Poinsettia Growers Discuss Their Recent Trials And Triumphs
Ask top poinsettia growers about the plant’s future, and their responses are emphatic: The No. 1 plant of the holiday season is here to stay.
This response comes straight from the source. Each year, Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses, Millstadt Young Plants, and Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse trial the industry’s top varieties hoping to learn which will entice their customers every winter. Here’s what each company had to say about its 2015 trials, triumphs, and plans for the future.
Dan Schantz Farm And Greenhouses: Poinsettias Are The Christmas Plant
When it comes to running successful poinsettia trials, it requires teamwork, dedication, and perhaps a grower with superhuman recall. No one knows this better than Dan Schantz Farm and Greenhouses in Zionsville, PA.
The operation has been running trials since the mid-2000s, supervising 200 cultivar varieties — all with different growing characteristics and habits — each year. This means separating each cultivar by breeder, color, variety, and growing requirements.
How does the operation manage to keep everything straight, even when the chaos of spring takes hold? The farm has a secret weapon in grower Ian Phelps. As the poinsettia point person, Phelps can name a variety simply by looking at it. The trials, though, are more than an experiment in how to build successful organization protocols. Poinsettia trials are an endurance test.
“The trials themselves are not an easy thing to add to an already busy spring and summer schedule, so it is something that needs to be seriously considered before embarking on hosting a trial at your own facility,” says Paul Hardiman, Head Grower at Dan Schantz. “Taking on a trial can be an added expense to the bottom line of a greenhouse operation and requires that growers will have to be dedicated to raising the crop and sticking with it all the way through the trial, which usually happens in November of most years.”
At the end of the trial, however, the company gains first-hand knowledge about how to grow varieties that will perform for and impress its customers. In 2015, the trial judges selected the best red, pink, novelty, and white varieties, also awarding “judge’s favorite” and “best of greenhouse” honors. Hardiman says the standout plants included the Christmas Feelings and Christmas Ribbons series from Selecta, ‘Titan Pink’ from Syngenta, ‘Pallas Red’ from Beekenkamp, and a numbered (but not yet named) variety from Dümmen Orange that was given a “best future possibility” honor. Dan Schantz Farm will likely integrate some or all of these varieties into its production.
In addition to a stellar line-up of poinsettias each year, Michael Foster, Production Assistant at Dan Schantz and mastermind behind the website, PoinsettiaTrial.com, says the trials offer other perks, as well.
“Dan Schantz Farm has hosted the trials, not only for the benefits that it offers us in terms of being able to adjust our regular growing varieties with new introductions that we learn about through the trial,” he says. “But it also allows us to bring together other growers who face these same issues and put them with the breeders who might be able to shed some light on the questions the growers might be facing in their own operations.”
In 2016, Dan Schantz Farm has opted not to take on the responsibilities of a trial. Hardiman says this doesn’t spell the end of the operation’s trials. The decision will be made on a year-to-year basis. Even without the trials, Hardiman and Foster say they believe the plant will continue to be a Christmas-time favorite.
“The future of the poinsettia is probably pretty secure, but presentation of the poinsettia might become more gift-like with decorative sleeves, pot covers that really make each plant very special, and special-buy pots to put the poinsettias in, such as the Santa Boot that was rather popular this year,” Foster says, noting that even with its holiday-season popularity, the crop might not be a fit for every operation.
“For many greenhouses, the poinsettia is a finicky plant to grow, and many of the smaller growers may give up on growing them in their own houses. The slack will be taken up by the larger operations because what would Christmas be without the traditional poinsettia decorating our homes during the season?”
Millstadt Young Plants: The Future For Poinsettias Is Now
Millstadt Young Plants in Millstadt, IL, was first approached about hosting poinsettia trials in the Midwest region when Purdue University decided to stop running its trials. Now in its seventh year, Millstadt’s trials have grown into what many describe as the “biggest and best” around. Adam Heimos, the grower in charge of the trials, has a theory about how the operation earned this lofty reputation.
