Poinsettias, a Christmas crop for greenhouse growers

For many greenhouse growers, December's 'crop' is poinsettias, a Christmas favorite.

AP Photo/Jim Rydbom
Tagawa Greenhouses employee Maria Anguina is surrounded in a sea of red as she bags poinsettias for Home Depot outlets. The greenhouses on the Tagawa property have teemed with activity in the past month as workers bundled and moved more than 120,000 potted poinsettias.

It was a close call for the poinsettias grown in Weld County, Colo.

It was early December, the temperatures were below freezing, and owners of the Tagawa Greenhouses in southern Weld County feared their holiday cash crop might not make it.

John Williams, the greenhouses' vice president of production, says workers could do nothing but wait — and they got a holiday miracle. The plants survived the night.

"If they get chilled, the worst thing to do is turn up the heat," Mr. Williams told the Greeley Tribune. "You just have to wait it out. If it turns black, throw it away. If it comes back, you know you're OK."

The greenhouses on the 22-acre Tagawa property two miles from Lochbuie have teemed with activity in the past month as workers bundled and moved more than 120,000 potted poinsettias.

The plants were created from 500,000 cuttings shipped in from central America and were destined for stores throughout Colorado.

Poinsettias are the main crop that keeps Tagawa — now 42 years old — moving product through Christmas, their seasonally slower time.

Tagawa ships Easter lilies, bedding plants, and vegetables in the spring, using more than 500 employees. At Christmas, the nurseries pare down to about 140.

Williams and another owner, Bill Kluth, say their greenhouse business is hanging on despite the recession.

"On our retail-ready side, business is up," Williams says. "Flowers bring happiness to people. People may not travel as much (these days) and if they hang around the house, especially in the spring, maybe they bring more flowers home."

The company also is diversifying to bridge the hiring gaps between the seasons. Three years ago, Tagawa began rooting loblolly pine trees for the southern United States timber industry, which now encompasses 10 percent of their gross sales.

"It was an opportunity for a different customer base," Williams says. "We could diversify and it was noncompetitive with our current business and it has potential to dare we say it grow."

Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers get their start in the greenhouses, and also are gaining on the Tagawa balance sheets as more people look for ways to save money. Business really didn't hurt when First Lady Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden last spring on the south lawn of the White House, Williams says.

But the greenhouse owners say they're still looking for opportunity — even in the poinsettia business. They're working on developing a hardier poinsettia.

"There's a lot of fear about killing stuff and having a brown thumb," Mr. Kluth says. "We want to make sure we're sending out plants that are easy to have success with. If you buy a poinsettia and have a good experience, maybe you'll buy another one."

Now, the endless tables of poinsettias areempty. Next on the agenda: Mother's Day.

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