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Poinsettias stand tall after warm, wet fall

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

You'd think growing crops indoors would protect you from the whims of the weather. You'd be wrong. Among the crops hit hard by the uncommonly wet, warm fall in Georgia is a holiday favorite: poinsettias.

"Growers have been struggling with a series of weather-related issues this fall," said Paul Thomas, an extension service floriculturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Georgia greenhouse crop hasn't been pounded as badly as outdoor crops like cotton, peanuts and tobacco. But it has been hurt. And shoppers are accustomed to getting "perfect" poinsettias.

Perfection?

"I'm afraid perfection isn't going to be commonplace this year," Thomas said.

The problems have to do with heat and light levels. In August, the poinsettia cuttings struggled in the heat and grew too slowly. Then in the fall, under persistent heat, the plants began growing faster and plants wound up ahead of schedule by mid-October.

Then it turned cloudy and rainy. October and early November are usually dry, cool and sunny. But this year it was warm, wet and cloudy.

This caused the poinsettias to stretch and become a few inches taller. "It was the very thing growers all over the state were afraid might happen," Thomas said. "Growers needed cool, sunny days to slow plants and produce strong stems. They got the opposite."

South Georgia hit hard

The untimely weather hit particularly hard in south Georgia, where fall greenhouse temperatures remained 5 to 7 degrees above normal well into October.

The hot greenhouses had dramatic effects on poinsettias' growth, said Bodie Pennisi, a UGA horticulturist specializing in greenhouse flowers.

"Most growers are actually grateful for the rain which has helped reduce the effects of the five-year drought. However, the relief came at a bad time," Pennisi said.

"The heat caused a significant delay in bract color development," she said. "The bracts will be beautiful by Christmas, but perhaps not perfect by the time they need to be in the shops and stores."

You may not notice

The average shopper may not notice the difference this year, she said, because the plants will likely catch up by Christmas. To growers, though, not making that mark of perfection on schedule is a huge disappointment.

"They really try hard, and poinsettias are one of the toughest crops to grow in a greenhouse," Pennisi said. "This year will go down as one of those things that happens to all farmers at some time or another. Sometimes things don't work out perfectly, even though our growers have tried to do everything right."

Georgia-grown poinsettias will still look fine by Christmas, Thomas said, and will be arriving in flower shops and garden centers in the next few weeks. Some may be a week or so late arriving.

Not a new trend

"If they look a bit taller, it's not a new trend," Thomas said. "Blame it on the weather."

Being a little taller will put poinsettias in need of more careful handling. "Red ribbon tied midplant-high will keep stems from falling over and breaking," he said. "Most growers will be tying them up."

You may need to be a little more careful, too, as you take your poinsettias home from the store and otherwise move them around.

After all the trouble the weather has caused, these gorgeous plants should still brighten the holidays enough to make Georgia growers' struggles worthwhile.

And there is a bright note for shoppers. "Being a little later will make poinsettias 'fresher,'" Thomas said. "They should last a bit longer after the holidays."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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