During the winter months, even before the thoughts of gardeners turn to seed catalogs, The Greenhouse staff is working to be ready for spring.
When the doors open mid-May for retail sales and all of the plants, hanging baskets and budding trees and shrubs are looking their best, do people give a thought to what went on behind closed doors during the dark winter months? Let’s take a closer look.
There are seven Greenhouse locations; permanent sites in Carlton, Aitkin and McGregor, and seasonal sites in Superior, East Superior, Cloquet and Duluth.
Maintaining the greenhouses over the winter comes with a unique set of challenges. In 2016 the greenhouses in Carlton had to be replaced; this year the retail house in McGregor collapsed due to the heavy snow. The plastic skin on the greenhouses in Aitkin and McGregor had to be replaced in the fall of 2018 because of hail damage. However, they provide protection from frost for tender plants and the business would not be able to provide bedding plants, house plants, baskets, and vegetable starts early in the season without those season-extending structures.
Ginger Okeson, Aitkin, is the manager of the Aitkin Greenhouse facility.
Interacting with all the customers is Okeson’s favorite part of the business.
“May and June are so busy,” said Okeson, “but even then we take time to visit with people. We also do a lot of problem solving for customers. When they have questions, we have quite a library of information we can share to help them be successful with their projects. If we don’t know something, we find out so that we can point them in the right direction.” The Greenhouse in Aitkin has a lot of reference material right in the shop.
Okeson is well equipped to do her job as manager because of her background and education. She has an associate certificate in landscaping technology, and an associate degree in applied sciences in Natural Resource Management through Central Lakes College.
The site was owned and operated by Joe Riehle (Great River Gardens) until 2012; in 2014 it was leased and operated by The Greenhouse of Carlton. At the beginning of 2015 Okeson took over as manager. The Greenhouse also purchased the site and main sales building that year.
The greenhouses hold dormant shrubs and trees over the winter. To prevent them from coming out of dormancy, they are kept cold (below 40° F) all winter. If the temperature should rise above that on a sunny winter day, air cooling fans switch on automatically to cool down the interior.
Okeson looks in on the potted stock during the winter, and gives minimal water as needed to keep the trees and shrubs in good condition. In late winter, pots, soil and other production hard goods that were scheduled and ordered start being delivered to stock the shop with gardening tools, pots, garden ornaments, and other things gardeners might need.
A YEAR-’ROUND OPERATION
The Greenhouse of Carlton owner Jim Fahrenholz explained that production for a nursery and garden center operation like The Greenhouse is a year-long process.
Planning for the next year starts in July of the year before, when new plant additions are researched and ordered from suppliers in the U.S., Mexico and Central America. Planning for material that will be grown from seed is next. Seed sowing begins as early as January for some things and continues into May.
Planting into final containers for retail sales begins around the third week of February with the first of the hanging baskets, and continues into April.
At the start of the new year, a planning process regarding varieties, quantities and colors of poinsettias begins. Cuttings are ordered in early February. Planting of poinsettias takes place in early to mid-August.
The Aitkin Greenhouse participates in Aitkin Chamber of Commerce events during the months it is open, such as Ladies Night Out and the Commerce and Sports Show. The Carlton, McGregor and Aitkin Greenhouse locations also offer classes through Community Education programs.
Offerings have included Fairy Gardening, Terrarium Building, and Planter Design. Container planting classes are held in Carlton the third week of April.
The spring selling season begins about April 1, continuing well into July.
The Greenhouse can be contacted through the company website at www.thegreenhousecarlton.com.