The contrast of green foliage with bright red flowers, which are produced around December, is what gives Christmas Bush its name. It is also sometimes called Festival Bush.
Christmas Bush has been enjoyed as a garden plant and sold as a cut flower in Sydney for over a century, originally picked from the bush or from garden-grown plants. Plantation production for cut flowers began as early as 1912, but it was only in the 1990s that large plantations were set up.
Albery’s Red, currently the most commonly grown cultivar, is a compact, upright, early,
free-flowering plant with dark red flowers.
There is a strong demand for Christmas Bush on the domestic market during the week before Christmas, especially in Sydney, when the best prices are often achieved. Prices drop dramatically just after Christmas.
Christmas Bush as an export product can supply the high-quality flowers in demand in Japan before the Japanese New Year (1 January) and in the USA at Thanksgiving (the 4th Thursday in November). Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day are also suitable targets for later product in Asia and the USA.
Christmas bush flowers from mid October in southern Queensland through to January or later in Victoria. To supply key markets before Christmas, areas between Gympie in the north to the Sydney basin in the south appear most suitable for production.
It may be more difficult to export this product after Christmas, except for markets associated with Chinese New Year.
Harvest time may be a limiting factor in crop profitability. Along the east coast of NSW and Queensland, flowering is affected by temperature and day length, with flowering progressing from north to south.
Harvest times can be variable from year to year at any one site.
Christmas bush is vulnerable to damage by adverse weather during the 6–8 weeks before harvest. Excessive temperatures and low relative humidity, particularly when accompanied by strong winds, can cause flower drop and excessive growth, which can lead to ‘grow-past’, or ‘grow-through’, when the shoots at the stem tip grow through the flowers. Severe frosts or hot dry winds at flowering can cause complete loss of flowers.
Ensure that the product does not dry out during or after harvest – harvested product may need to be sprayed with an atomiser to keep it moist.
Grade is determined by the ratio of flowers to foliage and by flower density, and therefore redness. This needs to be taken into account when you select stems to form a bunch. Grading Christmas bush to maximise profits may require a high labour cost. There are currently large variations in flower colour, density, maturity and size and in foliage-to-flower ratios between growers.
(from left to right)
Foliage grade -- flower density sparse and limited to shoot tips; more foliage than flowers.
A grade -- flower mass denser than foliage grade, with some foliage visible below the flower masses.
AA grade -- flower mass denser than A grade, suitable for the domestic market.
AAA grade -- flower mass denser than AA grade, with no gaps, and foliage hidden by the flowers, suitable for export and domestic markets.
AAA+ grade -- flower mass very dense with a high perceived value of red, and little, if any foliage visible, premium export product.
Overmature -- flowers dark red or purplish red; unacceptable for any market.
Christmas Bush differs from many flower products in terms of when it is ready to harvest: time to harvest and quality depend largely on the flower density and the perceived value of red on a flowering stem. This is determined by the density of the flower mass an the ratio of the flowers to foliage. Stems are harvested once most of the flower masses are red (and under 3% of young flowers at the very ends of the stems are still white and immature). There is little additional development of flowers after harvest.
the christmas bush flowering season is from mid October in southern queensland to january (to as late as march) in victoria.
typical vase life is 7-14 days, although export can reduce this, especially if the transport conditions are not cold, the product dries out, or transport takes too long.
- Flowers perceived as predominantly red (as show in above flower grade specs).
- Deep red, glossy flowers - the acceptable hues are those of the two left hand flowers in the colour grade photo (above). These are equivalent to the Royal Horticultural Society's colours 45A (strong deep red) to C (medium red), 46A (maroon red to C, and 47A (deep pinkish red) and B.
- The youngest 3% of flowers at the stem tip are still white.
- Flowers are not faded or purplish - similar to RHS 53A (purplish maroon) or darker (this occurs when product is overmature or heat damaged).
- Avoid shaded floweing stems that have failed to redden.
