COVID forces local nursery to find new way to sell holiday staple

Oregon

Ellen Egan sells the vast majority of her poinsettias to schools, churches and charities for fundraisers

MARION COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Thousands of bright red, burgundy, white and “glitter” poinsettias fill one of the greenhouses at Egan Gardens near Salem. They should be on their way to fundraisers for schools, churches and other charitable organizations, but the coronavirus pandemic has halted the usual plans.

“We had no idea back when we were planting the crop that schools would not be in person,” owner Ellen Egan said. “We just assumed they’d be back by fall, that this would all be pretty much taken care of by then.”

Normally, Egan’s entire poinsettia crop is wholesale. She estimates fundraisers make up about 70% of her sales.

Oregon isn’t well known for poinsettias — our advantage lies in outdoor, woody crops — but nurseries here still sold about $3 million worth of the plant in 2014, according to the most recent USDA Census of Horticultural Specialties. Compare that to California, though, which sold almost $33 million worth of poinsettias.

For Egan, who employs about 15 people at her small nursery, the finnicky plant is a way to keep income coming during the winter months.

She did anticipate an economic downturn after the original shutdown, so she scaled back her crop by about 20%, tossing cuttings she had already paid for straight into the trash. Even after reducing the crop, though, the wholesale orders she normally gets didn’t materialize.

So, starting Friday, November 20, Egan will do something new: Open her garden center during the winter for retail sales. Customers can call with an order and staff will get it wrapped, boxed, and ready for pickup with minimal contact.

Ellen Egan, owner of Egan Gardens near Salem, is opening her store for winter sales for the first time ever this year. She hopes in-person poinsettia sales will help make up for wholesale business she lost due to the pandemic (KOIN).

Egan hopes it will help her make up some of the lost sales, but admits she has no idea what to expect.

“All year people have been saying, ‘This is a year of change and uncertainty,'” she said. “So however it turns out is however it turns out.”

Egan has already planned her spring and summer crops, once again guessing that things will return to normal.

“This year was actually a very good year for garden centers in the spring because people were home with nothing to do but garden,” she noted. “So compared to many types of business, nurseries have done quite well this year. For which we are all very grateful.”

Poinsettia care

Oregonians can keep their poinsettias alive past Christmas, as long as your plant was healthy when you bought it (Egan said the plants aren’t always well cared for in big box stores). Keep them in an area with a fair amount of light, moderate temperature, and check them every three days to see if they need water.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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