Winter Slumber: The Black Hole of Nursery Plants
Every fall I get multiple customers per week asking me the same question:
They look at the vast array of plants all around them and say “Soooooo… what do you do with all these plants for winter?” It’s the most fun when I let them answer for themselves. Do you sell them all before winter? My answer is, “Oh no, we will sell a lot but not nearly everything.” Second question comes. “Do you discount everything?!” With a hopeful look they eagerly anticipate my answer. My answer is almost always the same. “We have some great sales going on but we do not try to get rid of everything. What you see here in front of you is only about half of the plants on the yard. We are growing just as many in the back to be ready for next year.” The next question comes with a little more puzzle in the tone, “So do you bring all these plants inside?”
I actually enjoy these questions. People also often ask me what we do with the shrubs when it freezes in spring … for those of you who don’t know I think them being outside during a light frost or two is ok, they’re acclimatized… they’re okay…. you don’t dig up your shrubs and bring them in the basement every night in May that threatens frost either. I’m sorry, I’m smirking a little right now.
It’s okay, I will get to telling you what we really do. It’s actually a week of effort. We will be putting a small video about it on our Facebook soon if you want see what this all actually looks like the day of. First we have to make sure the plants are moist enough to make it through the winter without dehydrating. This usually means either irrigating or having a rain in the last days before we shut down. Our staff strategically starts placing 50 x 10 ft. wide rolls of plastic covered quarter inch foam blankets. We start placing out several hundred used tires as well. We fill up approximately 500 jars with mouse poison, place these jars in crates and then into carts so they’re ready for their strategic locations. Then we choose a day when we can get a large number of volunteers to come out and help us. Often it’s a church group looking to fundraiser specific projects. The day before the group comes, our staff starts piling our plants together. It really looks like a swather came through, flipped all the plants sideways, and piled them like grain swaths. These started piles are approximately 10 ft. long and 7 ft. wide and we have about 15 different piles. The volunteers will then continue this example and some piles become nearly 200 feet long, all the while staying 7 ft. wide. Once the piles are in place we place the mouse poison jars every 6 feet sideways right beside the plants. When this is taking place, groups of approximately 8 to 10 people pull the 50 by 15 foot blankets over the piles. They have to be pulled over in the opposite direction they are tipped. We do not want to snag the branches and risk damaging the plants. Once the blankets are in place we place the tires on top of blankets. We place them just beside the pile so they’re snugged up. The tires are there to keep the blankets weighted down so the wind does not uncover the hibernating plants. We always serve a barbecue lunch to the volunteers when they’re done because it is an exhausting job. The sense of teamwork, accomplishments and good morale is very important. We could never do this on a Saturday morning without a huge number of people helping us out. The man hours it takes to set up and finish this task is probably around 250+hrs. Just to put a little perspective on that that would be one person working for an eighth of their year!!
Oh, have I told you about spring stand-up day?! It’s easy to explain just reverse the previous process and add the necessity to organize every plant in his place. This is probably more like 400 hours. Did anybody say money grew on trees? Needless to say these two days are probably some of the most strategic and stressful for myself and our staff. But every year God has been faithful, always providing us with enough people to do it. If we never did these two days we could never do the rest of the year. Which means we wouldn’t have the joy of serving our customers, discovering new plants, and enjoying those gardens. I just wanted to share this little insight for those of you who are curious. Thanks for asking.