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Greenhouses turn up the heat for spring plants






KATHY HANKS



The Hutchinson News via Associated Press






HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) -- During the gray and gloomy final hours of New Year's Eve, Diana Beasley was looking toward 2013 - and 19,000 geranium cuttings.






Each plant, the size of Beasley's pinky finger, was given a future as it was gently tucked into soil by employees at Benton's Greenhouse in South Hutchinson. With sunlight, heat and lots of water, the plants will thrive and grow into full blooming geraniums, ready for sale by the first of April.






Even before strings of holiday lights and manger scenes were packed away, greenhouse owners were preparing for the next season in the growing year.






Jason French, manager of Stutzman's Greenhouse said he was so over the bright red poinsettia plants.






"We started poinsettias in July," said French, of the 30,000 plants they raised for the holiday season. "We've been looking at them for a long time. I'm ready to start over with something new."






Even back in mid-December when consumers were still preparing for Christmas, growers were thinking about Easter, which will be on March 31 this year.






While customers inside Stutzman's retail greenhouses were shopping for blooming poinsettias, across the road in its growing houses, employees had potted 6,000 bulbs of Easter lilies on Dec. 10.






"One thing leads right into the next," French said.






Soon, Stutzman's employees will have planted up to 10,000 geranium cuttings.






"Spring starts early when you have plants ready for sale," French said, They also have asparagus ferns and Boston ferns growing. Within a week they will begin with full-scale spring production.






Even at Sheila's Garden Market in Galva, Sheila Wedel has her tiny seedling of osteospermums and asparagus ferns started.






"Next week I'll be starting onions, pansies and violas and seed geraniums," Wedel said.






She keeps one of her greenhouses heated through the winter at 65 to 70 degrees.






"We're always excited about getting started," Wedel said, of the upcoming growing season.






Back at Benton's, Beasley looks at Dec.14 through Jan.14 as the window of opportunity for preparing 5-inch pots and hanging baskets started with the rooted geraniums.






"It's a really busy time, but a good time," Beasley said.






All of the geraniums are started in a totally sterilized environment from the new pots the roots are planted in to the benches they sit upon.






Starting early allows them enough time to pinch back the plants, ensuring a thick growth and large blooms. From now until April, they do five rounds of pinching off, which helps their 62 varieties of geraniums flourish.






"The extra time we give to pinching the centers makes for massive plants with lots of branches and lots of blooms," Beasley said.






In the coming months the plants will spread to five greenhouses.






Over the years, geraniums have become Benton's niche market, Beasley said. She was 17 when she began geranium planting with her parents Farren and Maxine Benton. Now 43 seasons later, she is still at it.






She admits that some years she is," scared to death," because a poor economy or a bad ice storm might do them in. But, come spring, people always want their geraniums.






"It's kind of humbling," Beasley said.






For anxious gardeners seeking a reprieve from dull, gray, winter days, a step inside a greenhouse to smell the fresh earth and feel the humidity can raise spirits.






Beasley caters to the unusual house plants. She grows a variety of tropical foliage ranging from Bonsai trees to stag horn ferns and the carnivorous pitcher plant which lives on flying and crawling insects.






"We have a lot of really unusual stuff," Beasley said.






Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.



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