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Greenery students find perfect poinsettias demand precision

Students in the Greenhouse Management class at Spokane Community College’s Department of Horticulture show off their plants. (PAT MUNTS)
Students in the Greenhouse Management class at Spokane Community College’s Department of Horticulture show off their plants. (PAT MUNTS)

Learning by doing is often said to be the best teacher of all. As I talked to this year’s greenhouse management students at Spokane Community College, that became obvious.

Every fall, SCC’s greenhouse management students raise poinsettias as part of their crop-management education.

According to instructor Brian Green, growing poinsettias is the ultimate test of their skills. This year’s challenges included an issue with some unanticipated light pollution. “Someone replaced an outdoor security light near the greenhouse that slowed the color development of the bracts,” Green said.

The students not only grow poinsettias for the learning experience; their work helps choose new varieties that will be introduced nationally next year. Each year the students receive new, as-yet-unnamed varieties developed by Paul Ecke Ranch and Fischer USA, two of the world’s leading hybridizers.

The hybridizers want to know how the plants do in a wide variety of growing environments. The ones that do well receive names and are put on the market. Through the fall quarter, the students recorded data on the growth and flowering characteristics of each variety and reported it to the companies.

“It’s a win-win for them and the breeders,” said Green. Last year, students tested a variety with hot pink bracts. This year it’s on the market as Dolce Rose and heralds the beginning of a new direction in poinsettia breeding. Dolce Rose will be available at this week’s sale.

Properly cared for, poinsettias will last well into the new year and even make nice green houseplants through the rest of the year. Unfortunately, getting them to rebloom the next year is difficult because it takes very specific light and growing conditions most homes don’t have.

Keep plants in a cool room where they get six or more hours of bright indirect light. Water them thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch, but don’t let them sit in water as the roots will rot quickly. Remove them from foil pot covers.

Don’t place plants where they are exposed to drafts or heat, especially around outside doors and fireplaces. Buy your plants at the end of your shopping trip and take them straight home. Exposure to temperatures less than 50 degrees will cause leaf drop.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. Reach her by e-mail at pat@inlandnw


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