by Gail March Yerke
With over 34 million plants sold last year during the holiday season in the U.S. alone, it’s easy to see why the poinsettia is known as the “Christmas flower.” Today’s grower can choose from myriad varieties for their production schedule. Originally only available in a standard red, poinsettias are now offered in in multi-colored varieties as well as variations of pink, white, yellow, salmon and purple.
While variety may be the spice of life, most of us still prefer the traditional red flower – just ask Tom Hartman of Hartman’s Towne and Country Greenhouse. “We grow 20 varieties of poinsettias and red is still the most popular,” he said.
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Manitowoc, WI, the business was started by Tom and his wife Diane in 1985 and is open year-round. Tom and their son Chris focus on the growing side of the family business; Diane takes care of marketing and retail sales. Tom also serves on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Commercial Flower Growers, an educational and advocacy group for the green industry.
Their market reach extends northward through the greater Green Bay area and stretches along the lakeshore communities of Lake Michigan. “In the past we did a lot of newspaper advertising. Today we use social media and our website,” said Diane. “We run radio ads and have a morning call-in show during the spring season,” added Tom. They also cover the local Green Bay market with television commercials during the spring season.
Like other greenhouses, the poinsettia growing season at Hartman’s starts in July. “We start the larger containers the first week of July and our last planting is in August,” said Tom. In addition to the standard potted material, they grow split garden hanging baskets. Their 24,000-square-foot space dedicated for the crop has standard retail benching in the front sales area and rolling benches on automatic watering toward the back of the house. Aisle gates are set up during the holiday sales season to separate the two areas. Customers can select their poinsettias directly from the greenhouse benches where they are grown and staff will add a decorative pot cover and bow of their choice.
The Hartmans try new poinsettia varieties every year. “Christmas Wish is one of our early reds and should be ready by Thanksgiving,” Tom said. The new variety was just starting to show color in mid-October. Other varieties added this year include Mirage Red, a white variety called Alaska and Christmas Beauty Red. Tom and Chris start their stock from rooted cuttings brought in in two-week intervals. Sizes offered vary from the single plant in a four-inch pot to the eight- and 10-inch containers with three in each planter. Their best seller is the 6.5-inch container.
With greenhouse bench space at a premium, prefinished poinsettias have become a popular option for growers as well. Those that don’t have the time or bench space to start their plants in summer will wait and bring in their poinsettias in early autumn. “The prefinished part of our crop is shipped out to other greenhouses in late September,” said Tom. “We then do our final spacing for the remainder of the crop.” Spacing is one of the keys to the success of their florist-quality poinsettias. Poinsettias may not be the easiest greenhouse crop to grow, but the Hartmans make it look that way.
With a preferred media mix of 35% bark, Tom varies their greenhouse temperatures with 70º days and 65º – 66º night temperatures until mid-November, when they are dropped to 60º. When asked if there were any light sources that might interfere with the crop, he said they didn’t have any issues with ambient lighting and simply turned off any exterior yard lights at night.
The majority of their crop is sold retail. “Retail makes the world go ‘round,” he said. Besides direct retail and prefinished sales, Hartman’s offers a church program for poinsettias. With 45 church groups participating, they also offer blooming plants during the Easter season. Local nonprofit groups can take advantage of their spring fundraiser program as well. Rather than selling plants, participants sell gift certificates to be redeemed at the greenhouse. Groups profit by keeping 20% of the gift certificate sales.
Offering a complete holiday shopping experience, Diane’s gift shop brims with holiday décor and gifts. The family also offers fresh Christmas wreaths and greenery. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to select their holiday plants direct from the greenhouse, it’s an amazing experience. It’s like “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy lands in the Land of Oz and the film changes from black and white to color. Walking from the bleak, black and white Midwest winter into a greenhouse filled with colorful poinsettias will take your breath away.