Who Cares for Poinsettias?
This is the time of the year when every poinsettia grower isbreathing a sigh of relief, now that all, or most all, of the crop has beenshipped and hopefully sold to consumers who value their beautiful plants.Poinsettias, as everyone knows, have become a traditional Thanksgiving andChristmas fixture throughout the United States, making them the best-sellingplant at that time of year. With all of the colors, shapes and sizes,poinsettias brighten up any environment.
Poinsettias are sold in a wide range of markets, big boxstores, grocery stores, retail florists, retail greenhouses and evenfundraisers. However, sales of poinsettias have been flat or only slightlyincreasing over the past few years. This could be due to saturation of themarket, as poinsettias are the only real crop for many growers this time ofyear. And in addition to our own overproduction, we get flooded by product fromCanada.
Problems of Care
Growing and shipping poinsettias are not the easiest thingsto do. Besides the long crop time, poinsettias can suffer from late-seasonproblems such as bract edge burn, Botrytis on the bracts, stem breakage,cyathia drop and root rot. For wholesale shipping in boxes or on carts,poinsettias should be grown with smaller and more toned bracts than those grownfor retail. Typically, wholesale plants are placed in decorative pot covers,dropped into some type of sleeve, and either boxed or stacked on carts. Theyare then shipped to big box or grocery stores, where they are divided up forfurther shipping or display.
Unfortunately, poinsettias may stay boxed for three-plusdays and are many times kept in their sleeves until take-home by a consumer.Their post-harvest life is greatly decreased by such handling, resulting inBotrytis on bracts, dropping of bracts or leaves, and a general decline inplant quality. Stores tend to use boxes for displays, often leaving plants inboxes while displaying other plants on top of the boxes. Plants are left in thesleeves so store personnel and consumers can easily pick them up and move themout. Pots are watered over the sleeves, with the pot covers catching the waterand increasing the risk of root rots. Also, when plants are watered while stillin the sleeves, bracts stay wet and get Botrytis. I have seen many poinsettiasdisplayed outside stores in the warmer parts of the country, left in the sun,exposed to wind and watered overhead at the end of the day. Can you imagine howlong those plants will keep their beauty?
The consumer would more readily buy poinsettias in any storeif they could see them in all of their beauty, meaning out of the sleeves. Theattractive pot covers and even the sleeves help sell the plants, but where arethe POP, signage and instructions for their care? Alas, you need to look forthe tag to find out how to care for your poinsettia. And that tag is readilycovered up by the plant. Consumers typically place plants in the wronglocations, resulting in a quick drop of leaves, damage to bracts or death ofthe plants. And don’t forget about the yearly media mention of how poinsettiasare poisonous.
Every year, I am absolutely dumbfounded by the lack of careduring handling, shipping, display and sale of poinsettias in the marketplace.Being a consultant, it is easy to point out the problems, but a good consultantalso proposes solutions to those problems. So, here are my solutions to improvethe care of poinsettias.
First, growers need to work more closely with store buyersto devise reasonable specifications for what plants should look like and howthey should be shipped. Soft plants do not ship well but toned plants will.Growing taller plants with more bracts is not the answer, nor is growing themat close spacing. Reduce the number of plants produced, as the stores are notobligated to take all of the plants that buyers order. Use merchandisers in thestores, just like in the spring season. Get rid of boxes, and convince thestores to take sleeved plants on carts. Use sleeves that breathe (have lots ofair holes). Make sure that at shipment, plants have healthy root systems, nodamage to bracts or leaves, and proper moisture. Keep time in transit to anabsolute minimum (less than two days), and grow varieties that will ship better(dark-leaf). There is great research out of the University of Florida fromTerril Nell and Jim Barrett about post-harvest life of all the varieties. Andhow about an information sheet to store personnel on how to care for thepoinsettias once they receive them?
Second, stores need to unsleeve plants immediately whenreceived and display them properly (no drafts or full sun, please!). Consumerswill stop in their tracks when poinsettias are displayed en masse in anattractive way. Make it easy for them to pick out their plants and sleeve themthemselves. Rework displays every day, removing damaged plants and replacingthem with fresh ones. Categorize poinsettia displays with fresh fruit andvegetable displays; they are just as perishable, if not more.
And finally, how about having more information for theconsumer on how to care for their poinsettias? We are doing so much with POPand branding during the spring (and even with pansies in the fall), but weneglect poinsettias. Tell the consumer to punch holes in the pot covers andplace plants in saucers to water them (maybe even sell them the saucers withtheir plants). Or better yet, how about getting rid of pot covers all togetherand using more colored pots?