12/10/2012 7:00 AM
By Carol Ann Gregg Western Pa. Correspondent
GROVE CITY, Pa. — “We get calls in late November with people asking, are the poinsettias in yet?’ I tell them that they have been here since July. They must think they come in on a truck,” said Paula Hay of Kocher’s Grove City Floral Co. with a smile.
This time of year, poinsettias take center stage as the local floral shop and greenhouse prepare for the Christmas rush.
Behind the counter in the expansive storefront is a door to one of the greenhouses filled with poinsettias.
“I don’t put a wreath on that door so our regular customers can watch as the poinsettias grow and turn color,” Paula said. She really enjoys sharing the waves of color when a mom brings in her child and they go into the greenhouse to pick out their poinsettias. “Their eyes get wide and they are so excited to see all of the flowers.”
David Hay and his wife Paula are owners for the flower shop and greenhouses that have been fixtures in Grove City since the 1920s. David’s great grandfather purchased the floral business from the Ellenberger family in 1923 for his four sons. Over the years the four brothers parted ways and Fred Kocher, Jr. remained at the Grove City location, just on the edge of town.
Nanny Jean Kocher Hay, David’s mother, and his dad Ronald continued operating the business until David and Paula took the reins. David has been in the business his whole life. In 1979, he graduated from Alfred State College in New York and returned to the family business.
The shop and greenhouses sit on about nine acres. They grow and sell perennials and annuals and vegetable plants in the spring in the greenhouses. Mums fill the greenhouses with color in the fall and houseplants are available most of the year. The floral shop is a full service shop that meets the flower needs of the community.
The Christmas retail season begins the day after Thanksgiving with people stopping by or calling in orders for poinsettias, centerpieces and pine wreaths. They deliver wreaths to the local cemeteries for their customers. They also make gift baskets of fruit and snacks.
David enjoys focusing on poinsettias. “There are fewer people growing poinsettias now,” he said.
The third week of July the poinsettias arrive as rooted cuttings. The cuttings are transplanted into pots and are watered two or three times a day until they get rooted in the pot.
“Fertilizing begins immediately with an auto-drip system that sure beats standing there with a hose,” Dave said. “But we still can’t lose touch with the crop.”
Kocher’s is a one-man shop. He received trays of 100 cuttings and transplants 4,500 poinsettias.
“We grow five different colors,” he said. Red dominates with 80 percent of the plants and the rest are white, pink, marbled and burgundy.
Besides the water and fertilizer, light is the most critical factor.
“If we have a bright October it can throw off the crop.”
Like many crops the poinsettias have their problems. “It is easy to over water them and that can lead to root rot if we’re not careful. They can also “stretch” which we control by controlling the temperature. We want the temperature to hold at 55 degrees.”
A couple of years ago, Grove City borough was upgrading its electrical system. They had a planned power outage and informed all the businesses and residents. The outage was planned for early on a Sunday morning so it would have the least impact on the town. What had been anticipated to be a 30 minutes outage stretched into several hours. The temperatures outside were quite cold and Kocher’s were concerned that they could have lost their poinsettia crop.
“We knew about the outage and did what we could do but we nearly lost the whole crop that day,” Paula said as she recalled that scary day.
Beside their retail sales, they wholesale to several western Pennsylvania flower shops and provide poinsettias to more than 35 churches.
The family business employees about six people throughout the year with additional workers in the greenhouses in the spring.
“Poinsettias make a great gift,” Paula said. “We offer delivery and discount for cash and carry here in the shop.”
“People ask if I get tired of them. I never have. The red are my favorites,” she continued. “I love to go to church on Christmas Eve and see them at the front of the church.”