“Standard” poinsettias raise the bar

Unpinched poinsettias can be a profitable option for growers looking for an alternative to poinsettias finished from pinched cuttings.

Fig. 1. Standard, straight-up or single are all names for the same plant — multiple-bloom poinsettias using unpinched cuttings. These plants, like this 8-inch container with five cuttings, have large, showy bracts and are a premium product.
Photo courtesy of Mike Gooder

‘Tis the right season to look back at this article from 2021. One poinsettia crop that is not widely grown is the standard, single or straight-up form. These names are all synonymous for the same product — one utilizing multiple, unpinched cuttings instead of fewer or a single pinched cutting(s). While poinsettias finished from pinched cuttings are now the most common and widely grown form, poinsettias were originally grown using this multiple unpinched style.

There are several reasons why these unpinched plants are popular among both producers and consumers. First and foremost, the finished plant quality is different from pinched varieties in a few different ways. The final bract size for the unpinched plants are generally larger than those from pinched plants, and blooms also have more cyathia. If side branches are allowed to develop on unpinched cuttings, this can also result in a fuller plant, though these are removed by some producers. For these reasons, the straight-up poinsettias are often referred to as “florist quality,” for premium appearance.

In addition to plant appearance, there are also advantages aside from finished plant quality. For producers, straight-up plants have a short production time compared to the pinched forms, since the time under non-inductive long days is shorter. For example, a 6-inch container of three or four unpinched cuttings requires two to three weeks less than other pinched varieties. The exact amount of time saved varies with container size, geographic location and cultivar vigor. However, all things equal, an unpinched poinsettia will require less bench time than the same size container finished with pinching.

For pinched poinsettias, working among the crop and handling them can result in unwanted stem breakage. When branches break off pinched plants, it not only creates a wound that can serve as an entry point for diseases and diminish plant vigor, losing branches can also render plants unsaleable. If lower branches break, plants may still be saleable, but sometimes the gaps created in canopies are too unappealing and plants are then unmarketable. With unpinched poinsettia forms, reducing breakage means less shrink and loss.

Fig. 2. The 6-inch container on the left with a single cutting will get pinched to produce multiple branches and flowers. The container on the right will be finished with three unpinched cuttings. Though extra cuttings are required for these straight-up forms, savings on space, labor and loss, as well as a higher price point, can make up for the additional cost for cuttings.

The cost for propagative material — whether unrooted or rooted cuttings — increases for unpinched poinsettias compared to the pinched form. For 6- to 6.5-inch, 7- to 7.5-inch, 8- to 8.5-inch and 10-inch containers, you will use 3-4, 4-5, 5-7, or 7-10 cuttings per container, respectively. While this does increase production costs, it doesn’t make these plants less profitable; in fact, these unpinched plants can improve your bottom line.

While the factors affecting profitability will vary with each firm, unpinched poinsettias can be a more profitable crop than pinched based on several reasons. As mentioned earlier, unpinched plants have a shorter production time, requiring less bench space.

Additionally, the shorter production time will save labor, as will not having to pinch and remove leaves. When planting unpinched containers, selecting similar-sized cuttings can also simplify and reduce plant growth regulator applications, further reducing input costs. The reduced shrinkage from plants lost to stem breakage also helps the bottom line. Finally, the high quality of unpinched plants with large, showy bracts can command a higher price at the wholesale and retail levels.

Christopher is an associate professor of horticulture in the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University. ccurrey@iastate.edu

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