Poinsettias continue to be a critical and challenging crop for growers. Improvements in breeding have made it easier to finish a quality plant, but flat pricing and cost increases have made profitability for growers elusive. Developing reduced-cost production models and positioning the right varieties for these models is key to poinsettia growing success.
Growers are implementing three primary strategies for reducing the cost of production. The first and most common is automation of irrigation. The use of flood floors, spaghetti drippers and drip tape systems has allowed growers to reduce their irrigation labor, increase the precision of irrigations and reduce run-off. Improved irrigation systems also have allowed growers to maximize their growing space by not requiring watering aisles. However, this limits the grower’s access to the crop and requires varieties that are extremely uniform.
Increasing the density of production also can be achieved by tightening the space of the crop. Figure 1 shows that growing a high-quality, 6-inch crop in a bay with automatic irrigation is possible to dramatically increase the production output by tightening up the crop. By using a staggered spacing pattern (Figure 2), growers can increase the space around each plant without sacrificing density.
To achieve this increase in density and maintain quality, growers must select varieties that are extremely uniform, have appropriate leaf size and have a strong upright branching structure.
The third strategy for reducing production costs is to lower the energy put into the crop by cool growing. This concept has received much attention in the last few years and has proven to be difficult to implement, especially for northern growers. The key challenge is that the time to reduce the energy input with the most impact is at finish. Many varieties struggle to develop bracts in the cooler average temperature. Botrytis, Pythium, bract color shift and center drop also are problems.
Although lowering energy as an input is the most difficult strategy to implement, it can bring the largest return for many growers. As with the other techniques, careful variety selection is critical for this strategy to be successful.
Selecta is an example of a European breeding company that has responded to the grower’s need to provide varieties that work in lower production-cost systems. As a result, they have seen their sales in Europe triple in the last five years. Breeders’ variety selection criteria are now being focused on critical production attributes, including uniformity of branching, upright habit and strong root systems that can withstand a wide variety of irrigation methods, including flood floors.
Selecta’s Christmas Feelings series, as well as some others, including the Premium series from Dümmen, target medium vigor, modest leaf size and uniformity, making them adaptable for 4-, 5- and 6-inch production. Early and mid-season timing make these choices viable for many chain store uses, including Black Friday programs.
Taking its place in the important higher vigor, mid-season red market is Selecta’s ‘Christmas Day Red’ and Ecke’s ‘Prestige Red.’ Their uniform, upright branching habit creates an “all-on-top” bract presentation. The breeding has focused on substantial, long-lasting cyathia and large bracts. These have proven to be ideally suited for cool finishing temperatures and work well in all pot sizes.
Our industry’s extensive poinsettia breeding programs and grower-focused breeding goals will continue to provide growers with a variety of choices that will improve plant quality, as well as help control poinsettia production costs.