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Feature

Five UMC students standing in a greenhouse

Five UMC students grew the flowers for campus as a part of the Commercial Floriculture Class this spring.

Growing their own

Contracting with students to grow flowers for campus was a first for UMC

By Dana Setterholm

Aug. 18, 2006

Landscaping is an essential part of any college campus. This may be an attempt to attract prospective students, or a hope that a beautiful campus will inspire young minds. Perhaps it's just because students have long been known to enjoy good weather by studying, tanning and playing Frisbee outdoors. At the University of Minnesota, Crookston, however, landscaping also helps students gain experience in their future field.

Horticulture is, pardon the pun, a growing industry across the United States. Minnesotans spend an average of $2 billion on flowers, plants, landscaping and gardens each year, and professionals trained in growing, designing, installing and maintaining plants and flowers are in great demand. UMC offers a four-year degree in horticulture, and, for the first time this spring, the University contracted directly with students to grow the plants needed for landscaping, offering students to chance to help the school as well as get firsthand experience.

In past years, growing bedding plants for the campus' landscaping has been the responsibility of the grounds crew, which has three employees. Last spring, UMC decided to do something different. A class focusing on growing plants to be used in landscape design already existed, called Commercial Floriculture Crops, so the University decided to contract directly with the students in the class. The five students were asked to grow over 8,000 bedding plants, which the grounds crew would then install all over campus.

UMC offers a four-year degree in horticulture, and, for the first time this spring, the university contracted directly with students to grow the plants needed for landscaping, offering students to chance to help the school as well as get first-hand experience.

Grounds supervisor Jerry Rude, who designs the flowerbeds on campus, ordered the seeds for the class and instructed the students on how he wanted the plants grown. The students were growing a crop and he was the client, he says, specifying the number and varieties of plants to grow. "He would give us information--how he wanted his seeds sown, or how many plants he wanted in a pack and how often he wanted it fertilized--and then the students just did what he needed," says Theresa Helgeson, a lab services coordinator at UMC who worked with the students. The students were responsible for the watering, fertilizing and prevention of insects and disease while growing the plants.

UMC spelled out in flowers
The students grew the flowers for this well-known bed.

Most of the plants the students grew were annuals like petunias, marigolds, begonias and geraniums, Helgeson says. These flowers were then planted in flowerbeds around the campus, including the well-known bed where "UMC" is spelled out in flowers. Besides learning how to grow a crop for a client, the students also learned how to delegate responsibility. "Once a week, one of the students has to tell their classmates what needs to be done, so as the semester goes on the students are actually running the class," Helgeson says.

Contracting directly with the students also helped the University. "It saved a lot of time and labor costs," Helgeson says. "The grounds crew was able to get other stuff done instead of having to go in the greenhouse and sit and transplant for a week. The students did that instead." Rude agrees, and says that besides saving the grounds crew time, the class gave the students good experience that will be valuable in their future careers.

Both Rude and Helgeson agree that contracting with the students was a success, so UMC plans to do so again next fall. Rude says the students will take the experience one step further by ordering the seeds they need by themselves, and they will also grow poinsettias for the holiday season.