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Poinsettia preparation begins well before holiday

Wed., July 10, 2013

The label in the potted soil reads “Freedom Fireworks,” but they will explode with color slowly, over the course of months.

In the near-triple-digit temperatures of last week, Liberty Park Florist and Greenhouse in Spokane’s South Perry District received its first 800 of the 3,500 poinsettias it will sell for Christmas.

“People are always surprised that we start thinking about Christmas in July in this business,” said greenhouse manager Damien Fitzpatrick, as he drilled his index and middle finger into the soil to make space for the next poinsettia.

With nearly 300 pots in front of him, Fitzpatrick plopped three plants at a time from long strips of containers. It took 10 seconds or so for him to fill 8  1/2-inch-diameter pots with three. Many were the best-selling “Prestige Red,” a traditional red. Freedom Fireworks, one of several varieties planted, is also red, with long, thin leaves.

The 3-inch plants were small branches on larger poinsettias until they were cut in May and placed in containers, where they sprouted roots. They were boxed and shipped to Spokane, where they were planted. They will be watered carefully, and in the coming weeks, their tops will be snipped to increase production of the leaves that will turn color.

They’ll remain fully green until around Sept. 20. That’s when daylight will shrink to about 13 1/2 hours, the poinsettia’s signal for its top leaves to turn red, pink, white, dotted, peppermint or any number of vibrant color schemes.

Jim Alice, third-generation owner of Liberty Park, said the greenhouse has been growing and selling poinsettias as long as he can remember. Varieties have substantially improved since the days when his dad would plant ferns with the poinsettias because the leaves were so quick to drop.

Although poinsettias fill his greenhouse by Thanksgiving, he said they are still only about half of his business in December. He estimates that 60 percent or more of his poinsettia sales are traditional red varieties.

Fitzpatrick, who has two teenage daughters, is working on his 15th poinsettia crop, his sixth at Liberty Park.

“They’re challenging, but it’s really rewarding when you see what you’ve done for six months,” he said. “It’s a lot like raising a bunch of kids without all the repercussions.”

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