Growing In The Green: February 2007

January 21, 2008
Written by Melhem Sawaya
16After three years of adjustments on how to approach poinsettia marketing and production, we are very close to being able to say that “poinsettia is a crop I don’t mind growing.”

There was 60 per cent less poinsettia production in 2006 than there was in 2003.

The first year the poinsettia crop sold without too great a drop in prices was 2004. However, the prices were rock bottom at that time due to the fact that much of the crop was still being sold to wholesale brokers who, in turn, had to sell to the chain stores where the margins are small to negligible.

In 2005, the number of poinsettias sold to wholesale brokers declined drastically, and the average prices for the growers was somewhat higher for two reasons:

1. The number of poinsettias produced were cut drastically.

2. Because there are fewer poinsettia producers, there was no pressure of unsold poinsettia, which would have led to a cut in prices.

Though the average price was higher, this was not due to an increase in price but were mainly because growers had reached the point where we refused to grow poinsettia just to donate them at a price lower than our cost of production. Also, it took us a while, but most of the growers who look at our costs realized that growing poinsettia for cash flow does not work at all for the grower, but is a good idea for our banker, because it was cash from our line-of-credit and went back to the banker. Nothing was left to improve the bottom line.

During the 2006 poinsettia season, production planning and marketing worked to meet demand but not exceed supply, which translated to a successful season compared to the last 20 years.

Here is how the poinsettia market is shaping up:

1. The general consensus, taken into effect this season, is that we have to make a profit or else we will not root them for the propagator, nor grow them for the grower, and we will not sell them if we lose money carrying them.

2. The price of unrooted cuttings is up, and the price of rooted cutting has to keep up, so growers grew the product that makes profit for them with no speculation on extras.

3. Most of the stores that carried an upgraded poinsettia, whether size-wise or packaging, sold them for much higher prices than a traditionally packaged poinsettia.

4. Stores that carried promo-poinsettia sold well but the shrinkage is higher. This could be because when stores try to sell a cheaper product they don’t want to increase their costs on an item they are not making money on. The reality is promo-cheaper product for Christmas does not pay off at all.

5. Fundraising programs are on the increase and growers are doing a better job communicating to the different groups. That is leading to an increase in orders and, ultimately, a very satisfied consumer.

6. Toward Dec. 6 or so, there were some shortages of 4" plants, but this was mainly created by buyers who want to pay low prices. There was also some extra demand for 10" pot sizes and larger … but nothing to get excited about.

7. There was good weather for shipping, resulting in hardly any frost or heat damage. There were no delays due to snow or other weather conditions.

8. Some shortage on colours this past season. In 2005, the percentage of poinsettia colours in the crop mix was too high. The safe formula is 70 per cent red and 30 per cent other colours, unless you have a promotion for a specific colour.

9. Many growers are much more serious about their costing, and are analyzing the merit of producing every crop in a very detailed fashion. This triggers a past-due truth: if we can’t make a profit at this price, then ask the price that is needed to be able to run a profitable operation or don’t grow that crop. At the same time, the responsibility is still on the grower to do their best to cut costs effectively and run an efficient operation.

Some of the production points that I would like to share with you are:

1. The past season featured the lowest number of whiteflies that I have ever seen on a poinsettia crop during my 28 years in this business.

2. There were more cases of spider mite than normal because we didn’t apply chemicals for the whiteflies and many of these chemicals have a dual effect against whiteflies and spider mites.

3. Caution! Recommendations of growth regulators listed on poinsettia breeders’ websites are only feasible for warmer and sunnier climates. Following these rates and production schedules resulted in shorter crops than desired.

4. There was much better handling of the different cultivars, but we still need to fine-tune the specific culture for each of them. One environment and one program does not fit all.

5. Programming a high percentage of the crop for the first day of sales and not shipping until four weeks later created symptoms of old-age plants. Program closer to your sales projections, as poinsettias are shipped over 40 days.

6. Growers that started with well-rooted cuttings on time, and paid attention to every detail, had an awesome crop with no shrinkage and outstanding satisfaction.

There is more information on poinsettia than any other crop. I know that only the growers who can adapt this information to their environment, on time, and without any shortcuts, will end up with great crops.

Warren Greenhouses in Kitchener did a very good job in growing their poinsettia crop this season. Their facilities are average and their water source is from the wells in Kitchener that, before any fertilizer is added, has an EC of 1.0. Some of their crop is under glass and the rest is under plastic; some are in trough irrigation while others are maintained by hand-watering or drip applications.

With all these variables, I have to say that they had the best crop I have seen this year. The plants had excellent roots (1) and a minimum of 6-7 blooms on the top canopy (2) of their 6" pots with green foliage.

Needless to say, there was no shrinkage in their crop and it was pleasant to ship it. Winston and Paul Stigter (3) are especially pleased with the crop and are looking forward to growing poinsettia next year.
In addition to what we have mentioned so far, here are a few pointers that would help in growing a more profitable poinsettia crop:

1. Pick your varieties now, streamline for the majority of the crop, and try new varieties on a small scale.

2. Plan to grow only what is ordered.

3. Co-ordinate your crop planting dates with your sales dates. Follow the recommendations for your geographic area.

4. Conduct every aspect of producing the crop on time and at the right stage.

5. Do not skimp on heat, even in the summer where some nights could be below what is needed for the crop.

6. Pinch only well-rooted cuttings.

7. Do not use a growth regulator after pinch unless the variety you are treating is vigorous or you are ahead of required schedule by two to three weeks.