- No grow-though longer than 6cm.
- (Note there is little development of colour after flowers have been harvested).
WHEN TO HARVEST
- Time to harvest and quality depend on the flower density and the perceived value of red on a flowering stem. This is determined by the density of the flower mass and the ratio of flowers to foliage (see grades above).
- Harvest when almost all of the flowers have coloured and no more than 3% of young flowers at the stem tips are immature and white.
- Minimum damage to flowers.
- Not more than 3% of flowers have been shed after harvest.
- Product to be free from grit and soil, weeds or weed seeds, living or dead insects, and signs of insects or spiders, such as webbing.
PESTS AND DISEASES
- No insects, insect damage or disease.
- Dark green and glossy, not overly soft.
- Remove leaves from the lower 10-15cm, or 1/3 of the stem.
- Minimum evidence of pests, disease or other blemishes.
- No visible chemical residue.
- No more than 3% leaf curling due to psyllids for domestic market. No leaf curling due to psyllids for export market.
- Rigid and strong enough to support blooms.
- Neatly cut ends.
- Flowering stem pyramidal ('Christmas Tree') shape.
- According to market demand.
RECOMMENDED HANDLING AT HARVEST
- Minimise drying out and exposure to heat - pick when it is cool, preferably straight into buckets of clean potable water or a reputable commercial post-harvest solution, and hold cut stems in the shade.
- Move stems promptly to a cool, shaded packing area and reduce temperature to <15 degrees within 1 hour and to <10 degrees within 2 hours.
- Some growers run two cool rooms - one to hold just-harvested Christmas Bus and the other for processed product.
GRADING AND BUNCHING
- Reject any contaminated stems.
- Sort stems according to grade, length and thickness.
- Grade is determined mainly by the volume of flowers and leaves on the marketed stem. A range of grades can be marketed (see grading above). Generally the higher grades have a greater volume of flowers per stem. The highest grade is marketed as AAA+.
- Sometimes product with few flowers and a significant amount of good-quality foliage may be marketed as foliage grade, but some buyers do not consider this product to be Christmas Bush, and returns may be poor.
- The domestic market generally requires three grades: AAA, AA and A.
- Prepare bunches to buyer requirements.
- The number of stems per bunch varies, and is determined by bunch size, stem diameter, and market / buyer requirements.
- There is no prescribed stem diameter in relation to length. However, presentation is important, so for example, if 5 stems may a thin looking bunch, then increase bunch size. Stay consistent for the grade and make all bunches the same.
- Especially for export, stems should be approximately the same diameter within a bunch, with the ends aligned.
- Use 1 tie at the base, plus a sleeve to support the bunch.
- Return bunches to hydrating solution as soon as they've been bunches.
STEMS PER BUNCH / WEIGHT
- 90+cm / up to 3 stems / 600g
- 60-70cm / 2-3 stems / 450g
- 40-50cm / 2-6 stems / 350g
- 30-40cm / equal number of 30 and 40cm stems / 250g
- 90+cm / 2-3 stems (100-80cm) / 600g
- 80cm / 4 stems / 600g
- 70cm / 3-5 stems (70-60cm) / 450g
- 60cm / 5 stems (50-40cm) / 350g
- 50cm / 5 stems / 300g
- 40cm / 7-10 stems / 250g
- 30cm / 10 stems / 250g
- To maintain quality, sleeve bunches. This improves product appearance, reduces drying out and makes it easier to pack.
- Select the sleeve size to suit the bunch size.
- Microperforated sleeves are recommended as they assist in preventing the formation of condensation. Ensure the product can breathe within the sleeve, and go up a sleeve size if the bunch is large.
- The sleeve should extend well past the top of the bunch to prevent drying out (but finding sleeves long enough for stems 90+cm may be difficult.
