By Nikki Kallio
At favorite grocery and home stores, it’s time for consumers to find the bright red, pretty pink or soft white blooms of poinsettias — and maybe some showy blue and purple glittery ones.
Growers know the poinsettia is a fairly steady holiday favorite with consumers, but it’s maybe not the plant they most look forward to growing. Poinsettias are not considered a profitable crop, said Erik Runkle, a horticulture professor with the Michigan State University Extension.
“Poinsettias take a long time to grow,” he said. “They’re starting to grow these usually in August and they’re not selling until sometime in November. And let’s face it, the price is fairly low, considering the amount of space they take up in the greenhouse.”
Michigan, which is the third-largest floriculture producer in the United States behind California and Florida, has a total floriculture crop production of a little more than $400 million wholesale, Runkle said. Poinsettias make up about $10.5 million of that total or a little more than 2.5 percent.
Also, while Michigan isn’t the best place to grow poinsettias as they prefer warm temperatures and higher light, “we already have a well-established greenhouse and nursery industry, and we already have growers who produce a lot of bedding plants and perennials,” Runkle said. “Naturally, you grow what there’s demand for.”
Demand for poinsettias has remained fairly stagnant, and in some years declines a bit. Growers try to keep ahead of the market by offering plants with new and different characteristics.
Tim Stiles, president and co-owner of Masterpiece Flower Co. which has greenhouses in Michigan and Wisconsin and supplies Home Depot and Meijer stores, said his company has developed some variances within the poinsettia, such as a variegated leaf or a different color of pink.
“We’ve also gotten to where we modify them ourselves a little bit by painting them,” Stiles said. “We’ve set up a paint booth-type of arrangement, suit up a couple of people with respirators and they go in there like they’re painting a car.”
The mother plants come each July from Central America without roots because of USDA plant quarantine regulations, Stiles said. They’re placed in a rooting mix and into a misthouse with 100 percent relative humidity. The plants are grown for sale from the end of November through Christmas. Masterpiece produces about 600,000 plants for sale each year, varying from 2.5-inch pots to large plants in 10-inch pots that have a canopy of three feet across.
Stiles said poinsettias are a crop than can be impacted by disease or insect infestations such as whitefly and requires careful monitoring and good sanitation controls.
“One of the common questions we get asked is why do we continue to grow them?” Stiles said. “It’s a hard crop, we don’t make much money on it, we have to ship when the weather is crummy. Well, you know, it’s what we do.”
It is one of the few crops that can be grown in volume at this time of year, Stiles said, and flowering is triggered by short days, beginning to change color in October. People like to have a gift item or decoration for the table, too.
Masterpiece also grows Christmas cactus, many of which are sold before Thanksgiving, and it grows orchids year-round (a bathroom is a great place to keep orchids because of the humidity, he said).
“We’ve definitely diversified our products,” Stiles said.
The rest of the year the company grows Easter lilies, Dutch bulbs such as tulips, hyacinth and daffodils and hundreds of other species of garden plants like geraniums and petunias.