INDIANAPOLIS — At first glance, poinsettias may appear exactly as is: Bright, colorful red blooms that people celebrate each year as the Christmas flower.
The popular plant’s red petals actually are colored leaves that it has adapted to attract natural pollinators, but this hasn’t stopped generations of families from seeking out poinsettias each year around the holidays.
Discovered in Taxco del Alarcon by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico, poinsettias are one of many flower varieties produced by Schlegel Greenhouse on the southwest side of Indianapolis.
“We started growing and selling poinsettias to interior scapes, but then we pursued flower shops,” said Paul Schlegel, who originally is from Cleveland, but whose family moved to Indiana and has been growing poinsettias since the late 1970s.
“We sell to probably 80 percent of flower shops in the area. We are raising a product for high-end garden centers.”
Together with his two sons and about 10 employees, Schlegel buys the three-inch-tall rooted poinsettia plants in July from two Indiana operations and begins cultivating them for intense sales from Thanksgiving through Christmas.
“We can grow a poinsettia in five months, but it will take us from now until Christmas Eve to deliver all our poinsettias,” the grower said.
“The plants are handled one at a time and shipped in small trucks, and we ship to smaller shops that do not have loading docks. It’s an arduous process to get the crop out the door, but it’s worth it.”
The family’s most popular poinsettia is a 6.5-inch-diameter bloom, available in colors including red, white, pink, marble, ruby frost, maroon and sparkling punch for $7.95 each.
Just as much fun as viewing the sea of red poinsettias growing through drip irrigation in the greenhouse is envisioning how customers might display them in their homes.
Larger poinsettia arrangements are available in a 36-inch topiary with duckfoot ivy, a 10-inch hanging basket, 8.5-inch and 7.5-inch diameters and smaller bloom single stems.
Schlegel estimated they grow about 25,000 poinsettias a year on about 120,000 square feet of growing space — 70,000 of which is devoted to poinsettias — and make many sales and contacts through their website.
It is much easier to raise the cultivars now than it was a couple decades ago, he noted.
“Growing them never changes — it’s just about being proactive and reactive,” he said. “The technique and fertilizer demands change, and we have growth regulators out there that were not present five or 10 years ago. We have the ability to grow a quality product with some new cultivars.”
Insects can be a problem in poinsettia production. The white fly is a common pest that feasts on the plant’s broad leaves, and the drought and previous mild winter drove many insects into the greenhouse’s lush interior over the summer, Schlegel said.
“We can’t have any insects on the plants when they go out the door,” he said.
The Schlegels also must take care in delivering the plants, often doubling up on sleeves and sending extra supervision during shipment.
They advise their customers to remove the plants from the decorative sleeves to water them since they are tropical plants that hate sitting in water.
While they always have offered poinsettias through fundraisers, the Schlegels have pushed their fundraising efforts to independent organizations, churches and schools in the last few years, the grower said.
The poinsettia business has changed quite a bit over the years. Few commercial growers keep root stock anymore, instead sourcing it from another propagator, Schlegel said.
He noted their production probably was at its highest level in 2007, but that they have downsized since then.
As a family-owned operation in business since 1972, the Schlegels specialize in offering premium-quality products, personalized customer care and custom growing and delivery through a central location in Indianapolis.
“Everyone should have a couple poinsettias in their home, on both sides of their fireplace,” Schlegel said.
For more information or to order poinsettias, visit www.schlegelgreenhouse.com or call (317) 784-6038.
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