HOLDING AND STORAGE
- Effective cooling soon after harvest is important to retaining quality and maximising vase life. There are two options:
- Cool / process / cool - for example, remove field heat by cooling flowers immediately on entry into shed to 10 degrees in buckets of solution, process flowers (bunch, grade), and then cool to 6-8 degrees by either forced-air cooling (if boxed) or holding overnight in a cool room.
- Process within 1 hour of cutting, and then cool to 6-8 degrees by either forced-air cooling for 20-30 minutes (if boxed), or holding overnight in a cool room (if in buckets).
- Forced-air cooling of packed flowers is ideal for large volumes of product.
TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY
- Keep product damp to avoid drying out. Aim to store stems in a high humidity cool room (95%)at 6-8 degrees (as Christmas Bush is sensitive to chilling injury at lower temperatures) within 12 hours of cutting.
- Hold in cool room until ready to process: at east 4 hours or preferably overnight.
- Another way of achieving high humidity is to cover the flowers with plastic sleeves or plastic sheeting. If storing for a few days, you may need to treat with a fungicide to protect against botrytis.
- Hydration solution: hold in clean potable water or preferably a reputable commercial post-harvest solution.
- Post-harvest treatment: same as hydration solution. No extra treatments are recommended.
LONGER TERM STORAGE
- For longer storage seek professional advice and test in the market before committing product.
- There is a high risk of flower drop and botrytis if this product is stored too long.
- Pack product damp.
- Pack bunches of the same size (stem number or weight, thickness and length) together.
- Pack evenly graded bunches together.
- Use paper to separate layers of product in the box.
- Pack bunches firmly but springy so the product will not move and be damaged.
- Pack boxes according to customer requirements.
- use boxes with holes to allow forced-air cooling and to facilitate fumigation.
- Minimise water loss and maintain strength of the carton, especially for long-distance transport, by lining boxes with plastic.
- Cool packaged flower to 5 degrees before transport.
LABELLING AND DOCUMENTATION
- Label boxes and buckets clearly, or as required by customer.
- Ensure that box contents are exactly the same as specified in the documentation and on the end of the box.
- Refrigerated vehicle at lower than 10 degrees but no lower than 5 degrees.
COMMON POST-HARVEST PROBLEMS
FUNGAL DECAY DUE TO BOTRYTIS OR INSECTS
- Use pre-harvest fungicide sprays during wet weather to reduce the risk of botrytis disease.
- Use pre-harvest insecticide sprays to reduce the pest population at harvest.
- Dip flowers that are to be packaged and held for any significant length of time (export product) in a registered fungicide or insecticide solution for not less than 1 minute, then dry naturally for 2 hours to ensure thorough disinfestation. (Do not allow bunches to completely dry out after dipping.
- Or: fumigate flowers before dispatch to kill insects.
- Christmas Bush appears to be susceptible to ethylene only at very high concentrations. Therefore, treatment with anti-ethylene products is usually not necessary.
- Sensitivity to low to moderate levels of ethylene is not know, so avoid transporting with fruit.
- Some wetting agents may be phytotoxic to Christmas Bush - test on a small sample before using.
christmas bush handling information
for importers / wholesalers
- Recut stems and place into fresh water containing a reputable commercial post-harvest solution, preferably including sugar.
- Cool product before marketing or sending on.
- Maintain good hygiene and keep containers clean.
- Recut stems and place into fresh water containing cut flower food or a registered chlorine biocide.
- Use clean buckets and containers for displays.
- Do not display flowers in areas that are exposed to full sun, draughts, high temperatures or vehicle exhausts, and preferably go not display near fruit and vegetables. Use refrigerated displays if possible.
- Tell the customer how to care for the flowers and emphasise the need for cut flower food in solutions. Give the customer a sachet of cut flower food to take home.
- Keep vase filled with the correct solution of cut flower food. Check daily, as flowers can use a lot of water. If cut flower food is not sued, change the water at least every second day. Always use clean vases and clean water.
- Do not display in areas that are exposed to full sun, draughts or high temperatures. Keep as cool as possible without freezing.