Poinsettias are one of the industry’s major products, but we have gotten into a difficult situation with this crop. As growers and often retailers have focused on cutting expenses to be profitable, the quality of the product at retail has suffered. This has evolved into a downward spiral where reduced inputs in production, handling, shipping and retail display leads to greater shrinkage and less profitability, which leads to more cuts on the input side.
Over many years in our poinsettia research program at the University of Florida, we have evaluated factors that affect the quality of poinsettia products for retailers and consumers. The accompanying pictures and figures reflect some of the issues that affect poinsettia plant quality and impact the marketability of the plants at retail. Past work has often focused on things the grower and retailer can do to improve the quality of the plants for the end consumer. Today, when the consumer takes home a healthy plant they are getting a much better product than in the past. The plant breeders are giving us better varieties and growers have taken steps such as reduced fertilization at end of crop and better Botrytis management. So there is much less of a problem with leaf yellowing and bract edge burn than in the past.
Currently, we feel that an important barrier to increased consumption of poinsettias is the marginal quality of the plants in retail displays.
a small percentage of poinsettias are still shipped in boxes. Spending time inside a box, in the dark is one of the worst things for long-term plant quality. One would think that shipping on racks would be much better for the plants; however racks have led to another set of issues.
We feel that there is still a significant problem with low light level effects for those plants that sit for days, in sleeves, in shuttle trays jammed together on the lower shelves of a rack. In that situation, it is only the few outer leaves on the outer plants receiving much light. This situation is aggravated by the time the plants spend in low light or dark areas such as the shipping building, in trucks and on racks inside retail stores. One of our current research projects is aimed at documenting how the time plants spend on racks is impacting the plants’ marketability.
Too often poinsettias are displayed sitting in the shuttle tray. This creates a rock-and-hard place situation. If the sleeves are removed, then customers handling the plants cause considerable breakage and damage. Leaving the sleeves on the plants greatly reduces that damage. However, a poinsettia in a sleeve is not a very appealing consumer product.
Watering is another issue we need to deal with as an industry. Plants left on racks in stores and plants displayed in shuttle trays with the sleeves up either will not be watered or the watering will cause even more physical damage and disease problems. On the other end, when the plants are watered at retail they often receive too much water. This is especially true for plants in pot covers. Growers and retailers could take steps to reduce either drought stress or over watering. However, the inconsistency is a problem and it is too difficult to know whether the plants will be over or under watered.
Poinsettias are such a large crop that we as an industry need to find ways to make the crop more successful for the grower and retailer.