Annual poinsettia sale a hands-on educational opportunity for horticulture students

K-State Alumni Communications 

(From left) Egypt Edwards, senior in horticulture, Ellyn Stimac, junior in horticulture, Cody Holliday, junior in agricultural education, and Matt Briggs, senior in horticulture, inspect poinsettias for Kansas State University Gardens' annual holiday plant sale. (Photo: Ashley Pauls)

Those who purchased poinsettias at the ever-popular annual Kansas State University Gardens holiday plant sale not only received a beautiful holiday decoration but also supported a hands-on learning experience for K-State horticulture students. 

Students in the greenhouse operations management class grow the poinsettias in the teaching space of the Throckmorton Plant Sciences Center greenhouses on campus as a lab project. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Friends of the KSU Gardens, student projects at the gardens, and crop production expenses in the greenhouse management course. 

“The students always do a great job producing beautiful plants that, in the end, bring a little joy to many people during the holidays,” said Scott McElwain, director of the gardens. “It's a great program.”

The sale includes amaryllis plants as well as red, peach, white, pink and speckled poinsettias. The sale was so popular this year the poinsettia plants sold out a day early. 

Kim Williams, professor of greenhouse management, said growing the poinsettias is the central experiential learning activity of the greenhouse management course, and K-State students work with the poinsettias from (nearly) start to finish. The crop is potted in late July, and once the semester starts, students track the crop to manage its height and rate of development and scout it for pests. Teams of students water, fertilize and perform other crop maintenance activities, just as a commercial grower would.  

“Poinsettias are our 'guinea pig' crop to gain experience implementing all of the information that we cover under the topic of greenhouse management, from light and temperature, fertilization and root medium, to heating, cooling and environmental control,” Williams said. 

She said the collaboration with the Friends of the KSU Gardens is a great partnership, generating funds to offset the cost of production and stretching the teaching budget for the course so that other hands-on activities, such as hydroponics production, can be added into it. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.

“Hands-on learning is a hallmark of K-State's College of Ag, and it's a real strength of our teaching programs,” Williams said. “A couple years ago we conducted a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning project with the hydroponics modules in our greenhouse management course and learned that students learned more deeply, gaining problem-solving skills, compared to just hearing the material in lectures. While this type of [hands-on] student learning requires a lot of resources to implement, data unequivocally supports the gains in student learning that come from it.” 

Learn more about K-State’s College of Agriculture and how it supports hands-on education. 

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