Judy Sanderlin has learned plenty about poinsettias in 40 years.
“There’s a lot of tricks to getting them right,” she said. “But it’s something you get used to.”
Each year, the Sanderlin family devotes 10 of Sanderlin Green Houses’ 38 sprawling greenhouses to cultivating the endless varieties of a brilliant shrub that accounts for $220 million in seasonal sales across the country.
A perennial favorite is the Peterstar, which grows larger and produces broader blooms than many species.
“We have them in red, white, even marble,” Sanderlin said. “They can also come in peachy colors, pinks and whites, but the No. 1 is always the red.”
Sanderlin Green Houses starts its poinsettia cycle in August, when tiny rooted cuttings are shipped from licensed distribution stations.
Each plant is staked and tied by hand, and a four-month growing process produces the expanse of brilliant red – about 5,000 plants in all – that lures customers back year after year.
“We opened the nursery 42 years ago,” she said. “And we’ve done the poinsettias 40 years now. A lot of people who come in have been coming here for years, and some of them have been coming here a lot of years.”
Growing the plants requires consistent moisture and a controlled climate.
“You need fungicide sprays, and they are heavy feeders, too,” she said. “They like 65 degrees at night and 80 in the day.”
The plant is named after Joel Robert Poinsett, who introduced it to the U.S. in 1825 after noticing it in its native southern Mexico habitat while he served as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Since then, its popularity has soared, but only during the holidays.
“We sell a lot of them to schools to use as fundraisers and to garden centers and other places,” Sanderlin said. “We also sell lots of them as retail.”
The nursery on Scotts Ferry Road is open seven days a week until Christmas Eve, after which leftover poinsettias are donated to nursing homes and similar places.
“Poinsettias are pretty,” Sanderlin said. “But the prettiest thing for us is to see the wood of all the empty plant racks after Christmas Day.”