Planting skills

Danny Montgomery says plants are like humans.

"They have to have the right food, right temperature and the right foundation," he said.

"A plant's foundation is soil. They have to have the right nutrients, like humans."

Students in Montgomery's Horticulture I class at Bunker Hill High School are growing poinsettias this semester.

At the same time, Montgomery is growing his students in preparation for real careers in agriculture and other industries.

He started as a teacher many years ago, shifted to an industry career for a quarter century and then moved back into teaching. He said there are agriculture and other jobs out there if students learn the appropriate skills.

In his horticulture class, activities build skills in math, science, business and finance, mechanics, even English, he said.

"We try to teach a rounded individual," he said.

Through growing poinsettias, students in his horticulture class have rounded out their plant knowledge this fall. Allie Setzer said she didn't know much about plants when she started the class in August.

"And now I really like it," said Setzer, a junior and a vice president of Bunker Hill's Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. "Now I can pretty much go home and tell my mom what she's doing wrong with her plants."

Setzer and her classmates said there's little room for error when attempting to grow a colorful poinsettia.

Appropriate light is essential.

"Short days, long nights," Setzer said. "If you don't have that, the leaves won't come into color."

The class had to recently turn off street lights near the school's greenhouses because the extra light at night was combatting the plants' development.

Lights have kept a V-shaped section in the greenhouse from reaching full color, but Montgomery said those plants will reach full color in a couple weeks.

Many of the 660 poinsettias grown at Bunker Hill this semester exuded brilliant red shades late last week.

"You have to keep them in a closed space to get that color," said Blake Herman, a sophomore in the class.

Montgomery said the beginnings of the plants arrived in August, and students started working on their growth the first day of school. He applies the chemicals, and the students learn how fertilizer is applied. Students use rulers to space out the potted plants on benches in the greenhouse and help maintain a watering system.

They also track a slew of variables that affect the plants' growth, including day and night temperatures, when they're fertilized and when the greenhouse door was left open.

At the end of the process, students know everything that goes into growing poinsettias, a plant native to Mexico and poisonous to humans and some animals, Montgomery said.

"What most people don't know is poinsettias are a wooded tree and can grow up to six to seven feet tall," said Sidney Hughes, a sophomore in Montgomery's class. "I didn't know that until I joined this class."

Montgomery said poinsettias are ready to sell when the leaves are as big as his hand.
The class is now selling the plants. Right before Christmas, any remaining plants will be delivered to nursing homes in Catawba County.

Students are also learning financial management through the plant sale.

"I teach them quality, not quantity," Montgomery said. "They have a basic knowledge of running a greenhouse business when they leave my class."

Poinsettias are leaving the greenhouse in students' arms.

Along with the plants, those students are carrying hands-on skills into the next phases of their lives.