettia to their decor or to complement other fashionable Christmas decorations. In 2005, these include retro-tinsel trees or fake trees hung upside down. The poinsettias also offer holiday fare for revelers of different faiths or ethnicities—blue-petaled and silver-glittered poinsettias for Hanukkah, for example—and can even be used to match the colors of a football team.

This is the type of over-the-top fun we’d giggle over if we were seeing it on Runway. Plus, selling these helps keep nurseries going through a very slow season, and, what the heck, why get excited about desecrating a plant I never found too attractive in its natural state?

But I don’t want to hear the phone calls from people begging to know how they can keep their glitter-covered, silver-and-blue-painted poinsettias alive until next Christmas.

Susan points to another Post article by Higgins (look at all the Rant love for him today!), in which he suggests alternatives to poinsettias such as cyclamen, Christmas cactus (schlumbergera), Norfolk pine, and gardenia. I agree wholeheartedly with the first two, the third I’m not sure about for indoor viability (or lasting until it can be planted), and the fourth I would approach with caution. Many Northerners have problems overwintering gardenias, though I love mine.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. My grandmother in law kept several poinsettas for years. Decades. They bloomed every year. It was a big secret how she did it. Maybe it was watering them with dishpan water? (no water ever went down this woman’s drains. All was recycled to water indoor and outdoor plants). When grandma died, the plants were tossed because we all knew none of us could keep them alive.

  2. Luckily here in Florida I can put mine in the ground afterwards. We have a regular one that I did that with last year and it is nice and red right now. We also have a variegated one that is doing fine.

  3. Oooh, those lovely glittery ones drop all their leaves if you look at them sideways. They’re very embarrassed. That said, I planted a couple of poinsettias last year and one is now in glorious bloom. It’s really beautiful and fairly large.

  4. Thanks Susan,

    I did see that and I posted about my Christmas cactus and cyclamen Saturday. I love them. But a gardenia as an alternative? I would be careful there. Most I know say that they are just as much of a ¢&$#ing pain to keep alive indoors as the poinsettia. Outdoors all year round they are quite easy.

  5. I agree with Elizabeth about poinsettias, definately overrated not least because they last about two days in my house. I am harbouring one for my granddaughter who intends to give it as a present, and I have my fingers crossed over its continued existance until December 25.
    Why the uncertainty about Norfolk pines? I grew a Norfolk pine indoors, in a shady sun porch for years. It grew from a sprig to a small tree. It was no trouble and very attractive.

  6. I don’t care much for poinsettias either, at least in bloom. Once I had one at Christmas and after the bloom went away, I kept the plant in an upstairs bedroom and just watered it for a year or two. It never bloomed again, but it made kind of an attractive green vine-like thing that I was sorry to see dry up and die one fall.

  7. I like the Norfolk Island Pines. The one we have now was our Christmas tree for a couple years since we were in an apartment and didn’t have much room. It’s alive and thriving in semi-sunny corner of our kitchen.

  8. I love poinsettias – their colors are better than a Christmas tree.

    I guess it depends on what you’re willing to do. I put my plants outside in the shade and feed them in summer. I bring them in in August, trim them and put them in a south window in a little used room. They usually re-bloom in winter. I live in zone 6.

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