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Holiday beauties

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Hank Richardson of Dixie Green nursery in Centre holds one of the thousands of poinsettias grown by the family-owned business.

Alabama-based, family-owned company continues to grow

By Allison Griffin

The acres of concrete at Dixie Green’s greenhouses in Centre are carpeted in vibrant hues of red and white this time of year, a sure sign that Christmas is coming soon.

The nursery has plants growing almost year-round, but this time of year the greenhouses are full of poinsettias, in all sizes and colors. The nursery grows 20 to 30 different varieties and colors, and at the peak of the season there’ll be 250,000 plants grown and shipped out to eager customers.

Among those customers is Walt Disney World, which buys between 60,000 and 80,000 poinsettias from Dixie Green each year. The nursery, which is wholesale only, also sells to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and supplies poinsettias to the presidents’ homes at Jacksonville State and Auburn University as well as independent garden centers.

But Hank Richardson, who with his brothers Harlan and Jerry started this business in the 1970s, is equally as proud of the sales they make to schools, churches and service organizations, which sell plants as fundraisers. The plants, including poinsettias, fall mums and baskets of blooming spring flowers, sell themselves, he says, and most groups continue to fundraise with Dixie Green year after year.

“Most of our business is repeat business,” Richardson says. “It keeps growing and spreading.”

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Starting out

The Richardson brothers weren’t horticulturists by trade. The brothers had grown up on a farm in Centre, and while they didn’t know much about houseplants, they did know about hard work, and they wanted to make a living for themselves in Cherokee County.

Hank’s oldest brother, Harlan, was a pipefitter, but one of his friends had some greenhouses and talked the Richardsons into building one of their own. The brothers had built hog houses on their farm, so they used what knowledge they had to build their first 28-foot by 96-foot greenhouse.

They took cuttings of plants from their grandmother’s home, put a camper shell on a pickup truck for deliveries and started, literally, from the ground up. Friends and people in the community helped them, Hank says, as well as seed companies and suppliers. The brothers just learned as they went along.

The brothers had been working together all their lives, so it was a very natural fit to go into business together. A friend once told them that he’d never seen brothers who could work together, but it was all the brothers knew.

Harlan passed away a few years ago, but Jerry and Hank continue to work full time at Dixie Green, and now each brother has at least one son or daughter who works at the nursery.

The cycle of plant life

The greenhouses are filled with poinsettias now, but those will be completely shipped out by mid-December, and Dixie Green will be starting on the spring plants.

A few pretty little ferns and pothos were already getting their start in the greenhouses in mid-November. The nursery grows all kinds of spring flowering plants as well as caladiums and others.

By the end of spring and early summer, there will be few plants to fill the nursery’s 12 acres of indoor greenhouse space and five acres of outside growing area. But in early June, cuttings for the fall mums will come in and get started rooting, and in July come the poinsettia cuttings that will be propagated and start growing. Dixie Green will nurture, fertilize and water the young plants carefully over the late summer and early fall, and the cycle begins again.

A quality product

Dixie Green, which is served by Cherokee Electric Cooperative, is an important business in rural Cherokee County, and employs between 30 and 50 local people, depending on the season.

The business is prepared for a finicky Mother Nature. The blizzard of 1993 knocked out power for several days to the nursery, which at that time had two locations. They lost four acres of plants to the early spring storm, so they now have a backup generator just in case.

But for now, the brothers are gearing up for their busiest shipping season. They’ve shipped as far as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Oklahoma, and the business continues to grow. Dixie Green owns four tractor-trailers, and rents a fifth truck to run each spring.

It’s a far cry from the one 2,700-square-foot greenhouse and pickup truck with a camper shell.

“Back when we started, we never dreamed about being this big,” Hank says. “But we were able to grow really nice plants, and pretty plants sell. We try to grow as good a quality as you can get anywhere. That always works.”

Contact Dixie Green online at www.dixiegreen.net, or call 256-927-5185.


POINSETTIA POINTERS

Poinsettias thrive in bright, but not direct, sunlight, according to information from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). Put the plant next to a sunny window, but direct sunlight can cause discoloration. On the other hand, low light can cause the plant to lose some of its leaves. Consider displaying your plant in a shady location like the dining room table, but maintaining it near a window.

Poinsettias will not tolerate moisture extremes. Don’t keep the potting mix too wet or too dry. If allowed to dry out too much, the plant will wilt and drop its leaves. Conversely, don’t allow the plant to remain in standing water. This could result in root rot, which will cause the plant to decline.

Keep the plant away from heat vents and outside doors or windows. Try to maintain the temperature at no higher than 70 degrees F. If possible, keep the plant with other plants or set the container in a gravel-filled pan half-filled with water. Doing this will keep the humidity a little higher around the plant in an otherwise dry, winter home.