Won’t you help the poinsettias?

Those creative Utah Sate University Extension folks are at it again.  Jerry Goodspeed’s hilarious Gnome Management video was a big hit among the gardening crowd a couple of years ago. 

His current effort is a bit more…film noir. 

"Mission accomplished" if you’ve been shamed into watering that poor poinsettia languishing in the dining room.  A little fertilizer wouldn’t hurt, either.

Cirque du Poinsettia

Last week I brought up the seasonal topic of poinsettias. There are so many cultivars to start with, it’ll make your head spin.  Twenty five new varieties were introduced in 2009 alone.  One
of the major breeders lists 36 RED varieties.

But for painting and glitter, growers
and retailers stick to “white” (actually a very pale yellow to cream –
see last week’s ‘Polar Bear’ post) or possibly light pink. The trend had a good start in Europe and crossed the pond in 2004. I

n 2005, I toured a Denver area greenhouse and saw my first air-brushed point. They were doing a specialty Broncos theme with bracts sprayed deep blue and orange and plopped into a football-shaped pot (with the season Denver’s having this year, I imagine sales are down).  The “team colors” theme is everywhere now.  Nothing says Christmas like maroon bracts (looked more like dried blood) with orange glitter – the interpretation of a Hokie poinsettia, available at our local Kroger. Different.  Please comment if you’ve seen a weirder color combo (are there Steelers ones yet?!).

Nationally, independent garden centers note they can’t keep pigmented points in stock, despite charging upwards of $9 more for a painted 6” point than a regular one. 

I'll have a bluuue Christmas without yoooooou

Blue poinsettias at McDonald’s Garden Center in Virginia Beach – a best-seller.

I’ve not seen any studies determining if the dye alters the post-harvest longevity or not; anecdotal evidence suggests it doesn’t have much effect. Just don’t splash them with water – the dye will run. Growers are careful to paint only mature poinsettias with fully-expanded bracts, or else suffer the poinsettia equivalent of bad roots (a la Lindsey Lohan). One of best-known of the poinsettia painters is at K&W Greenery of Janesville, Wisconsin.  The owners have carved out their high-end niche by employing an artist to do the air-brushing and glitter-sprinkling, treating each one as an individual work of art.  Art that will die in a heartbeat if you forget to water it, unfortunately. But the mother of all poinsettia growers/retailers in Ellison’s in Brenham, Texas. They’ve turned the season’s opening  each year into a hugely successful, candle-lit, wine-pouring party. The Today Show even stopped by a few years ago. The Ellison’s tree photo has been making its rounds on the internet for so long, I don’t even know who to credit.


Where's the damn partridge

Fa la la la la  (is that enough “la’s”?) 

Whether you take your poinsettias painted, straight up, or not at all – happy holidays!

It’s Poinsettia Time…

Love ’em or hate ’em, poinsettias are the number two potted flowering plant produced and sold in the U.S., only (very recently) surpassed by orchids. Especially amazing when you consider the five-week market window.  Commercial growers go at poinsettia (“points”) production usually one of two ways:  1) smaller pot, high volume, low margin for mass markets; or 2) larger pot, florist-quality, unusual varieties, for independent garden centers, florists, and other specialty retailers.  If you shopped any big box store this past weekend (bless your heart), you saw rolling racks of “doorbuster” deals such a 4.5″ points priced $1.25 or even less.  Interestingly, wholesale prices for even the small, high volume product range from $2.05 to $2.88.

Poinsettias from transplant to finish take from 12 to 15 weeks on a greenhouse bench; often require special lighting (or blackout technology), plant growth regulators, and often extra labor to pinch once to encourage branching. Much more expense/inputs than your average 6-pack of petunias, hence the very slim margin for growers of mass market plants.  That’s why many growers have taken route “2” – the dee-luxe, gift-type point that appeals to pickier consumers.  Big, beefy  plants in 8″ to 12″ pots, unusual colors such as pink, plum, and “marbled”, well-pinched to produce lots of showy bracts, wrapped in tastefully decorative pot covers all can command a much higher price point, both by the grower and the retailer.  (I don’t have it in me to speak of the bizarre painting/glitter trend at the moment.  Maybe I’ll save it for next week.)