8. Fertilize early and soon after planting.

9. Do not light past Oct. 3. Take advantage of different varieties to avoid lighting and have different finish dates.

10. Program the crop to be ready one week earlier than the ship date to give you the ability to finish the crop at cooler temperatures.

11. Plants should be spaced before they begin to touch each other.

12. Take advantage of the many new varieties to pick those that suit your production and the customer requirements.

13. Avoid high-density production completely. Higher quality with spaced plants is what is needed to avoid shrinkage, which is the number one factor for profitability. Many factors enter into the equation of profitability: plant material cost, soil, pot, packaging, heat/hydro, shipping and marketing. However the Number One factor is in avoiding shrinkage, so that what we grow is shipped and paid for.

The following are my opinions along with comments from some growers in southwestern Ontario.

Arie Koole, (4) Creekside Greenhouse: “Most of the crop is sold directly to chains and the 12" pot size is most of our production. The crop is programmed to finish at different weeks. Blacked-out poinsettias are lit at different times so that a fresh, quality, poinsettia matches their selling dates.”

Shawn Galivan and Luc Lombaert (5) Belgian Nursery and Garden Centre: This is the place to go to if you are looking to learn how to harmonize over 20 cultivars, under one set of environmental conditions, and end up with excellent quality. The key is paying attention to every detail, such as different watering frequencies, growth regulator concentrations and spacing. This results in a product that fits scheduled shipping dates and retail targets. Their favourite red is Prestige.

Rachel Newman of Colour Paradise (6): This grower/garden centre also grows many varieties in one area to meet the diversity and tastes of their customers. Even the over-priced (in my opinion!) rooted cutting Visions of Grandeur is being grown to ensure they have a full selection. John Newman, Rachel’s dad, would not allow her to even think of marriage until she survived growing a good crop of poinsettia! Rachel is smiling because its mission accomplished and she is getting married next fall.

Linda Cozyn of Cozyn Greenhouse and Garden Centre (7): The poinsettia is an important crop for their retail flower shop and garden centre because Christmas is a big theme at Cozyn’s. Their store is visited by people from many different places just to see it fully decorated for Christmas. They have on hand the widest selection of decorated artificial Christmas trees and many other related items. That means a large number of top-quality poinsettia selections is a must for their customers.

At C.F. Greenhouses in Leamington, Rick Rabb is looking seriously at increasing the Mars Series (8), eliminating Cortez, and using very little Freedom but still, the main red poinsettia is Prestige. C.F. grows their own stock and they do a great job in preparing the stock so the cuttings are pre-programmed to break easily.

At Heritage Country Gardens, Maria Vandermeer (9) is happy with this year’s crop where they mainly sold to retail and fundraising groups. They used to grow more to sell through wholesale brokers, but this is not the case anymore and this works much better.

At Beckendam Greenhouses (10), most of their poinsettias are for fundraisers with some retail. They feel this is the only market to aim for and definitely do not sell to wholesale brokers. They have an excellent crop with no pests and minimal or zero chemical use. By paying attention to details, they produce an excellent crop.

Peter and Paul Vos of Vos Floral (11) grew mainly Freedom this year but, next year, Prestige is going to be the main red. Even Freedom sometimes can become fragile and many branches can break. But at Vos, the crop was kept under control and grown solid. They had the best Freedom of the year.

Lori Allan and Chris Pepetone (12) from Terra Greenhouses and Garden Centre were happy with most of the crop but, like every other garden centre, they need different colours, packaging, and varieties because they require different shipping dates without shading or lighting. The season was great, but Chris is always looking for ways to get better quality plants. Terra Garden Centre is known for their marketing but Chris says, while marketing gets the people to the store, it’s service and quality that keeps bringing them back.

Neil van Beurden, Hans van Overbeeke and Peter van Beurden of Westland Greenhouses, St. Catharines. Their main Christmas crop is Christmas cactus (13) and they do an excellent job of it. Also, Peter likes to have a few 8" poinsettias (14) in order to feel in the mood for Christmas. All poinsettias are grown mainly in the air, above other crops, which takes some common sense to handle the culture differently in order to end up with their excellent quality points.

George Alkema, of Linwell Gardens (15), is happy with their Prestige as their Red but he’s looking for other colours. Linwell is a major propagation station for poinsettia and spring plants. They shade a good portion of their crop and try to time it to meet their sales dates. Linwell grows many sizes, but mainly 6" and 8" and many 4".

Henry Alkema of Alkema Greenhouse (16) grows the same program as Linwell and Warren. Henry does every aspect needed to end up with a good crop and the results prove it. Henry, Brian and Justin were very happy with the 2006 crop. Only minimal growth regulators and a negligible amount of chemicals were applied.

