Learning by doing is one of the most effective teaching methods out there. Books, videos and people telling you how to do something are great but it’s when you get your own hands dirty that you learn the most.
Just ask the students in the Spokane Community College’s Greenhouse Management program. Each year the students in Brian Green’s second-year classes take their book learning and turn it into greenhouses full of holiday plants, vegetable starts and annuals that they then sell to raise money for their programs.
Next week, the community will get to take advantage of their first crop of the year at the annual holiday plant sale Thursday and Friday at the SCC Greenery Building. This year’s holiday plant sale will include not only their traditional crop of poinsettias but also Christmas cacti ready to bloom and bright, sunny mums.
The students don’t just grow their plants to sell. They are testing 29 new cultivars of poinsettia for some of the biggest growers in the world: Paul Ecke of California and Dummen USA. These growers send the school a selection of plants often labeled with only a number to do a final grow-out test before the companies decide which ones will be named and released to the retail market for next Christmas.
The companies send the cuttings to the school in July. Summer students pot up the cuttings and begin to pinch them back and space them to encourage branching. When the fall quarter students take over, they begin a rigorous light and dark regime to signal the plants to set the colorful bracts. Through this process the students are required to take height and width measurements and photographs each week. This data is sent to the growers to help them evaluate what to expect when the plants are released to wholesale growers.
“One of the biggest challenges the students have is learning how to water properly,” Green said. “When you are trying to get the optimum growth out of a plant, under and over watering has a big impact.” The students are required to come in five days a week to tend their plants.
This year’s sale will offer several different sizes of plants to fit different environments. “We will be offering 3-, 4- and 5-inch plants along with our larger size this year,” Green said. “We will also have a selection of pots with multiple plants.”
Once you get your plant home, place them 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. Don’t place plants where they are exposed to drafts or heat. 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.