Raymond nursery produces thousands of the Christmas plants

Published 2:00 am Saturday, December 1, 2012

Stores across the country are offering pots of America’s favorite Christmas plant, the poinsettia. They grow wild in Mexico and Central America, but were not well-known in the States until the turn of the 20th century.

A young German entrepreneur, Paul Ecke, was the first to recognize the plant’s commercial possibilities. He planted fields of them in southern California and sold them at roadside stands around the Hollywood and Beverly Hills area.

He also sent them to popular holiday television shows and, by the 1960s, most Americans knew about these brilliant flowers and wanted them in their homes for the holidays.

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Standing Pines Nursery in Raymond is one of the larger growers and distributors of poinsettias for our area. This fall it is delivering more than 10,000 poinsettias to independent nurseries throughout Mississippi and surrounding states.

In their 30 greenhouses, the nursery grows grow all kinds of bedding plants throughout the year but in November, many of its greenhouses are filled with a sea of red.

Owner Jodie Ogletree told me that the nursery was started in 1967 by his father, a Mississippi State graduate who had worked at the Hinds Co-op in Jackson, which is known today as Huttos.

He started with just a couple of greenhouses. In 1974, the nursery grew their first poinsettias and they have been an integral part of their business since.

David Jacobs, who at one time had his own greenhouse business, works for Standing Pines and is their poinsettia point man.

He starts the rooted cuttings or plugs in August, and using the nursery’s own potting mix formula, carefully tend the plants in greenhouses until they are ready for delivery.

Many of their grow tables have coils through which hot water circulates to warm the soil beneath the rooted cuttings to promote growth, as well as preventing them from having to run the heaters as much when the weather starts to cool. This is particularly important with the poinsettias.

The poinsettia greenhouses are equipped with automated shade in which a computer regulates the amount of light the plants receive.

Poinsettias are photoperiodic, meaning they develop their color and produce flowers as autumn nights lengthen. They need at least 12 hours of darkness to set the buds, Jacobs explained, and they have to do this artificially early in their greenhouses to get the poinsettias ready for holiday sales.

Standing Pines Nursery grows several varieties of poinsettias; some are the traditional red, others are white and some are pink or variegated. Jacobs said varieties grown today are more grower- and customer-friendly. They are not as temperamental as those of just a few years ago.

One of the most popular reds is Prestige, which he described as tough. Standing Pines grows Classic Red, Classic White and Classic Pink, plus several novelty varieties. Plus they are testing some of the newer introductions on the market, some of which have not even been named.

Jacobs gave some tips for caring for poinsettias during the holiday season:

• Water when you can stick your finger in the soil and it feels dry; however, if they are allowed to dry out too much, they tend to start dropping their leaves.

• Never let them sit in water. After the water drains through them into a saucer, discard it promptly.

• Be careful where you place poinsettias in your house. They like to be in a brightly lighted room but can’t handle cold drafts or too much heat.

• Always remember to poke holes in the bottom of decorative foil wrapping paper to allow water to drain out when you water them.

With proper care, poinsettias will look lovely all through the Christmas season.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg MS 39183.