Tom and Bill Rainey don't wander too far away from home from Thanksgiving through Christmas. The 32 greenhouses full of poinsettias keep them close to their Denton County, Texas, farm.

Timing, they say, is the key to marketing these colorful plants that have become icons of the Christmas Season.

“Our biggest challenge is to get the plants in top color by early December,” Tom says. “Some of our customers push us to get them out sooner, but if we peak too early, the plants will begin to fade before the Holiday Season is over. We want them to last until after Christmas.”

“It's a time-consuming, hands-on process,” Bill says. “It's kind of like a dairy. It may not be as intense as growing Easter Lilies but it's harder than everything else.”

They start in mid-August with rooted cuttings, four leaves. From then until the houses are empty, near Christmas, they stay on top of nutrition, water and disease prevention chores.

“We're committed to providing a high quality, colorful poinsettia,” Tom says. “We got into the business to please our customers.”

Rainey Farms has produced greenhouse plants, spring color, vegetables and hanging baskets since 1958. “We started growing poinsettias 25 years ago because some of our customers asked us to supply them” Tom says. “Most production, 80 percent, are red poinsettias. Pink and white make up the rest.”

They sell mostly retail, to feed stores, florists and some fund-raising organizations, all within a 75-mile radius from Denton.

Tom says location is an advantage. “We have some space inside the Denton City proper,” he says. “But out here in the country, we don't have street lights and don't have to take extra steps to control light, which affects the flowering cycle.”

Growers can push for color by blacking out the plants during daylight hours.

“We don't need to do that here,” Tom says. “We have enough short days and are away from synthetic lighting. Spreading black cloth over plants in 32 greenhouses requires a lot of work.”

Bill says increased utility costs have limited profit potential the past few years. “But poinsettias have been a good addition to our business. And some years are better than others.”

In addition to poinsettias, Rainey Farms also grows Boston ferns, spring color, and vegetable plants. “We've been growing mostly tomato and pepper plants since we started the business,” Bill says. “We take those as far as Oklahoma City.”

They also run a 250-mama cowherd.

rsmith@primediabusiness.com