Steve Bachner of Sobkowich Greenhouses (17) is happy that almost all the poinsettias are gone.

Sobkowich supplies garden centres and grow an above-average product because their customers require it.

Paul Clayton of Bradford Greenhouse (18) loves the speed of shipping their product. Bradford grows many sizes and different varieties because they supply a wide range of clientele. This includes stores requiring a basic product mix, to garden centres that require an upgraded product. This mix of clientele is what keeps Bradford Greenhouse an active company at Christmas.

Aaron Dunlop, the grower at Terra Garden Centre in Milton, loves these big poinsettia pots (19). Many varieties are finished in one area and are hand-watered because the crop is spaced often to ensure added quality.

Jack Huisman (20), of Nicol Florist in Brantford, is a retail-grower but, with poinsettia, he is more like a retailer since the plants are bought almost finished. However, after the flower shop decorates them, the added value to the plants shows. Jack says that “nobody buys poinsettia by variety. They buy a good, presentable, healthy plant in the colour that they like.”

Gord, Mark and Steve Valstar of Scott Street Greenhouses in St. David’s (21) have made a complete switch to large pots with hardly any sales going to wholesale brokers. The shift streamlined their poinsettia season and was more rewarding. They ship throughout the 40-day shipping season so timing is important for both their operation and their customers. Shading part of the crop and working with different varieties is essential to meeting their market timetable.

Aron Hoff, of Meyers Fruit Farm (22) in Niagara-on-the-Lake, grows poinsettia as a filler crop since they concentrate mostly on growing fall pot mums. The poinsettia crop is scheduled for mid-season on and is very streamlined. Lots of Freedom are grown at Myers as their red variety, in addition to all colours.

Peter and Andy Vander Hoeven, of Vander Hoeven Greenhouses (23) in St. Catharines, grow large plants that are well spaced and solid. Their market is the Clock, wholesale and garden centres. The Vander Hoevens grow their own stock and their red-coloured poinsettias are Freedom, Prestige and some Success.

Rob Vander Zalm, of Colonial Florists in St. Catharines (24), grows many of the Selecta varieties. Rob is impressed with the Christmas Star series and their White Christmas Evolve is the whitest white I have seen.

The trials at Vineland last fall were excellent, showing how the different cultivars grow relative to each other. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs floriculture specialist Wayne Brown (25) co-ordinates these trials every year. It is a must-see for every serious poinsettia grower interested in seeing an unbiased cultivar performance trial carried out in a traditional production greenhouse.

John Huisman, owner of Waterloo Flowers (26), has scaled down to growing in only one zone after over 30 years of growing poinsettias. This is also the first year he didn’t grow his own stock, but instead purchased rooted cuttings. He enjoyed his break in the early summer and the fall.

Paul Stigter Jr., of Warren Greenhouses (27), is a third-generation grower and is excited about their crop. He learned from his father and uncle that only quality sells. This proved true this year because they had a super quality product.

Mike and Kelly Colasanti of The Bloomin’ Gardener near Windsor (28) are garden centre growers who consider that perfection is a moving target and is moving upward. For Mike, quality, perfection and attention to detail is a passion that is reflected in their excellent crop. As a garden centre, they carry many varieties and, at retail, they upgrade their product with different Christmas enhancement decorations that do not deteriorate the quality of the plants.

Bob Ondejko, of Seacliff Greenhouses (29), grows poinsettias for the chains and ships the whole 40 days. Timing is important. They grow different sizes and work with customers to give each of them their own identity, so it is not just another poinsettia. They produce excellent quality with production programs that meet the entire span of the shipping season.

Dan Walden Greenhouse (30) mainly grows weekly pot plants, specializing in kalanchoe production, but they also grow an excellent poinsettia crop. There are no shortcuts at Walden’s. In the short time since starting their operation, they are on the cutting edge of mechanization and innovation. The poinsettia crop is a fall filler that fits with their crop rotation. The red varieties are Freedom and Prestige.

Sietse Elsinga (31) and Gholam Ghasemi Montazer (33) are growers at Jeffery’s Greenhouse. Jeffery’s grows many sizes, mainly for chains over a wide shipping season, with different specs for different customers. Service and quality are important aspects of their crops. The hunt for the perfect variety is an ongoing search at Jeffery’s. That is why, every year, a section is set aside for trialling new cultivars to see how they perform under their own conditions and to check their post-harvest results.

Gord Braun, Steve Donker, Mark Healey and Jason Goodale of Lakeshore Greenhouses  (32) are happy to grow the poinsettia crop and even happier when the product is being shipped. Lakeshore grows different varieties with strict specs to suit their customers. They have all flood floors with excellent quality in general. Different zones with different crop timing are a must to meet the long shipping span.

I don’t know how much Rachel Scholman, from Spring Valley Gardens (34), had poinsettia on her mind since she was due around Christmas! Spring Valley grows large pots for chains and 6" for market. They strive for excellent quality. Like other growers with a long shipping period, shading is part of the program.

This was the first season that supply and demand were in balance, so let us not mess up this balance by increasing production. The effort should be on increasing demand so that our prices can go up and our customers can make more profit.

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome by e-mailing him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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