Plant for festive cheer

Darfoulds Nursery owner Melanie Thompson inspects this year's poinsettias  (w111212-17a)
Darfoulds Nursery owner Melanie Thompson inspects this year's poinsettias (w111212-17a)

PUTTING a poinsettia on the sideboard at Christmas has become almost as much of a tradition as putting a tree up in the living room.

There’s something about their bright red leaves which brings a dash of festive colour to the house.

But if you thought they were just something to throw out in the new year when the decorations come down, think again.

With a bit of TLC they can survive until at least May, and even until the following Christmas.

And with all the time, effort and expense that goes into nurturing them at the nursery stage, it seems they deserve the chance to last longer than Christmas week.

Darfoulds Nursery, on Featherbed Lane, Worksop, is the area’s only grower of poinsettias and expects to sell around 3,000 this year.

Melanie Thompson, who runs the nursery with her husband Benjamin, said the plants have to be kept in heated greenhouses at a constant 15-18C temperature.

“A couple of years ago we swapped our diesel heaters for wood burning ones, so we’re now carbon neutral, although we do have back-up diesel heaters for if the temperature drops significantly,” she said.

Last year’s plunging temperatures proved too much to combat and many of the poinsettias were lost.

“It was impossible to cope with the 32-degree difference in outdoor and indoor temperature, we couldn’t keep the greenhouse temperature stable. It devastated not just the poinsettias but the outdoor plants as well, and we ended up burning a lot of the Christmas trees because nobody could get out to buy them. We lost about £20,000 of stock.”

Chief production manager Chris Edge has the job of caring for the poinsettia cuttings which are bought in from the nursery’s supplier in June.

They are put into the greenhouses straightaway and watered regularly with a hosepipe.

“As they grow bigger we have to move them apart so that the leaves have room to spread out, otherwise they just grow straight up. We’re always removing any dead leaves as well,” said Chris, who has been tending poinsettias for 18 years at Darfoulds.

“It’s a full time job looking after them. Each plant will be moved and handled a dozen or more times as they grow. We don’t lose many.”

Despite spending half the year looking after them, Chris hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for the plant. “We always have one in the house at Christmas. They should be watered from the top and not left in a saucer of water,” he advised.

Although red is still the most popular colour, there are others to choose from. These include white; red glitter, which has a speckled leaf; ice crystals, with a variegated pink-edged leaf; pink; and a red crinkly leaf variety called carousel.

Chris explained: “The coloured leaves are called bracts, they are not flower petals. The little flower buds are in the middle of the leaves.”

Poinsettias are native to Mexico, hence their love of warmth. Darfoulds has been growing them since the early 1990s.

They range in price from £2.99 to £19.99. “We get people coming in to reserve them. They are popular presents,” said Melanie.

“The trick to keeping them alive all year is to keep them away from light after May. They change colour in the darker winter days.”