Saturday, October 3, 2009

They're coming. . . .

So brace yourselves.

Where I used to work, mid-October was about the time when the poinsettias arrived. There's a long list of things about the job I am happy to be rid of, but the points are somewhere in the top five, maybe even the top two. Miserable, wretched things.


lynn'sgarden said...

There's nothing more beautiful, to me, than a greenhouse filled with poinsettias! Why were they a pain??

Mae said...

We call poinsettias the Red Plague. I used to work at two wholesale nurseries here in California and was SOO happy when I changed to a plug producer so I wouldn't have to deal with the durn things. They are beautiful, but when you're stuck with an entire greenhouse on Dec. 26th, you get sick of them.

New to your blog, but really enjoying it!

Hermes said...

I always feel sorry for them - so few will survice more than a few weeks.

Paul said...

LOL, I had a friend who used to work for a commercial greenhouse. I learned through him just what a pain in the arse were. They were in his top 5 "What I hate about this job" too ... might even have held the #1 spot.

mr_subjunctive said...


It's not that they're not pretty. (I like them better when they're green, but the blooming plants can also be nice.) But:

The way we were set up, we watered all the plants at once, by flooding the tables they were sitting on. The tables were covered with water-absorbent mats, which held the water until it could wick up into the soil of all the plants, thereby watering them all at once. Sounds good in theory, except that the tables weren't level, so water would often not reach the corners, and it would pond in other spots, and customers would pick the plants up and then set them down on top of one of the little tubes that were supposed to deliver the water to the table, raising the bottom of the pot at an angle so those particular pots weren't touching the mats and couldn't wick up any water. So some plants always got too much water, and some of them never got enough, and I would still have to go through with a watering can and check all the plants individually: flooding the tables was supposed to be a time-saving thing, but it actually made everything take longer, and for two poinsettia seasons in a row I complained about this but could never get the boss to agree with me that this was a dumb way of doing things.

Points are also really prone to bugs, especially whitefly. The first year I was there, we had a minor problem with whitefly early in the season, though it had pretty much gone away by the time people were ready to buy them.

The second year was better as far as whitefly went, but a lot of our plants had a fungus when they came in, and dropped leaves constantly as a result. The whole thing was kind of a disaster, because we didn't figure out what the problem was until it was too late to do anything about it, and when the boss asked the supplier about it, the supplier blamed me for not treating the plants with fungicide, even though fungicide had never been necessary in previous years and they were supposed to have done that before they sent us the plants in the first place.

They need high humidity and warm temperatures, during the time of year when it's most difficult to supply humidity and warmth.

High humidity means that when the warm, moist air hits the greenhouse roof, which is cold because it's cold outside, the water condenses out and then drips back down onto the plants, so there's a constant cold rain happening in the greenhouse, making it kind of miserable to spend time in there on cold days.

Any plant that gets cold water repeatedly dripped on it from fifteen feet in the air will develop ugly white spots on the bracts (they look kind of like bird droppings, from a distance) and become unsellable. Moving the plants around on the tables doesn't help, because the drips move around too, and are everywhere to begin with.

mr_subjunctive said...

lynn'sgarden continued:

On sunny, warm days when it gets really hot, poinsettias will wilt slightly, even if they're wet, but when the boss sees drooping poinsettias, she freaks out because she assumes they're dry and then starts chewing people out about staying on top of the watering. Even if we are on top of the watering, even if the drooping plants are already wet.

Except that there are always a handful of plants which dry out before the others, because they're close to the edge of a table, or in a warmer spot, or near a fan, or really rootbound, and so those are actually drooping because they need water, not because it's hot, so you have to check all the poinsettias, individually, every couple hours, just in order to avoid losing any.

Except that when you water, you have to do it by flooding the tables, so there are always some plants that dry out way too early and are half-dead by the time the tables get flooded, and other plants that wind up in depressions on the table and stand in water, which are never fully dry by the time you water again, and so are always too wet, which leads to fungus and stuff. And the fungus is contagious.

Some plants always fail to color up in time to sell, even though they are supposed to be pre-treated for short days when we get them. So both years there were some poinsettias that didn't actually bloom until December 30 or whatever.

We got more plants than we had room to display, both years, so they had to be crowded together on the tables, which then meant that the boss would yell at me for having them crowded together on the tables: if they're too close together then they don't develop nice rounded, bushy shapes and are less sellable. But we didn't have enough tables to spread them all out like she wanted, so I was kind of in trouble either way.