Poinsettia breeders are always looking for color breaks, and one of the most “interesting” is this new introduction by Ecke called ‘Polar Bear’:

Pic taken at OFA, the big floriculture trade show, this past July. 

There are a couple unusual things about this introduction. One, it comes with a “cause” – Polar Bears International. Ecke’s donating 5% of the sales price (that would be the sale of their rooted liners to finishing growers) to the non-profit conservation society. There’s a whole slew of point-of-purchase tags, pot covers, bows, and signage that goes with, not to mention an informational web site. The other unusual thing is that they insist on calling it “white”.  Or at least “creamy”.  It’s…not. A lovely lemon-curd yellow, or perhaps off-off-off-off cream.  But most polar bears (except for the exceedingly pristine one in their tag photo) aren’t exactly white either.  Anyhoo, it’s certainly a good cause, and if “lemon curd” goes with your holiday decor, consider picking up a ‘Polar Bear’!

Friday fun, part 1

This posting is for Holly, who I am sure is desperately trying to finish her annual review.  I feel your pain!  And I’m going to add to it today.


The poinsettia in these photos is not from this Christmas, but from 2008.  You can see it thriving happily in its office environment.  I’m told by its caretaker Nick (a nongardener) that it has no bugs or other problems, and seems very happy.  And it’s blooming, without the benefit of the extended night period.  (The post-it notes are instructions to its care when Nick is away.)

Apparently SOME people can easily grow poinsettias well past their expected holiday life span.

Post-holiday Poinsettia Fatigue

You’ve seen them. The saddest thing ever – a poinsettia, still in its little foil sleeve, tucked into the corner of the doctor’s office/bank/etc. In June. 
Photo courtesy of Beth Bonini http://beedrunken.blogspot.com
So iconic, there’s even a rock band in St. Paul called “Dead Poinsettia.”

Every year about this time, I get asked “how do I care for my poinsettia so it will bloom next year?” by friends, students, random callers, and random newspaper writers. 

Two words: Chuck it.

Four reasons:
1) Unless you have a greenhouse, you probably can’t replicate the growing conditions that resulted in that lovely, leafy, perfect plant. That poinsettia has been grown under optimal temperature, humidity, fertilizer, and high light conditions.  It’s also been sprayed with plant growth regulators – often multiple times, to keep the internodes from elongating.  Even with all the breeding for a compact habit, they still want to streeeeetch to be the shrubs/small trees their forefathers were back in Mexico.

2) Day length. Poinsettias are obligate short-day plants, which means they require a long dark period (yes, I know, why don’t they call them obligate long night plants) to become reproductive, resulting in red (or pink or cream) bracts and the little yellow flower-thingy in the center (the cyathia).  You can, of course, stick it in a dark room at 5:00 p.m. and remove it to a lighted area at 8:00 a.m., every day for the months of October and November.  Until you forget over that long weekend and leave it in the dark for three days…

3) Help stimulate the local “grower” economy.  Consumerist, I know, but wholesale and retail greenhouses grow poinsettias to keep their full–time employees working during what is otherwise a very dead time in the ol’ floriculture business.  Seldom do these businesses make much of a profit on poinsettia; the plan is to keep everyone busy and generate a little cash flow.  Now, some growers/garden centers go above and beyond the usual 6” red point, with unusual cultivars in a range of colors and sizes, hanging baskets, poinsettia “trees”, etc.  This has proven to be a great strategy for some enterprising growers.

4) Poinsettia = total whitefly magnet.

In light of the above, I recommend enjoying your poinsettia until the leaves start dropping…then once it reaches the “less than fresh” stage, add it to the compost pile. Next season, go to your local independent greenhouse or garden center and buy a new one.  Finally, if you are one of the hard-core, stick-with-it types that has been successfully reblooming the same poinsettia for three years running, congratulations! You have much, much more patience than I do.

Disclaimer:  My Master’s research was on poinsettia and the effects of nitrate- N:ammonium- N ratio on growth thereof.  Five treatments x 6 replications x 3 cultivars = 90 poinsettias, off of which I picked every leaf and bract to run through a leaf area meter. The latex oozing from the petioles made for a gloppy mess and the whole process took five days.  Even 15 years later, I can barely look at a poinsettia without cringing. Pleh.