Much like an expectant parent, Jack Geyen has been pacing anxiously for months awaiting the arrival of his babies -- all 75,000 of them.

"The first four weeks are the most dangerous," said Geyen, who for 25 years has led the annual production of Bachman's holiday poinsettia supply. "That's when they can get infected."

This week Bachman's, one of the nation's largest nursery and floral operations, will begin shipping and selling the poinsettias, which come in a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes.

Planning for the company's so-called annual Poinsettia Pandemonium began in March, continued through planting in June and then the color change in the leaves that started in October.

The lead time is needed, officials said, because of the volume of orders but also because it can take some varieties as long as nine months to grow.

Thus grows a sea of red, with some white, pink and even blue mixed in, across 9 acres in greenhouses at the company's 660-acre farm in Farmington.

"Whew," Geyen said when asked his reaction to the culmination of the process. "There's a lot of challenges that go into it, and you're just glad that they are ready to go. Two-thirds of our greenhouses are poinsettias, and you don't want to screw it up."

The company is one of the largest poinsettia growers in the Upper Midwest. Most of the inventory, ranging from 2-inch plants to 3-foot "poinsettia trees," will end up in the 29 Bachman's retail locations. Nearly 10,000 will be shipped to churches, schools, clubs or offices as part of fund-raising efforts by those groups.

"That's sort of an emerging market for us," said Dale Bachman, the company's chief executive officer.

Company officials said sales to such groups have been growing in part because of the tight economy and budget reductions everywhere from schools to churches.

"We're filling a need," said John Daniels, Bachman's vice president of production. "As the funding in schools goes down, the need to do fund-raising goes up."

A long history

Dale Bachman is the fourth generation of his family to run the firm, founded in 1885 when Henry Bachman Sr. began growing vegetables on a plot of land in south Minneapolis.

Although poinsettias grow in the wild and were introduced to the United States from Mexico in the mid-1800s, it was not until the 1920s that they caught on as an indoor decorative plant.

They have become almost as traditional as Christmas trees and, in fact, are the most-purchased potted plant, according to Bachman's. Poinsettias' popularity can be chalked up partly to an accident of nature: Their green leaves turn bright red just in time for the holidays. Also, Geyen and Bachman said, the plants can last for months.

The result is a multimillion-dollar industry with many varieties sold worldwide.

This year, Bachman will be selling 32 varieties, including blue with gold flakes sprinkled onto and into the leaves.

Each year, Geyen creates new varieties, introducing a few at a time. "Horticulture is like the fashion business," Bachman said. "They're always chasing after the next best thing."

Heron Marquez • 952-707-9994