“I think how we got to this point was on trust, starting with the breeders: They have too much riding on these trials. They have to trust that we will present their product in the best way possible,” he says. “Then, the brokers have to trust that we are providing an accurate representation so they can sell these plants to their clients. Lastly, we have to trust our retailers to relay what the everyday customer is looking for in a poinsettia. If this life-cycle of communication can stay open, I have no doubt we will keep this trial going.”
Heimos says this method paid off in 2015, and the trials were a success. Although he declined to name “the best” variety of the trials, Heimos says he has a few favorites.
“I like ‘Pallas Red’ from Beekenkamp. It has a smaller bract, but makes up for that with quantity. Most of the plants had a canopy full of beautifully red bracts. Pallas is a smaller-vigor poinsettia but showed very well,” he says, also praising the Christmas Feelings series from Selecta and Premium series from Dümmen Orange. “Syngenta’s ‘Whitestar’ still stands as the best white on the market, and the Titan series had a good showing with three colors.”
Even with a greenhouse full of beautiful blooms and consistent successes, the trials continue to offer new challenges and opportunities each year. Heimos stresses that having access to cutting-edge cultivars is somewhat of a blessing and a curse.
“First and foremost, the biggest benefit and the biggest challenge has to be that we get to grow the newest poinsettias that haven’t hit the market,” he says, noting that while the new plants bring the greenhouse ample press and publicity, the pressure to organize everything from the cuttings to the final setup without misrepresenting a single variety is immense. “The more we get to learn on how to grow the new varieties, the better the trial will become in the future.”
Having a strong path forward with respect to the trials is important, particularly because Heimos says he thinks poinsettias are having a moment.
“The future is now,” he says. “Dümmen Orange released its ‘Gold Rush’ poinsettia that has definitely shaken things up. Syngenta has the Titan series that continues to perform. Selecta’s traditionalist ways contain some of my favorite varieties.”
Ultimately this level of innovation will only continue. Heimos even has a suggestion for breeders: “I think a bio-luminescent poinsettia would be rather unique.”
Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse: Poinsettias Publicity Is Good For Business
Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse in King, NC, first caught the poinsettia bug in 1996, but the operation didn’t begin trialing the plant until 2004. It all began when Jim and Judy Mitchell attended the trials at their alma mater, North Carolina State University.
Determined to start something closer to home, Judy approached a Syngenta representative about the project. The rep agreed to send a few extra cuttings of different varieties, prompting Judy to order a few extra varieties from other breeders for the next year. Mitchell’s first trial included 30 to 35 varieties. In 2015, the grower trialed 33 red varieties alone, with an additional 20 pink, 15 white, and 29 novelty varieties, resulting in more than 9,000 total poinsettias.
Jim and Judy’s son Jay, who helps run the family business, says this dedication to growing its trials has been crucial in helping Mitchell’s expanding its overall reach.
“The trials have helped build our business,” he says. “They make us a unique destination. It’s fun. It exposes our customers to more than just Red, Pink, White, and Jingle Bells [varieties].”
Jay also mentioned that the trials bring the greenhouse positive publicity, but that the amount of magazine and newspaper articles and visits and live broadcasts from local TV stations is a testament to his mom’s hard work.
“She has learned how and when to call or email and get great coverage,” Jay says. “Everyone wants to do stories on unique Christmas activities. Poinsettias always make great pictures, but you can’t wait for someone to call you. You have to make the call and give them the idea, then also be willing to work with their schedule — even if it is 5:30 in the morning — to set up for the morning news broadcast.”
This year, the stations had plenty of gorgeous eye candy from Mitchell’s to help carry viewer ratings. Some of the highlights included ‘Ice Punch’ (novelty), ‘Carousel Dark Red’ (red), and ‘Winter Rose Red Early’ (novelty), which snagged the top three spots in the “best overall” category of the trials. Jay also mentioned other “best of” varieties, including ‘Euro Glory’ and ‘Christmas Feelings Merlot’ reds, ‘Whitestar’ and ‘Infinity Polar’ whites, ‘Christmas Lights’ and ‘Christmas Seasons’ pinks, and ‘Red Glitter’ and ‘Pink Candy’ novelties.
As the number of successful varieties continues to grow and diversify, Jay sees the operation improving its methods.
“Each poinsettia grows different,” he says. “And every year I learn a little more about growing better, more consistent, and uniform plants.”