By Sue Curry Jones
Students in the Ava High School horticulture class are readying for Christmas, and the annual FFA poinsettia sales. The classroom project keeps students busy, but it also serves an additional purpose –– it offers hands-on opportunities to effectively cultivate and grow greenhouse plants.
And, along with cultivating, nurturing and overseeing the health of each individual plant, students also learn about the plant’s delicate nature and how to correctly mix and apply fertilizers. They learn about ratios, plant care problems, and the care and use of equipment.
The venture is a true learning experience.
Most generally, poinsettias grow in tropical areas or in hot, dry forests along the Pacific coast of Mexico. The bush was brought into the United States in 1825, and since that time, poinsettias have become a festive symbol of Christmas, as the plants offers brilliant displays of red, pink and green foliage. However, it is only with profound care that these plants thrive in these Ozark hills.
Students started the project this fall with small bedding plants about 1½ inches tall. Today, after months of nurturing, the plants are healthy and strong, and appear about 12-14 inches tall.
Initially, the students potted 900 poinsettias, with three plants per pot.
Cheyenne Lafferty, an Ava senior, enjoys working in the greenhouse and says she could spend every day tending the plants. For Lafferty, it was fascinating to learn how to improve the appearance of the plants and utilize special methods to create fuller and bushier plants. Now, as the plants are beginning to go from green to red, she says this is the fun stage to watch.
Dakota Hall, a senior, is excited because he found the project offered real life applications on how to grow and nourish crops. Hall plans to study agriculture in college, and he found working the plants provided a good foundation for understanding fertilizers, applying treatments, and using the fertilizer injector –– all points that are useful applications and knowledge for a future farmer.
The students readily expressed how much they enjoy and appreciate the class, and most of the students, like senior Ciara Bray, admitted they have plans apart from horticulture, such as dairy farming or raising cattle. However, they also know the hands-on, practical application has been useful, and very soon, they will be applying the information to their own farm, garden, crops or fields.
Justina Hunnell, a senior, also felt that growing poinsettias has been a fun process. Spending time in the hothouse tending plants makes her smile. She learned a lot about the delicate nature of plants, noting for example, that if leaves get too wet, they rot. She said the group learned how to protect the plants by properly using insecticides, and stimulating growth by using blackout curtains.
According to Wes Davis, Ava R-1 agriculture teacher, the students have done a great job this year, and poinsettias will go on sale after the Thanksgiving holiday for $7 a pot. All monies benefit the Ava FFA.
However, for the students, the project has been much more than just ‘planting poinsettias’ to accrue funds, these Ava students have enjoyed every step of the process. A fact that shows in their enthusiasm, and the plants.