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12/01/2009 - The holiday season is now in full swing and I couldn't be happier. Not only because I really enjoy getting together with family, but also because at work December is the culmination of all our work for the year on the poinsettia crop. This year's crop turned out great. We have many different sizes and colors this year, and my brother did a wonderful job growing them. I hate to admit it but they are even better than when I was in charge of growing them.

Many of you probably have poinsettias in your home right now, so this month I thought I would tell you a little about how we produce them at our greenhouses. Out of all the crops that we grow each year poinsettias are by far the most difficult. I used to say that all the other crops we grow were just practice getting ready for poinsettia season.

The season kicks off in early summer when our cuttings arrive. While most people around town are thinking of fireworks and the red white and blue, we are awash in a sea of cuttings with names like "Jingle Bells" and "Velveteen Red". For us it really is Christmas in July.

Once all the cuttings are planted they are kept under a strict watch to make sure that they make the transplant well. After a couple of weeks they are actively growing and adding to their rootstocks. Once they reach a certain size we begin to shape them using a series of "Pinches". Pinching refers to the removal of certain portions of the plant to induce growth in other areas. The way that we pinch them not only affects their shape and size, but also changes the size and amount of finished bracts (flowers) that the plant will have. For example a plant that is pinched more times will have more bracts than one that is pinched less, but each bract will be smaller.

Once we have shaped them they are moved into the greenhouse in which they will live for the rest of the season. They grow on until early fall when flower initiation begins. During flower initiation we control the amount of light that they get to force them to flower. Just before Halloween we begin to see color creeping into the leaves of most varieties, and about two weeks later we begin to move into the finishing stage of the growing process. During this stage the plants slow their growing process down and concentrate mostly on developing flowers. This causes them to use less water so we have to be very careful during this time to not let them get overly wet. Over-watering a poinsettia is one of the fastest ways to make them sick, and the sickness caused by over-watering is almost always fatal. That is a good thing to remember when you are growing them in your home.

By Thanksgiving the plants are well into the finishing stages and most are ready for sale. If there is a problem with a plant at this point, the game is over, because there is no time to fix them before Christmas. Even if the plants had all the time in the world, once they produce their bracts they are finished growing for the year. The only way to restart the growth of the green parts of the plant is to cut off all of the bracts, and that would make for one ugly poinsettia at Christmas.

From what I have written so far it might seem like growing poinsettias is a pretty straightforward and well-organized thing for us at Johnny Appleseed. But, even though we have been growing them for many years, they still find ways to make us sweat every season. I do not now whether it is in spite of, or because of the poinsettia's difficult nature, but they are my favorite crop to grow. Maybe the challenges they present make producing a good crop all the more rewarding. In any case the difficulties producing them make us all very thankful when December rolls around, and they are all heading off to new homes.

I am also very thankful for all of you that read my articles each month, and I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a wonderful start to the New Year.

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