NORTHWEST BRADENTON -- Just like Christmas, the Orban's Nursery poinsettia sale comes only once a year.
More than 100,000 poinsettias with about 50 varieties fill the Northwest Bradenton nursery, forming a sea of red that will vanish Saturday after the general public gets its only chance this year to buy straight from the wholesaler.
The 23-year tradition allows the Orban family to spread a lot of holiday cheer Thanksgiving weekend.
"I'm always in the spirit. I love Christmas," owner Marty Orban said with a smile. "Hopefully it helps other people get into the spirit. It's gotten to be a tradition, and a lot of people come every year and get poinsettias and get started with their decorations."
The sale will last from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Orban's, 9601 Ninth Ave. NW. The drive-thru event is free.
"Usually it's kind of a madhouse in here," Orban said. "Some people start showing up a little before 9, and it goes pretty quick, and we keep bringing plants up to keep them stocked."
The concept started as a way to allow folks a peek at the nursery decorated for Christmas.
"What we started was just a drive-thru to let people basically drive around in a horseshoe to take pictures of poinsettias, get out of their cars and look in," Orban said. "We had so many people over the years asking for us to sell them, we set up selling them and ended up giving the money to the charity."
This year the nursery is partnering with Southeastern Guide Dogs of Palmetto to donate a portion of the sales. The nonprofit raises, trains and provides guide dogs for the visually impaired. The charitable work with the organization prompted Southeastern to name one of its dogs after Orban's daughter, Ramy.
The nursery started out with 160,000 poinsettias this year and Orban's has shipped about 25,000 so far, the owner said. Publix buys a lot of poinsettias with plants going to stores as far away as Atlanta and to another customer in the Bahamas.
Between 70 million and 80 million of the popular Christmas plants, which are native to Mexico, are sold during the holidays, according to the Society of American Florists. The plants are named after Joel Robert Poinsett, who first introduced them from his ambassadorship to Mexico by planting them in 1825 on his plantation in Greenwood, S.C., according to the Society of American Florists.
The varieties radiate in more than red, with a special blend this year called princettias, bringing out a pink and pink/white blend for something a little different.
"We've done some trialing, and we started with a different breeder that we never used before," Orban said.
When taking care of the poinsettia, Orban's found it's best to water the plants from underneath -- and a little bit of sunshine helps.
"I recommend they just take them out of the foil cover, set them in a dish of water for a half-hour, then let the excess just drain off," he said. "Poinsettias when they get full bloom are somewhat dormant, so they don't need a lot of water. They may need it if they put them in a windy area like a porch, but in a house, probably once a week is plenty."
The plants will stay with color through March, Orban said, and he recommends waiting to plant the poinsettias until April.
And don't worry if the cat accidentally chews on the poinsettia, he said. The myth the plant is poisonous was disproved in 1971 by an Ohio State University study. Poison control researcher Poisindex found a 50-pound child would have to eat at least 500 leaves before becoming ill.
"Poinsettias are not poisonous," he said. "That's an old wives tale."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.