Published in the Islander 12/08/00
BY GLORIA STRAVELLI
New York City's Rockefeller Center
is famous for its holiday displays, but the plants and floral
arrangements that wow visitors originate much closer to home.
Bob Hoffbauer, one of Roehrs' owners, cares for the
It's in the greenhouses of Julius
Roehrs Co. Exotic Nurseries that the poinsettias, chrysanthemums
and azaleas used to create seasonal or holiday displays at Rockefeller
Center's gardens and the Easter lilies that adorn St. Patrick's
Cathedral at Easter come into bloom. "We start the poinsettias
as early as May," said Bob Hoffbauer, one of the Roehrs'
owners, explaining that growing the 35,000 poinsettias the Howell
nursery produces is a formidable challenge.
The poinsettias are grown from
cuttings and take careful nurturing to come into bloom at the
right time for holiday display.
"Poinsettias need 60 days
of complete darkness to set a bract (a petal-like leaf)," explained
Hoffbauer, a Colts Neck resident. "The temperature in the
greenhouse must be kept in the low 60s and feeding is critical."
"If you disturb that rhythm,
they won't cooperate, so we absolutely never turn the light on
at night," said Karen Hoffbauer.
The Hoffbauers are a brother and
sister team who together to run the 130-year-old nursery. Bob's
purview is production and administration, while Karen oversees
sales and marketing. Bob joined the company in 1975 after graduating
from college. Karen left a career in marketing to help run the
The two are related through marriage
to the nursery's founder, Julius Roehrs, who immigrated to the
United States in 1864 and became the gardener on a Jersey City
estate. (Their father's uncle married Roehr's daughter).
An accomplished horticulturist
in his native Germany, Roehrs was just 20 years old when he became
a gardener on the estate of a wealthy industrialist, eventually
becoming chief orchid grower. In 1869, he left the estate to
found his own nursery on 17 acres in East Rutherford, where he
grew flowering plants for private customers and for the newly
fashionable retail florist shops in New York. He is credited
with helping to introduce tropical plants to the United States.
Today, Julius Roehrs Co. Exotic
Nurseries occupies an 86-acre tract that spans Farmingdale and
According to Bob Hoffbauer, the
nursery has 200,000 square feet of growing space under glass
-- 6 acres -- where plants from diminutive annuals to the 25-foot
ficus trees that grace the 15 buildings and summer garden at
Rockefeller Center are grown.
The nursery's 12 greenhouses represent
one of the largest collections of ornamental flora ready for
use in the United States. One of the largest tropical nurseries
in the metropolitan area, Roehrs has an entire greenhouse devoted
just to foliage plants.
The major focus of the firm's business
is "greening" corporate offices and shopping malls.
The nursery is one of the largest commercial interior landscape
design and maintenance firms in the metropolitan area, Karen
In addition, Roehrs participates
in several major flower shows annually, including Macy's annual
flower show, and supplies many exhibitors at flower shows.
Located on Route 33, the nursery
is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through
Bob Hoffbauer pointed out that
while poinsettias are the nursery's major focus at this time
of year, they actually grow more chrysanthemums than anything
"We grow mums 46 weeks of
the year," he said, estimating that the nursery produces
50,000 mums for fall displays. An entire greenhouse is dedicated
to growing mums.
"We brought one 600-foot greenhouse
when we moved the company from East Rutherford to Howell, he
explained. We re-erected it, built side houses and added over
the years. Our mum house is fully automated. Computers control
the temperature, lighting, shading and feeding."
"No matter how many we have
(mums), we never have enough," added Karen Hoffbauer. "We
grow them from cuttings and it's 12 weeks from cutting to bloom.
We provide 2,000 per week for interior plantscaping."
While some greenhouses are fully
automated, there is still plenty of hands-on work to be done,
both Hoffbauers acknowledged.
"Absolutely. Potting, watering,
pinching, debudding, making cuttings, rooting are still done
by hand," Bob said.
"Most things here are done
the old-fashioned way," Karen said.