Pat Munts: SCC students test poinsettias’ market potential

Laurie Parrish, instructor in the Spokane Community College Greenhouse Management Program, shows off a pot of Diamond Frost euphorbia surrounding a Shimmer Surprise poinsettia.
Laurie Parrish, instructor in the Spokane Community College Greenhouse Management Program, shows off a pot of Diamond Frost euphorbia surrounding a Shimmer Surprise poinsettia.

It’s been cold this past week. We had dustings of snow three mornings in a row at our house as a reminder that winter and the holiday plant season are not far off.

While we are just gearing up for the holidays, the students in the Spokane Community College’s Greenhouse Management Program have been in the thick of growing poinsettias since before the start of school in late September. Their goal is to have several hundred plants in a wide range of colors ready for their annual Poinsettia Open House Thursday and Friday at the SCC Greenery.

“I had no idea how much work went into growing a greenhouse crop,” said second-year student Timothy McClung. “It has been interesting to learn how to manage the plants so we get the bract sizes and colors we need at the right time.”

The plants the students are growing this year came from Ecke and Dummen, two of the world’s largest poinsettia breeding and production companies. The greenhouse program has a long relationship with breeding programs like these. The companies need a way to assess new varieties in a real world setting before they are released to the public. The students need experience managing a crop that is important to many of the companies they will go to work for in the future. It’s a win-win for everyone.

This year the students are trying 33 varieties. Some have names like Jubilee Jingle Bells, Premium Ice Crystal and Winter Sun. Others are going by just numbers like 1230, 19-12 and 31-12. They won’t get names until they successfully make it through growing programs like SCC’s.

The work on this year’s crop began in early July when 1-inch rooted plugs or liners were planted by Tyler Beasley, the greenhouse manager. Students in a summer practicum came in August to begin the pinching and growth regulation procedures that ensure nice bushy plants with lots of colorful bracts that will be ready at the right time. A poinsettia that comes into color two weeks after a holiday is no good to anyone.

At the beginning of the quarter, McClung and his fellow students were each assigned groups of plants to care for and manage just as if they were in a commercial greenhouse. They had to keep careful records on growth, color development, fertilization, pest control and make sure the plants get the needed hours of darkness to stimulate bract formation. “It takes a lot of attention to detail to get the plants ready at just the right time,” said Laurie Parrish, the program’s instructor.

Once the poinsettia crop is finished, the students will move on to their winter and spring projects of growing vegetable and annual starts for spring gardening and working with houseplants during the cold winter. Second-year student Jorge Alvarez appreciates the hands-on nature of his classes. “Having small classes and teachers who are willing to work you makes this a great experience for me.”

Pat Munts has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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