URI Master Gardeners to sell unusual poinsettias

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 28, 2005 — University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners have been nurturing some 1,600 poinsettia plants since last August and now they are ready to sell them to the public as their final fund-raiser of the year.

The sale will take place Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday Dec. 3, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at URI’s East Farm off Route 108.

Mary Mason and Pat Davis, who are in charge of the poinsettia greenhouse team, say this year some 93 varieties are being offered, some of them not yet available commercially.

“Some of these varieties are experimental and we raise them to see how well they perform,” said Mason.

The annual sale is the culmination of the National Poinsettia Trials Program at URI. Each year URI, along with other universities, participates in the program by accepting poinsettia “plugs” from different nurseries across the country. The plugs, which are about only 2 inches high when they arrive in August, are nurtured in the Master Gardeners’ greenhouses at East Farm on a daily basis by a large group of volunteers. The volunteers not only have to hand-water the plants each day, they must also pinch them off at a certain stage to encourage proper growth, fertilize them periodically and watch for pests.

The Master Gardeners use no chemical sprays in raising the plants. Instead they purchase tiny wasps that have an appetite for the larva of white flies, the most common poinsettia greenhouse pest.

This year only a few white flies were spotted, reports Davis, and they were easily controlled. Clean growing conditions were cited as one reason there were so few problems.

“This is the best year yet for the poinsettias, both in size and color as well as variety,” said Mason.

After the sale is over, Master Gardeners still have work to do. In exchange for the plants they received, they have to fill out trial reports on each variety, listing the pros and cons. The nurseries then use these reports to decide which varieties they will offer to growers next year.

This will be the first year for the poinsettia sale at East Farm—previously it was held on the main URI campus. Because parking near the greenhouse is not possible, customers will be asked to park in designated areas and walk to the greenhouses to pick their plants. A heated tent will be set up adjacent to the greenhouses and provisions will be made to transport wrapped plants to customers’ cars.

Besides poinsettias, Master Gardeners will also sell hand-made wreaths that are decorated with natural materials from ornamental gardens.

Proceeds from the poinsettia sale are used to fund the educational programs of both the Master Gardeners and the URI Cooperative Extension Education Center.

(Directions: East Farm is located off Route 108, six-tenths of a mile south of the main traffic light in Kingston. Drive in to the designated parking areas and volunteers will guide people to the greenhouses. In the event of a snowstorm, the sale will be held Dec. 9 and 10 at the same place during the same hours. )