The holidays are over but a certain houseguest refuses to leave.

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The Christmas tree was hauled away long ago, the decorations boxed in the attic (except for the one you missed), the gifts long since exchanged for something you can use. The season has been properly retired … except for that garish blood-red plant which won’t die, not even if you plunge a stake through its heartwood.

Oh, it may have been welcome in the dreary months, matching the mood of red ribbon and gold bells, but it’s really going to clash with the pastel of spring bulbs. It needs to go away—but what gardener can throw out a plant that still clings to life?

It needs to go away-but what gardener can throw out a plant that still clings to life?

In Grandma’s day, a poinsettia had the good grace to drop its leaves and die in January, so you could put it out on the curb and stack the plastic pot in the garage with the others. But several generations of an evil family named Ecke out in California have been working away at “improving” the breed so that now Euphorbia pulcherrima, the Christmas poinsettia, can last longer than Euphorbia plasticia. Had they done this work back in Dante’s day, there would have been a tenth circle in Hell.

The gardening books tell you how to care for a poinsettia and keep it alive. But that’s not the information you need. You want to know how to kill it. Well, it may be the most difficult task in all horticulture, but I’ll try to help by giving you a few suggestions gleaned from my long experience in killing houseplants.

First, there’s the Goldfinger Solution. Remember the James Bond movie where the girl dies after she has been painted gold? Spray paint your poinsettia gold and see if it dies. Even if it doesn’t, you can probably sell it off to some Canadian as a patriotic emblem. Poinsettia, maple, who cares? They really aren’t very informed about their national symbols. Watch their lips at a hockey game: “Ohhhh, Ca-a-a-anada-a-a, da da da dum di dee.”


Low on gild paint? Try Canine Termination. Just put the plant on the floor. Presto: indoor plumbing for the pooch. He’ll love you for it on cold mornings! A warning, though: Do not attempt this with a small dog. Small quantities of urea fertilizer will only encourage the plant. You don’t want to do that.

No go with Fido? Organic gardeners have this concept of an attractant, or trap, plant. The idea is to put something you don’t care about next to something you do. For example, aphids will swarm to nasturtiums and leave your roses alone, or so the theory goes. So put your poinsettia near the knick-knack shelf to attract dust away from the little glass animals. It’s got to work at least as well as that nasturtium thing.

All right, all right, wishful thinking, but it was a nice thought. Try this one. Though you pack ornaments and lights and boxes and bows away, most people just put the CDs with the Christmas carols back on the bottom shelf of the entertainment center. Get one out. Put the poinsettia next to the boombox and play “The Little Drummer Boy” over and over and over and over, like the stores do. When you are away from home, of course. That should kill anything.

What? It’s still alive? It’s time to get serious. Pretend that you’re going away for a weekend (hide in the basement), and ask that neighbor to watch your poinsettia. You know the one I mean—the one that killed your houseplants last summer when you went away. If you don’t have a herbicidal neighbor, I have several relatives I can recommend as horticultural hit men.

You’re kidding? That didn’t work? Many people keep pressed leaves as mementos. There is nothing more romantic than dead plant parts, right? How much more mawkish to flatten the whole thing! Put a large object like a spare door or sheet of plywood on top of the poinsettia, and pile on rocks until it is flattened.


And if that doesn’t work, if all else fails, there is one sure-fire method. Never fails. Make a belated New Year’s Resolution that this year, you will actually save the poinsettia. That’s right, you’re going to put it outside this Summer to grow large and lush. Then you’ll take it inside and give it six weeks of 12-hour nights in the fall—the whole treatment recommended to make it rebloom by next Christmas.

Once you sincerely determine to do this, your poinsettia will die within the week. Guaranteed.

This article was published originally in 2000, in GreenPrints Issue #44.


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