Every year at Christmas time families reach back into the traditions of the past to bring a sense of holiday cheer and well-being into their homes. These trappings are familiar to most: Christmas trees, holly boughs, mistletoe, stockings hung by the fireplace, expectations of Santa Claus, and, of course, Christmas carols sung amongst family members and friends. A large part of these Christmas preparations for many also includes poinsettia plants placed on the table centre as a tangible marker of the season.
Salisbury Growers, based in Sherwood Park, has been growing quality poinsettias for the past 35 years. They are Alberta’s best known grower of the seasonal plants. Co-owner Rob Sproule says while the poinsettia market is not what it used to be, these plants are still an important annual crop for his family-run business.
“It’s not a question of really being loyal to poinsettias for us, it’s what we got,” he says with a laugh. “We have diversified into other (seasonal) plants… But when it comes to Christmas there is still no better thing; poinsettias just say Christmas to most of our buyers.”
About 75 per cent of Salisbury Greenhouse’s poinsettias are sold retail directly to customers out of its own front door. The other 25 per cent are sold wholesale to various organizations, church groups and fundraisers. If it wasn’t for these direct sales, and their strong relationships within local community networks, Sproule doubts Salisbury Greenhouse would still be in the poinsettia growing business.
“The market for poinsettias is nowhere near what it was like 15 years ago,” confirms Sproule. “It’s gotten a lot smaller. We now grow 20,000. We used to grow 50,000.
“The market has really been beaten down by big stores like Costco, and others like that,” continues Sproule. “We can compete better than most because our brand is as a quality grower. I think it is safe to say we grow the best poinsettias in central Alberta… But if you were a little guy just trying to bring them in and sell them, forget it. It’s brutal.”
Sproule says it takes a particular knack to grow poinsettias well.
“They are quite difficult to grow actually. We bring in our cuttings around Canada Day, and so we have them for six months. The difficulty comes from the growing conditions. They need very specific growing conditions. They need 12 hours a day of darkness or near darkness during their most critical time. We are on the outskirts of the suburbs so that is not a big deal for us, but any kind of lighting from anything around you can affect the colour of the flowers.
“They also need full, bright light for the other 12 hours. They need to be warm, but not too warm. If they are too warm the colours will pale. They also need mostly dry conditions.”
Having poinsettias at their most beautiful just in time for the Christmas market also takes some skill.
“Timing them is also quite difficult,” confirms Sproule. “They have to be pretty for December. We do have early, mid and late blooming varieties. We grow 35 varieties of poinsettias, and about half of those are different types with different shades of reds.
“We start wholesaling about the third week of November, and our retail sales really pick up the first week of December. So they have a short selling window you have to time for.”
Salisbury Greenhouse often gets compliments from its customers on the quality of the poinsettias it grows. This makes the effort to grow them well worth it, says Sproule.
“It is what we love to hear as growers,” confirms Sproule. “We are very proud of the health and quality of plants that we grow. And we are very proud to grow plants which have better material quality than the box stores.”