Picture the Perfect Poinsettia

The season’s favorite flowering plant grows in abundance in a North Raleigh garden center.

By Carla Turchetti
Photos courtesy of Tina Mast/Homewood Nursery

No flower says Christmas more than a poinsettia, and one local garden center cultivates this holiday prodigy for months across the year. Homewood Nursery offers more than 25,000 poinsettias in more than 100 varieties, and every poinsettia that Homewood sells has been grown in its greenhouses on Honeycutt Road in North Raleigh.

Greenhouse manager Denise Etheridge says Homewood poinsettias never endure the stress of being packed in a box or wrapped in a plastic sleeve, and that’s part of the secret to their big, beautiful, and healthy blooms.

“Because it’s grown here, it is used to our environment and our weather,” Etheridge says. “When you are taking it home, it hasn’t been on a truck, it hasn’t been shipped from Florida, it is from our greenhouse to your home.”

It takes eight months to grow the poinsettias that fill the Homewood greenhouses by November. “Back in the spring when people are planting geraniums and marigolds and impatiens, we’ve got poinsettias snuck in the back there and we’re growing them out,” she notes.

Etheridge describes poinsettias as finicky plants that need to be tended to on a tight schedule, but North Carolina is known as one of the top places to grow them. “We have all of the things a poinsettia naturally needs. They need 12 hours of dark and 12 hours of light, and in the fall that happens naturally in North Carolina.”

Homewood, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, doesn’t use any artificial light to grow poinsettias and shelters the plants from chilly fall air by growing them in its greenhouses. And the pampering pays off: The Saturday before Thanksgiving Homewood hosts its annual Poinsettia Open House, which has become a holiday tradition for many. There are poinsettias as far as the eye can see, as well as live music and refreshments. The Christmas season begins for many people when they take a poinsettia home from the open house or snap a holiday photo at one of the half-dozen decorated vignettes. Those picture spots were created after customers would arrive in their holiday best at the open house, often with pets in tow, and move poinsettias around on the sales floor to get the perfect photo.

“Poinsettias are extremely breakable,” explains Etheridge, and all that moving about for photo ops resulted in damaged plants that couldn’t be sold. “That’s where the picture taking [sets] came into play. We started creating places people could come to take their pictures.”

Homewood leaves the vignettes up throughout the season and welcomes anyone who would like to take a photo. And after the photo session, many visitors pick a poinsettia or two to take back home.

For all the pampering across the growing cycle, the care instructions are pretty simple: Once you get them home, just remember to water them and they will last throughout the holiday season.

“I like to tell everyone we’ve already done all the hard work, so there is no hard work for you. All you need to do is water it. You don’t have to fertilize it or worry about the light. By the time you get it, it’s finished growing,” Etheridge says.

She suggests, when the top of the soil is dry, take the poinsettia to a sink or bathtub and water it until water runs through the bottom. In a home, these plants prefer not to be near the heat of a fireplace or a heating vent that will blow on them. And they definitely need to stay inside instead of out, as 65 degrees is about all the cold a poinsettia can stand.

Etheridge also says it’s a tale that poinsettias are toxic to pets. While cats may chew on the plants despite their glue-like centers, poinsettias are not poisonous.

Homewood works in conjunction with N.C. State University to grow new varieties of poinsettias, and during the Poinsettia Open House customers are encouraged to offer input on the trial plants, which often have unusual characteristics—like variegated blooms and ruffled leaves—and may run the spectrum from white to blush to the deepest red.

Etheridge says the new ones are intriguing, but she is a traditionalist: “The Peterstar Red is one of my all-time favorites; it has the biggest flowers, and the color is a very traditional rich poinsettia red.”

You’re Invited!

Poinsettia Open House on Saturday, November 18th
Homewood Nursery & Garden Center
10809 Honeycutt Road  |  919.847.0117  |  homewoodnursery.com

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