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Virginia produces more than 2 million poinsettas

Besides fresh Christmas trees, few florae exemplify the holiday spirit like poinsettias, and local growers are ready for the season.

Poinsettias are cultivated in all 50 states and are one of the top-selling plants in the nation. The 2018 U.S. Department of Agriculture Floriculture Crops Summary showed potted poinsettias accounted for $149 million in U.S. floriculture sales that year. In Virginia, about 2.2 million poinsettias with a wholesale value of $10.3 million were raised commercially in 2018.

“Many consumers may not be aware Virginia is fortunate to have a number of poinsettia growers around the state,” Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said. 

Banks said the plant’s popularity is an additional income opportunity for nurseries and farms during late fall. Vegetable and tobacco farms also can utilize their greenhouses between seasons to raise the flowering plant, he noted.

Stephanie Black, a grower and manager of Atlantic Growers in New Kent County, said she begins selling poinsettias Thanksgiving week, and most people start buying them right after that holiday.

“It’s just tradition,” she said. “It’s one of the [plants] that’s reliably the red color that everybody associates with Christmas — with the pretty green leaves underneath.”

Poinsettias come in a variety of dazzling colors and patterns, but the solid reds remain bestsellers. Black said her customers marvel over varieties that are cream, pink and red glitter — one that has red leaves with white splotches — but most of them buy the red. 

While buyers enjoy their poinsettias during the holidays, most don’t save the plants afterward because they can be challenging to care for.

“They are extremely sensitive,” Black said. “[People] will just throw it away and wait until next year.”

Though they’re associated with wintertime holidays, poinsettias are tropical plants that prefer warm temperatures. To ensure poinsettias thrive during the holidays, an indoor temperature around 65 to 70 degrees is ideal.

To nurture a poinsettia for next year, Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends cutting the plant back to about 5 inches from the soil surface and repotting in fresh soil once the leaves — or bracts — fade or fall. Set the plant where it will receive indirect light and temperatures around 55 to 60 degrees, and water sparingly. When new growth begins, place in a well-lit window and pinch new growth to produce more stems. 

In addition, the poinsettia needs continuous periods of darkness — at least 12 hours — each night to grow its colorful bracts.