Blooms Of The Season

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Deck your halls with a classic holiday showstopper: the poinsettia. Hy-Vee offers favorite shades to complement any yuletide décor. Looking for clever ways to dress seasonal bloomers on a shoestring budget? We’ll show you how.

As March winds bluster, Cindy Sulzman is thinking Christmas. But it’s not visions of sugar plums that dance in her head, it’s poinsettias—over 100,000 plants. “Across our 231 stores, Hy-Vee sells roughly 70,000 red poinsettias and 30,000 in assorted shades of pink, marble, white and burgundy,” says Cindy, Assistant Vice-President, Hy-Vee Floral Operations.

A major grower/supplier of Hy-Vee’s poinsettia is Red Oak Greenhouses in Red Oak, Iowa. Started in 1966 by Russell Johnson and his brother, today the greenhouse continues in family-run fashion under the leadership of Russell’s sons, Mark and Bryce, and business partner, Dennis Bloom.

Mark and Bryce grew up in the greenhouses following their father as he made his daily—and nightly—rounds, checking on things. “We’d eat dinner and run to the greenhouses with Dad to check the temperatures, the greenhouse vents or the boilers,” Mark says. “In winter it was great because it was always warm in there. We called it our little slice of Florida.”

As children, the brothers played hide-and-seek among the plants and benches. As teens, they filled free time shooting hoops in the shipping warehouse. Today they spend their time growing and marketing potted floral crops, including spring bedding plants, fall garden mums and holiday poinsettias.

Mark, the sales and marketing director, says customer satisfaction has spurred growth of the business. “Dad started this business with 30,000 square feet of growing space. Today we have 18 acres in production. The driving reason behind the expansion is serving our customers.” Cindy agrees. “Their ultimate goal is to satisfy the end-user—our Hy-Vee floral customers—and give them the best possible value in the plants they purchase.”

POINSETTIAS: START TO FINISH
The first signs of the annual poinsettia crop cross Bryce’s desk in January as he orders cuttings for that growing year. Poinsettias arrive at the greenhouses in June, hitting the doorstep as fragile, unrooted cuttings from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. The rooting process requires 4 weeks. It takes another 12 to 15 weeks to yield a sales-ready plant blooming with holiday cheer.

Red Oak growers use automated growing techniques, including computerized temperature, vent and lighting controls, and mechanical watering booms for hands-free irrigation.

Still, growing flawless poinsettias does demand a human touch. “We handle the delicate cuttings by hand when planting,” Bryce says. “What we do during the actual growing process is heavily weather-dependent.” Bryce and his growers walk the long rows of flowers several times a week, evaluating plant growth. “Each year the weather is just different enough that you have to change your recipe for success.”

PICTURE-PERFECT PLANTS
Tucked into boxes stacked on trucks, poinsettias leave Red Oak Greenhouses in the middle of the night as drivers head toward Hy-Vee stores all over the Midwest. When the trucks arrive at the stores, Hy-Vee florists quickly unpack the fragile cargo to ensure its freshness and enhance its lifespan in a home setting.

“Like Red Oak growers, we also continuously check the poinsettias,” Cindy says. “Our florists make sure plants are watered and any broken leaves are removed.” Daily attention assures that greenery will be in perfect condition when you take it home.

Bryce appreciates the Hy-Vee staff’s care and insistence on quality. “They market their poinsettias by the spread—how large the plant is at the top. That means a 6-inch pot will have roughly a 12- to 15-inch canopy and at least five blooms.” Spread size rivals the quality of poinsettia found at traditional florist shops.

When shopping for a poinsettia, Cindy suggests looking for a plant “with a large spread, good flower power and healthy leaves.” It’s also important that the centers of the blooms, called the cyathia, aren’t open and showing bright yellow pollen.

After choosing a plant, a sleeve and bag will protect it against cold on the journey home. Once inside, don’t place poinsettias near windows, doors or heating vents. When watering, hold plant over a basin, allowing the poinsettia to drain. Hy-Vee florist Stephanie Price says, “If the plant sits in water, the roots will rot.”

Your Hy-Vee fl orist can assist you with deocrating ideas. “They can dress your poinsettias with decorative pots, ribbons, spray glitter, twinkle lights or other festive touches—things that will blend with your holiday décor,” Cindy says. “They’ll also help you trim a poinsettia for easy gift-giving.”

Hy-Vee Seasons Magazine December 2017

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