From the classroom to the greenhouse: Club finds success in growing poinsettias

This year, the Horticulture Club grew over 450 individual poinsettias for their annual fundraiser.

By Madelyn Ostendorf 

Hannah Kramer and the seven other members of the Poinsettia Fundraiser committee can be found Tuesday nights in the Horticulture Hall greenhouse, leaning over the tables of multicolored poinsettias that fill the space. The committee is in the end stages of measuring and fertilizing the more than 450 plants to send out to Iowa State University’s students, faculty and staff. 

Kramer, senior in horticulture, is the executive director of the Horticulture Club's annual poinsettia sale. She began planning the annual fundraiser in March, reviewing sale results from the previous year and determining what to order and grow for the current year. 

"I look at when our sale date is, then work backwards to figure out when we need to have the poinsettias ready to determine when we need to plant the rooted cuttings," Kramer said. "We could order some larger plants, but those would need to be planted earlier in the summer when no one is here, and planting them is really the fun part for most of the members." 

Kramer, center, and members of the Horticulture Club measure the heights of the poinsettias to ensure they are growing as expected.

This is Kramer's first year leading the poinsettia sale preparations. All Horticulture Club members help with the sale itself, but the club officers encouraged Kramer to take on the task of growing the poinsettias.

Kramer is specializing in the greenhouse plant production option within the horticulture major. Through her classes, she is learning how to grow poinsettias, among other flowers, trees and shrubs, in commercial greenhouses. She’s taking this knowledge and applying it in her executive director role.

"Students take four greenhouse classes as part of their degree program; the poinsettia project allows students to use the knowledge gained in those classes and apply them to a real-world crop," said Barb Clawson, Student Services Specialist in the Department of Horticulture and the club's adviser. 

This year’s plants started from rooted cuttings, shipped to the Horticulture Hall greenhouse in August from Plant Peddler, a greenhouse in northeastern Iowa the club typically orders from. A few weeks before the annual sale in November, Kramer will order larger poinsettias and specialty varieties that have proven popular among customers.

"People care about plants around here," Kramer said. "We ordered some white poinsettias, red and white variegated ones and orange ones. Not very many, though, because I don't want to go overboard."

Once all the rooted cuttings have been planted in August, the club spends the next couple of months maintaining the growing plants and monitoring their conditions. 

"We track their heights, the root zone fertilizer levels and pH levels to help grow them better," Kramer said. "That way, if they're too tall, we're not waiting until the very end when there's nothing we can do about it. If we find they're too short, we can boost them sooner rather than later."

Kramer keeps a chart of expected growth for each variety of poinsettia, and the committee evaluates whether the plants measure up to expectations.

The committee hand-waters the poinsettias for the first several weeks, then sets up a drip irrigation system to ensure consistent moisture. Since the poinsettias are already individually potted, any potential issues are isolated to the single plant.

"The hard work is mostly done," Kramer said of the pre-sale maintenance. "Now it's just about getting to the finish line." 

Poinsettia sale preorders are open online through Nov. 18. Order picks will be available on the days of the sale. Locations change each day and can be selected on the preorder sheet.

  • Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. in the Curtiss Rotunda
  • Dec. 1 from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. in Bearshear Hall
  • Dec. 2 from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. in the Horticulture Hall
  • Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. at Reiman Gardens