Large-volume poinsettia growers are facing a number of issues that are different from growers supplying independent garden centers. I have heard from several large growers who are seriously considering dropping poinsettias or planning to greatly decrease the amount they produce. The momentum behind this is the combination of high fuel costs and very low margins.
I often joke that when a company stops doing poinsettias, it is good for them and the ones who continue to grow them. However, dropping poinsettia production is potentially a serious problem for growers who are attempting to be the major vendor in a region and develop stronger relationships with buyers. If they are not supplying poinsettias, they have a weaker position with buyers and are providing their competitor with an opening into their market.
Of all the varieties introduced in the past two or three years, there are probably three with the most potential for production at close spacing. The principle reasons for highlighting these is their compact growth habit and each has a range of colors to go with the traditional red.
Ecke Ranch introduced the Enduring series for 2006 because of ‘Enduring Pink’s’ success in both the North and South. The new Red, White and Marble are very nice colors and closely match with ‘Enduring Pink’ in habit and early timing. For ideas on growth habit and height control on ‘Enduring Pink’, see the 2002 and 2003 examples at http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/floriculture/heightcontrol.htm .
Recently, Selecta First Class introduced new colors to go with ‘Christmas Feelings Red’ to make a nice, compact, midseason series. Likewise, Dümmen has introduced several basic colors and novelties to go with the early flowering ‘Premium Red’.
The most significant new variety actually has not been in trials yet, but we have conducted research on it during development prior to introduction. The variety is ‘Early Prestige’ and it is only available this year as a numbered variety in the Ecke trial pack. ‘Prestige Red’ is now the number one variety grown in the United States and is the strongest structure available. However, it is a midseason variety in most markets and too late for many growers, especially in the South.
Our studies indicate that ‘Early Prestige’ will flower with ‘Freedom Red’ under both cool and hot production situations. Plant strength, growth habit and appearance of ‘Early Prestige’ are the same for ‘Prestige Red’. ‘Early Prestige’ will be a very important variety and an improvement over current early varieties. A limited number of cuttings should be available for the 2007 season.
Of course, when changing poinsettia varieties and/or cutting suppliers, it is important to test the new variety for 1-2 years to become familiar with the differences.
As soon as possible, we need to learn to produce poinsettias at cooler temperatures. The Europeans’ higher energy costs got them started in this direction a few years ahead of us, and we can draw from their experiences. But, every grower will have to work out a new strategy, including determining Á which varieties work best and knowing how they perform.
Cool temperatures slow down growth and development, so new schedules will be required for all cultivars. As a general rule, growers can think about the schedules they would use if they were located further north. Because plant size is reduced by cooler temperatures, the crops will need to be planted 1-2 weeks earlier to allow for more vegetative growth. Also, growers need to be careful not to use too much growth regulator.
Because of the slower development after initiation, what we now think of as an 8-week variety may turn into a 9- or 91?2-week variety. Thus, earlier flowering varieties will become more important, and varieties like ‘Early Freedom’ and ‘Early Orion’ will have stronger appeal. The other important characteristic will be naturally large bracts since the cool temperatures will reduce bract size.
Culturally, with cooler production, less irrigation is needed, and media moisture should be managed to reduce disease pressure. Also, diseases such as mildew and Botrytis favor cool temperatures and need to be monitored. More details on growing poinsettias cold can be found at www.gpnmag.com  in the Poinsettia Zone.
Currently, the vast majority of poinsettias in mass markets are very poorly displayed and there is little done to enhance their value and promote sales. Most growers use the drop and run technique of delivery, and plants that were nice when they left the greenhouse rapidly lose their value at the store.
The opportunity to increase the top line with poinsettias is sitting there waiting on us. As mass-market suppliers take more control at the garden center, growers will find ways to increase sales, decrease shrink and increase prices. We can do this by displaying plants in a more appealing manner, with nicer containers or other upgrades to increase their value. Then, mass-market growers can take advantage of varieties like ‘Monet Twilight’, ‘Sonora White Glitter’ and ‘Cortez Burgundy’ that naturally have value to consumers when displayed appropriately. In the current situation, these varieties are often too difficult or too costly to justify producing them for mass markets.
The opportunities are there to be more successful and make more money with poinsettias if we reevaluate our production techniques and display methods. Even addressing one of these issues will make a more productive 2006 poinsettia season.