Poinsettias paint holiday picture
Three acres of poinsettias filled the greenhouses at Masson's this autumn.
The Linwood business cultivated about 130,000 of the holiday plants and, by late last week, about half of them already were on their way to other places.
Paul Bowen, operations supervisor for the Linwood location, said Masson's poinsettias are shipped to 14 states, with the primary buyers being discount stores such as Target and Wal-Mart, and large chain grocery stores such as Dillons and Hy-Vee.
Like a farmer watching a field of golden grain right before wheat harvest, Bowen stood in a one-acre section of greenhouse filled with poinsettias and said his favorite time of year at Masson's is right now.
"When the plants are all in color, this is one time of year that you can really enjoy it," he said.
The season starts long before it ends, Bowen said.
First of all, all the plants are pre-ordered more than a year in advance of planting.
Masson's receives 5,000 stock plants in March and April. Cuttings from 4 to 5 inches in length are pinched off of each stock plant twice, yielding about 30 cuttings for each stock plant.
Nursing the cuttings to adulthood is no easy task.
"Poinsettias are susceptible to different types of disease of the stem and roots," Bowen said. "The plants can die, and the disease can spread to other plants. Everything has to be sanitary when we're taking the cuttings."
This begins around the first week of July.
"We're usually through with taking the cuttings around the sixth week of August," Bowen said. "Then we throw the stock plants away."
Cuttings are put in various sizes of flower pots and given growth regulators that control the height of a plant.
This year, Masson's has four types of poinsettias: two variations of red; the marble, which is pink and white; and the Monet, which is pink with leaves outlined in red.
But red remains the most popular color.
"From 70 to 75 percent of our poinsettia crop is red," Bowen said.
Three crops of poinsettias are harvested at the Linwood branch of Masson's, Bowen said.
"We have the short day plants that we grow under black cloth to sell by Thanksgiving," Bowen said.
About half of the crop is grown with natural lighting and the remaining 15 percent of the plants that benefit from additional lighting are sold latest in the season.
Bowen surveyed the thousands of plants growing in the greenhouses.
"Most of these will be gone by December 15 to 17 to be put in the stores for Christmas," he said.
Prices for poinsettias have remained relatively stable, said Bowen, who has worked at Masson's for 24 years.
"We can't increase our prices every year because people don't have to have the plants," Bowen said. "We try to eliminate the peaks and valleys by looking at alternative plants."
Meanwhile, as the holiday season progresses, Bowen said the best way to keep poinsettias blooming at home is to keep them in 60-degree to 65-degree temperatures.
"The colors will stay brighter, and the plants will last longer in cooler temperatures," he said.
And, when the plants grow spindly and lose their leaves after the holidays, it's tempting to throw them away.
"Yes," Bowen agreed, then added, "And buy another one next year."