ELKINS, W.Va. — Larry Gouer loves poinsettias. The owner of Mary’s Greenhouse in Elkins is celebrating his 40th year in business. This December his greenhouses will be filled with thousands of the red, white, pink and peppermint plants for sale.
The poinsettia growing season actually begins in July. That’s when Gouer and his staff fill pots with soil that takes up two greenhouses. By the end of that month, they’ll receive their rooting plants from a specialized grower and get them into the soil. In August and early September, every one of those poinsettias must be pinched to the right height so they’ll grow out instead of up. In September, the poinsettias are sprayed with growth retardants.
The greenhouses are kept at a mild 65 to 70 degrees all fall. However the most important part of growing the poinsettia has to do with sunlight.
“The plant blooms or grows depending on how many hours of daylight it gets. If the plant gets more than 12 hours of daylight per day, it will grow but not color,” explains Gouer. “When it gets less than 12 hours a day, that’s what triggers the plant to turn red or pink or white or whatever color it is.”
When Gouer purchased the greenhouses four decade ago, the previous owner told him poinsettias wouldn’t grow properly on the west side of the buildings. They never turned color. Gouer says it took him about two weeks to figure out the problem. A bright street light shining on that end of the property was giving the plants more light than they needed.
“Plants can’t tell the difference between a 100 watt bulb and the sun!”
Gouer had the city come out and remove the globe on the street light and paint half the bulb black to block out the light on his side of the street. It worked and four decades later Gouer uses every square inch of his greenhouses to grow poinsettias.
By October it’s just a matter of watering the plants and watching them grow. When the holidays arrive, it’s time to sell.
“When December comes and the greenhouse is a sea of red, white, and pink, I know for financial reasons they’ve got to go and find a house somewhere else but I hate to see them go,” says Gouer.
Gouer sells his poinsettias from his flower shop next to the greenhouses and he wholesales them to other flower shops around the state.
“We try here at Mary’s to grow a quality plant. So many of the large chain stores are interested in price, not quality,” says Gouer. “The reason I like to send to flower shops is that most are looking for a quality product to send out. You pay more for a quality plant.”
Over the last decade more and more big box stores have started selling poinsettias. People who used to drive a few extra miles to purchase a plant at a greenhouse, according to Gouer, are settling for convenience over quality at large retailers. That’s one of the biggest challenges he’s facing in the poinsettia business.
However, Gouer points out if you want a healthy plant that is full of color and will last past Christmas, your best bet is a greenhouse poinsettia. You’ll also have your pick of more than 20 different kinds and colors at Mary’s.
“That’s the advantage of me being the little guy and me being the boss. I can grow what I want to grow,” Gouer says.
At Mary’s you can purchase a single red poinsettia in a pot to a five poinsettia pot filled with peppermint leaves.
“Going out and picking a variety of poinsettia is much like going out and picking a car or a tomato that you grew. There’s small ones, medium ones, and large ones and different colors,” stresses Gouer.
One plant you won’t find many other places than Mary’s is the Mountaineer poinsettia.
“It’s become a very good seller,” says Gouer. “Everyone loves the Mountaineers! Who wouldn’t want a gold and blue poinsettia?”
The Mountaineer starts as a white poinsettia. Gouer uses a dye to turn the leaves gold and then splashes on a bit of blue. He says the late WVU football coach Bill Stewart and basketball coach Bob Huggins have both received his Mountaineer poinsettias in the past. However, Gouer’s red poinsettias are the most popular.
“The top seller is red. If you ask me that questions again in five years, it will be red. Ten years from now it’s still going to be red!”
In fact, 90 percent of his customers purchase one of 6 varieties of red.
Gouer has a few tips on how to keep your poinsettias blooming more than one year. Place the plant in a spare bedroom or a room that’s not used much. Make sure it get sunlight and plenty of water. When the days start to get shorter than the nights, make sure the plant is in a place that gets sun during the day and complete dark at night.
“While reblooming a poinsettia in your house will never recreate the beautiful plant we do in a greenhouse, it still can be done. There’s a lot of personal satisfaction to say, ‘I rebloomed my poinsettia!’”
You can find Mary’s Greenhouse at 300 Ward Ave. in Elkins. Gouer also has a web page at www.marysgreenhouse.com.