Poinsettias bloom for the holidays at Molbak's

Just a few of the thousands of poinsettia plants and baskets at Molbak's Poinsettia Festival.
Photo by Karen Diefendorf/Woodinville Weekly.

poinsettia festival by Karen Diefendorf
Walking into Molbak's greenhouse during this time of the year is enough to take a visitor's breath away.
    Thousands of massed poinsettias create a spectacular display of color.
    For many, a visit to view the 5,000 blooming plants is an important event during the holidays. But few visitors are aware of the history or the process of growing some 55,000 poinsettias annually.
    In 1957, Egon and Laina Molbak, founders of the nursery, grew poinsettias as a specialty crop. It soon became a tradition, which has grown into the Poinsettia Festival.
    This year, the festival runs through Dec. 3. It features not only a "sea" of potted poinsettia plants, trees, and hanging baskets in classic reds, pinks, peaches, whites, and speckled varieties; but also complimentary coffee, tea, and Danish pastry, accompanied by holiday music.
    To have the plants ready and blooming by the holidays, work begins in mid-summer.
    Molbak's employees stick unrooted poinsettia cuttings into rooting cubes. As the cuttings grow, the plants are pinched back to make them branch, and then the leaves are individually tucked under the bracts to create the highest quality.
    During this time the poinsettias require 12 to 14 hours of darkness daily for six to eight weeks to begin blooming. This "dark treatment" is accomplished by special black-out curtains which are used in the greenhouses beginning in September.
    To ensure that the plants perform as well in customers' homes, extensive trials in the homes of employees are carried out.
    This year, 26 varieties of poinsettias are available, from the traditional favorites, Lilo Red, Angelica Pink, and Jingle Bells, to the new Sonora, the darkest red bract on the market; Maren, a salmon pink; and Flirt, a pale pink.
    Also special this year are the Florica Danicas in Angelica red, marble, and pink. These plants are grown under high-energy lights and with more space, which creates a fuller, showier poinsettia.