The large numbers of plants and limited display space also meant that there was no avoiding putting some of the plants in the low spots on the tables, even if that meant we were going to end up drowning them.

The customers mostly didn't buy from us anyway, because the plants we were selling for $30 could be gotten (from the same supplier, same size, same colors, etc.) from the grocery store three blocks away for $10, or from the Lowe's across town for $6. So they'd come to us and waste our time asking how to take care of poinsettias, and then they'd go to one of the other places and buy the plants from them because they were cheaper.

So poinsettia season, both years, was just this never-ending stream of being yelled at for not watering plants that were already wet, not fungiciding plants that shouldn't have needed fungicide, packing plants too close together but not being given enough space to spread them out, plants not blooming even though they were supposedly pre-treated to bloom, overwatering plants I couldn't help but overwater, underwatering plants I couldn't help but underwater, and not eliminating insect problems using pesticide sprays to which the insects were resistant. And then, when I wasn't being snapped at for one of those things, I got to answer long, complicated strings of care-instruction questions for customers who would then go elsewhere to buy their plants.

Yes, points are pretty. But every time I see one, I want to set it, and then myself, on fire.

Ivynettle said...

Mid-October? Hah. I've been dealing with them since mid-July (that's when we get the plugs, and then it's up-potting, taking cuttings, potting up cuttings, taking more cuttings, and more cuttings and more cuttings, up-potting, pinching, and spacing, spacing, spacing. Stupid goddamn spacing. Stupid goddamn poinsettias forcing us to squeeze my beloved houseplants closer and closer together.
I walked into a garden store yesterday and saw a whole table of pink poinsettias. On October 2nd! Makes me want to boycott them.

mr_subjunctive said...


We got our pre-finished, so we didn't have to deal with them until October. I feel for you.


I forgot to mention that the stems are also brittle, and plants will sometimes break apart if you so much as set them down on the table too hard.

And the sap is sticky, and there's no way to go through and groom table after table of them without getting your hands all sticky. And there's no option to not groom, because they're also always dropping leaves.

Some people actually develop allergies to them if they're exposed enough over a long enough period of time: I think Toxicity of Houseplants said allergy tends to develop after three (continuous) years of handling them. So I was only good for maybe another ten seasons or so.

I also left out that they need special fertilizer, and they go through it really quickly and a lot of the fertilizer winds up on the floor anyway.

Anonymous said...

And (consumer speaking here) the groceries flood the stores so you can't get at the produce and everybody and his/her proverbial brother stuffs them in aisles so you can't find the fireplace matches or the washers for the sink faucet and and and. Plus they're Euphorbias and some of us are allergic to Euphorbias in general and don't even want to look at their precious bodily fluids which are everywhere and heck I celebrate the solstice but what on earth have they got to do with any holiday anyhow? AND, people give them to you! Please if you visit bring truffles not one of those dern pointsetters.

Anonymous said...

I hate poinsettias with an irrational passion. I don't even go to the conservatories around here in winter because they are everywhere.


Maranta said...

While I worked at a rather large nursery, I am forever indebted to the owners for letting the box-stores handle poinsettias. Here in the Northwest we appreciate Euphorbias for their multiple seasons of performance and general toughness, so I'm always sort of peeved that poinsettias are so popular despite the fact that they are the spoiled brats of the Euphorbiaceae.

lynn'sgarden said...

Holy Crap!! You're anything if not thorough, Mr_Subj!! I appreciate it! But now, you've lessened the WOW factor for me next time I walk into a greenhouse :( LOL! do they get those cool marbled colorations in the leaves? Just kidding...don't answer!

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, if anything you should be even more impressed: anywhere you see large quantities of poinsettias in good condition simultaneously, you know that someone, somewhere, put in a ridiculous amount of work to make that happen.

The marbled varieties just grow that way; we don't have to do anything to them to make it happen.

MAT kinase said...

sounds like a lot of good reasons to hate them!

CAROLANN said...

Poinsettias in commercial accounts is right up there with the plague. Way too much extra time cleaning up the pretty yellow leaves. The crunchy ones that disintegrate when you touch them are fun too! Then treating the whole account for gnats over the next month because some kind soul has decided wetter is better!
I cringe when poinsettias come in.