Agriculture students offer traditional holiday experience with poinsettia sale

Dec. 3—Packed onto sliding tables in the Greenhouse Learning Center at Oklahoma State University, 2,000 poinsettias nestled together, ready for the annual Poinsettia Sale.

Alexis Hise, a senior Agriculture Education major at OSU, points to the remaining poinsettia plants — only a tiny fraction of the poinsettias from the sale that started on Thursday and ended Friday.

Hise is taking a Greenhouse Management class, and caring for the poinsettias was a part of the requirements for the class.

Four groups of four or five students each were responsible for caring for all of the poinsettias — including planting them from cuttings in August, mixing the fertilizer themselves and maintaining heat, light and soil, besides protecting them from insects.

"We watered them twice a day," Hise said. "One group watered them in the morning, then at 2 p.m. someone else would come in."

She said they had a group message and would take turns helping each other, subbing when needed to make sure the plants were cared for.

As part of the class, the students also grew dianthus (perennial), shasta daisies (perennial), lavender (perennial), ornamental kale, and ornamental peppers this year.

Dr. Bruce Dunn, Professor of Floriculture at OSU, said this year was as successful as last year. This year was the 32nd sale, and he's been a part of the sale for thirteen of those years.

The sale usually starts at 7:30 a.m. on the Thursday after Thanksgiving, and by the end of that day, 80 percent of the poinsettias are typically gone, said Dunn.

People arrive early, eager to buy their flowers and begin the holiday season. One woman even arrived at 4 a.m.

"It's good to see a lot of interest in the community for the sale," Dunn said. "People tell us it's one of those things that really kicks off their Christmas season. It's tradition."

The class not only helps the students learn how to manage the care of the plants — seeing the process from the beginning — but it also helps them learn about selling and working with customers.

"We convert the class to a store," Dunn said. "We want to be a full-service, quality business. We even sack them up in sleeves to protect them from the wind and help carry them to the car."

Last year, the sale generated around $12,000, with roughly half going toward paying for this year's crop expenses and the other half used for student scholarships and supporting the departmental teaching program.

Dunn says the event has become a socializing event for the community. Groups of shoppers come together to buy poinsettias, marking the beginning of the holiday season. Many local businesses place large orders, including the Bill Knight Ford dealership, Cockrell Eyecare Center, Great Plains National Bank and RE/MAX.

But some customers come just to be with friends and family.

"One lady came because she said it reminded her of memories with her brother," Dunn said.

Half of the cultivars (plants) this year were the traditional "Winter Rose," (red), but other colors were planted, with names like "Orange Glow," "Enduring Marble," "Ice Crystal," "Jingle Bells," "Tapestry" and "Alaska." The sizes grown were elfin (4.5" desk size), deluxe (6" standard table size) and specimen (8" display size).

Dunn tells the students that the previous class sets the stage for the next year's crop. They focus especially on water, nutrients and spacing.

"People will tell (the students) if the plants are not as good as last year," Dunn said. "We try not to plant too many, to give each one the adequate space to grow."

Dunn said their goal was to make enough money for next year's crop, but he said they will continue to hold the sale.

"We're very appreciative of the community coming out and supporting the students so they can do it next year," Dunn said.