Poinsettias are simply the blooms for the holidays. No other plants will create a greater show of color in your home. In shades of red, pink, yellow, and white, the blossoms illuminate this special time of year. Though they're stunning when displayed in containers, there is more to these flowers than meets the eye.
Around the House
Potted poinsettias make great gifts and seasonal decorations. They are inexpensive and readily available at nurseries, home-improvement centers, and grocery stores. But sometimes you just want something more, and using them as cut flowers provides lots of options.
An immediate bonus is that you get the best of both worlds. You can enjoy them while they are in pots and again when you cut the stems. You have the best advantage when making arrangements. Freed from their containers, they are no longer the bulky plants that take up so much room, so you can use them in tighter spaces.
If you want a distinctive arrangement for the kitchen, place a casual grouping of poinsettia blooms in glass bottles. It doesn't take a large poinsettia to have a big impact once it's cut. Even small plants can easily yield three blossoms.
Or for something special, dress up your holiday table with single-bloom arrangements using one color or selection of poinsettia. Find a short, shallow vase (or a tiny, clear glass dish) to hold each bloom. Then position one at each place setting. Next, using a slightly taller vase, repeat the single blossoms down the center of the table. Add some candles for a simple, elegant display.
For an impressive but gracious arrangement, make our poinsettia tree using Oasis Design Rings and cake stands. To find step-by-step instructions, visit Creating the Poinsettia Tree.
Tip: If you want a little something extra in your arrangements, mix the flowers with evergreens from your yard. Snip holly branches, magnolia leaves, smilax, or other greenery. Red nandina berries work well with red and white selections of poinsettias.
Making the Cut
Poinsettias exude a milky sap when they are cut or broken. The sap is not poisonous but may irritate the skin, so you might want to use gloves. The secret to making poinsettias work as cut flowers is searing the stems after cutting them. Use a pillar candle, which will allow you to keep your hands free, and have a napkin handy to blot the sap until you are ready to sear the stem. Cut each stem, and sear it quickly to avoid letting too much sap drip out. The sap will boil or bubble under the flame. When you remove the larger leaves on some selections, such as Winter Rose, you will also need to sear the points where the leaves were attached.
Place seared stems in tepid water with a floral preservative added to condition and extend the life of the blossoms. The stems are hollow and will absorb water once seared. You will know within the hour whether the stem was correctly seared. If you do it right, the blossom will remain upright. If not, it will begin to droop. You can recut the stem and sear again, but it's better to start over with a fresh bloom.
Extend the life of your cut flowers by changing the water every day. You may be surprised by how much water the poinsettias will drink once they're cut, so check levels frequently. Always add more floral preservative with every water change.
No matter how you decide to display your poinsettias, you can't go wrong. Take time to enjoy these simple gifts of the season. But remember, the greatest blessings that we have are the moments we share with our friends and families.
We loved all five of the poinsettias we tested for the story, and each performed well. There are many, many more excellent selections available. We liked the Winter Rose poinsettias best, because they are great as cut flowers. The long, thick stems with sturdy blossoms hold up beautifully when cut and seared, lasting 7 to 10 days. 'Strawberries & Cream' and 'Lemon Drop' fare equally well (7 to 10 days). 'Freedom Pink' lasts awhile if you cut and sear the stems again a few days after making the arrangement (5 to 7 days).
When talking about poinsettias, the term "flower" is used loosely. The colorful blossoms are actually not true blooms but colorful leaves called bracts. (The real flowers are the small, yellow buds in the center of the bracts.) Choose plants whose true buds are tightly clustered and just beginning to open. Look for plants with firm bracts and foliage that isn't wilted or broken. If you cannot bear the thought of cutting your poinsettia for arrangements, keep it in the pot. Care is simple. There is no need to fertilize; it's already in full bloom. They originated in Mexico and are grown in greenhouses, so they like warmth. Ideally, temperatures should stay around 65 to 70 degrees. Poinsettias prefer bright, indirect light. Don't place them near cold drafts or heating vents. After buying your plant, get it into the car quickly to limit exposure to the cold.
Water when the top portion of the soil feels dry. If your plant is wrapped in decorative foil or plastic, remove it, and then water. Let any excess moisture drain, because poinsettias should never be left in standing water.
Creating the Poinsettia Tree
- poinsettia plants
- scissors or pruning snips
- pillar candle
- floral preservative
- 3 cake stands in varying sizes
- 3 Oasis Design Rings
- bamboo skewer
- greenery (optional)
- florist putty or tape (optional)
- 1 Iglu Grande Holder
- spray bottle
Making this arrangement is not hard; it just takes a little preparation. Gather all your materials, and read the directions all the way through before beginning. Think of it as a little assembly line. We used Oasis Design Rings on cake stands to make the tree. You can purchase the rings from a wholesale florist, or buy them online at www.afloral.com.
Oasis Design Ring sizes are 14 1/2 inches, 13 inches, and 10 1/2 inches. Most cake stands are similar in size to the rings. Aquafoam Designer Rings will work just as well and come in 11-inch, 8 1/2-inch, and 6-inch sizes. An Oasis Iglu Grande Holder was used for the top of the tree. It is 3 1/4 inches wide. If you want to make a smaller tree, use just two rings instead of three. You will still need to use the Iglu Grande Holder as a top.
Check water levels in rings daily, and add more water as needed. The Iglu Grande Holder will dry out a little faster than the rings, so use a spray bottle to mist the top of the foam thoroughly on a daily basis. If any flowers begin to wilt, recut and sear the stems, or replace with new flowers.
Create your arrangement at the location where it will be displayed, because the stands can be tricky to move once stacked. You may want to use florist putty or tape to hold them together.
Step 1: Cut your flowers, leaving stems at least 5 to 6 inches long to reach the water level in the rings. Sear the stems, and place them in a bowl of tepid water with a floral preservative added to condition and extend the life of the blossoms.
Step 2: Gently float design rings foam-side-down in water for a few minutes. Place biggest ring on the largest cake stand, and add water to the center of the ring.
Step 3: Use the bamboo skewer to make holes in the sides of the design ring. Holes should be a little larger than the stems. Do not use the flower stems to make the holes, because they are brittle and will bend or break. Make sure the hole is deep enough and at the right angle to be in contact with the water in the center of the ring. You may need to redo the hole to get the angle correct. If you like, cover the ring with a bit of greenery, such as red cedar boughs or magnolia leaves before adding the poinsettia blossoms.
Step 4: Then insert the cut and seared stems until the ring is full of blossoms. It took around 11 blooms to cover the 14 1/2-inch ring.
Step 5: Add additional water now. Do not overfill.
Step 6: Add the next cake stand, and repeat the processes above. It took 9 blossoms to cover the 13-inch ring and 7 blossoms to cover 10 1/2-inch ring. Continue in this manner. Make sure pedestals are steady.
Step 7: Mist the Iglu Grande Holder well with a spray bottle of water, and place it on the top stand. Insert flowers in the holder; it took 5 blossoms to cover it.
New Looks for Poinsettias
Oasis Design Rings, Aquafoam Designer Rings, Iglu Grande Holders, and floral preservative can be purchased online from Afloral.com, 1-888-299-4100 or www.afloral.com (O). Reindeer and silver ornaments were bought last year at Pottery Barn, www.potterybarn.com (O, R). Striped vases and red, clear, and opaque ornaments were bought from Pier 1 Imports, www.pier1.com (O, R). For more information on poinsettias, visit www.pauleckepoinsettias.com (M).
This article is from the December 2004 issue of Southern Living.