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Super plants can beat off Euro rivals.

Byline: By Emma Brady

Horticulturalists at a Midland university are helping British poinsettia growers battle an invasion of European imports in the run-up to Christmas.

Rising fuel prices have put added pressure on nurseries who nurture the festive flower, known for its distinctive red leaves, but researchers at Warwick University have developed techniques to help them grow as many plants as continental rivals.

Growing more plants per square metre can result in weaker, poor quality pointsettias, but a team led by Dr Debbie Fuller at the Horticultural Research International unit (HRI) found manipulating lighting increased plant production two-thirds.

Using lighting controls and dimmer switches to lengthen the 'day' the plants experience enabled UK growers to produce a stronger "super poinsettia" as it keeps the plant 'green' for longer delaying the appearance of red leaves.

A crop of poinsettia takes 18 weeks to mature and nurseries begin sewing for the Christmas market in June. In high summer plants, kept in greenhouses, receive up to 12 hours' daylight, but as the days shorten growers may use domestic lightbulbs to maintain exposure.

HRI's trial, which used high-intensity lamps, extended that to 20 hours a day,

Dr Fuller said: "Margins have been getting tighter over the past few years, not just because of the greater volume European rivals produce but also the increasing cost of fuel. But this method is cost-neutral because it increases the plant yield which offsets any increase in electricity bills.

"We also believe this will increase shelf-life by as much as 20 per cent to six weeks, so we will be looking at these plants in mid-January."

Gary Shoreland, of Double H Nurseries in New Milton, Hampshire, believes the new 'super poinsettia' could be on supermarket shelves in time for next Christmas.

He said: "Our biggest rival is Holland at the moment but if nurseries adopt methods like this I'm sure consumers will see the difference in quality between British and European plants. I'm hopeful growers will benefit from this in the run up to next Christmas."

emma_brady@mrn.co.uk

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Doctor Debbie Fuller from Warwick university
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 9, 2006
Words:350
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