February 2007
Christmas Companions to Poinsettias By Jack Williams

Go into many retail outlets during November and December and you are sure to find poinsettias. Displays are often stacked floor to ceiling and, more often than not, project the message “we have a boatload of plants for sale” instead of a more important message, such as “this is something special.” If any plant says Christmas to consumers, it is the poinsettia.

The poinsettia truly is a fantastic plant that provides consumers with plenty of show and value! Growers curse it but continue to mass-produce it, and retailers keep ringing the cash register because of it; poinsettias are definitely not going away. However, there is an assortment of plants that can be considered for this time of year and are definitely worth looking at! Why not try some as companions to poinsettias?

Other Euphorbia

The euphorbia family (poinsettias included) is large, and included in it are some crops that can be produced and sold with poinsettias; examples include E. milii, E. fulgens and the interspecific hybrid ‘Dulce Rosa’, which are all options for companion crops. Being from the same family euphorbia, such crops can usually be produced side by side with poinsettias for greater diversity in your offering.

‘Diamond Frost’, another newer crop, is being suggested for planting with poinsettias to create exceptional filler to complement the large, showy bracts of the poinsettia (the combination is called ‘Diamond Point’). Product was on the market for the first time in 2006, so we will soon know how response to this mixture was.

Of course, with the current availability of paints, dyes and glitter, even poinsettias can be made to look unique and different enough for a whimsical and fun twist on the traditional holiday theme.

Similar Crops

Growers looking for crops that can fit in with poinsettias need look no further than other “long-night/short-day” plants like chrysanthemum and kalanchoe. Both provide a range of white and red that fit the holiday color scheme, making them attractive options. Because both crops can be found throughout the year, consumers may already be familiar with care and handling; they know they can use these to supplement their holiday décor while knowing what to expect from longevity in the home.

Kalanchoes, like’Forever Midi Red’ or other compact types, are especially good when produced in smaller 21_2-inch pots as miniature flowering plants. They are perfect for use on tables and desks. Unlike poinsettias, if these plants dry down a bit too much, they still look good and will hold up throughout the season.

Mums are used to help provide a bright white contrast to poinsettias that is currently not comparable in poinsettias. Add to this the opportunity to add glitter to the blooms, and this traditional flowering plant can find new markets to be enjoyed.

Energy-Saving Crops

With the current cost of heating greenhouses, growers are starting to use colder production programs with poinsettias to save energy and money. There are some companion crops that can take this even further. Cyclamen is one of the first that comes to mind. As the quality of cyclamen has grown along with plant sizes to fit pot sizes from 5 to 7 inches in diameter, growers can offer new colors and sizes to fit a range of market needs. Colors from pure white to vivid red are easily produced with cyclamen, and even some bicolor red/white flowers are available today.

An upcoming crop is hellebore, a fantastic crop to offer with low energy requirements to produce. This hardy flowering plant has benefited from breeding and selection efforts that have brought forward a better color range and stronger, more desirable plants that can be produced with minimal energy inputs.

A crop that has been around and fits this energy-saving production program is zygo-cactus (Schlumbergera Bridgesii) or Christmas cactus, as it is commonly known. Don’t overlook the opportunity to use one of the various ornamental hollies that may be grown in pots to complement and carry out the holiday theme with outstanding results.

And, finally, on the list of energy-friendly cold crops is the azalea, which makes great small pots and, when placed in a mass display, can resemble a snow-covered field!

Designer Crops

Anthurium, anigozanthus and orchids all fit into the category some people are calling “architectural plants.” With these plants, homeowners can create really fantastic displays that are eye catching and long lasting and bring a certain design-like feel from the unusual form and shape of the plants. Colors of red and white can be found, making them easy to use during this time of year.

Other Options

We certainly have not exhausted the list of crops for consideration as good companions to poinsettia. Don’t rule out the possibility of growing and selling amaryllis or several other bulb crops that can be timed for flowering during the holiday period. Begonias also make good companion plants to the poinsettia and look good in the house long after the Christmas tree has gone outside or back into the attic! Mixing the poinsettia with an assortment of complementary plants is a great way to create combination gardens that make special gifts or can be used for focal points in the house.

As you can see, while there may not be enough market for any of these crops to displace poinsettias as our nation’s number-one choice for flowering potted plants during the holiday season, there certainly are opportunities to bring more options, more diversity and additional companions into the market to satisfy a range of tastes for holiday decors.

SIDEBAR

Consumers Speak On Poinsettia Varieties

At the University of Florida poinsettia trials, there is an open house for the general public where people can tour the trials and participate in evaluating varieties based on their individual preferences.

Participants in the consumer preference survey were asked to pick their favorite 10 varieties out of the 99 varieties in the trial. The results are shown in Figure 1 (below).

Participants attend this open house because they like poinsettias and want to see and purchase new and interesting plants. It is not surprising that varieties in the overall top 10 would be several novelties and newer varieties. ‘Cortez Burgundy’, ‘Sonora White Glitter’ and ‘Shimmer Surprise’ are perennial favorites that always rank high.

‘Ice Punch’ and ‘Polly’s Pink’ are distinctive varieties that were shown for the first time this year. Another survey question compared pink varieties, and participants were asked to pick the one plant they would purchase. ‘Polly’s Pink’ was the top choice of 39 percent, followed by ‘Enduring Pink’ (29 percent), ‘Maren’ (22 percent) and ‘Christmas Feelings Pink’ and ‘Premium Lipstick Pink’ (7 percent each).

‘Premium Picasso’ has the general appearance of the well-known favorite ‘Monet Twilight’. In a separate survey question, participants were shown plants of ‘Premium Picasso’ and ‘Monet Twilight’ without names, and participants picked ‘Monet Twilight’ 2-to-1 over ‘Premium Picasso’.

Jack Williams

Jack Williams is technical advisor at Ecke Ranch/Ecke Europe. He can be reached at jwilliams@eckeranch.com.





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