Green thumbs suffer frostbite

Valley retailers hope garden sales blossom this weekend

Tables in the Rose Floral Greenhouse are filled Tuesday with annual flats waiting to be purchased by customers during a spring planting season delayed by unseasonably cold temperatures and snow. (Gazette staff photo by Erik Sandin)

April’s winter-like weather has put a cold, wet blanket on area gardeners’ dreams.

The third storm in a week dumped 4 to 6 inches of snow on the St. Croix Valley Monday night and early Tuesday morning, adding another layer of winter insult to a region wondering when spring warmth will arrive.

Not only has the weather kept people from working in their yards and gardens, it has delayed both nursery sales at area stores and the openings of several temporary garden outlets.

“We got spoiled by last year’s early spring,” said Andy Rose, owner of Rose Floral in Stillwater. “I get people coming and asking, ‘What can I plant, what can I put out.’ People want to get a little color in their yards.”

“It’s been a complete standstill,” added Mitch Johnson of Abrahamson Nursery. “Last year was the earliest spring ever by far. This is is the latest spring, almost guaranteed.”

Linder’s Nursery, which operates two of its many seasonal flower marts in Stillwater and Oak Park Heights, has been forced by the weather to delay opening those temporary locations, according to general manager Caio Cella.

“This is about eight to 10 days later than from our original plan,” he said, referring to the Linder’s Flower Marts at Valley Ridge Mall and Kowalski’s. “It usually goes from mid-April to mid-July. In operating time, we’ve lost seven to 10 days to prep the stores.”

CUB Foods spokesman Jeff Swanson said the Stillwater store on Market Place Drive opens its seasonal garden center Saturday. That opening day falls within the store’s timetable, he added.

“Although this spring has been unusual in terms of weather, CUB Foods typically aims to have their garden centers open and fully operational by May 1,” he said. “We’re working extra hard right now to ensure we are ready when the nicer weather officially arrives next week.”

Rose and Johnson both said managers of greenhouses that supply plants to Rose Floral and Abrahamson stores are trying to control the growth of plants to ensure fresh stock is available when temperatures warm up.

“The greenhouse end is a concern,” Johnson said about Abrahamson’s St. Croix Falls, Wis., growing facility. “Our greenhouse manager, he’s been working on slowing the plants down.”

Johnson said that’s done by cooling the greenhouses and not fertilizing young plants as much.

“Independents like us can slow down and hold our crops,” Rose added, noting that is some major retailers such as Lowe’s and the Walmart Supercenter in Oak Park Heights might be unable to do.

CUB’s Swanson said the grocer has been assured by its garden center suppliers that fresh plant stock would be available this weekend.

“Our growers and suppliers assure us that they will have a beautiful supply of flowers ready for immediate distribution,” he said, adding that CUB stores would have hanging baskets and patio pots available this weekend.

Cella said the other issue garden retailers have no control over is when area’s soil is ready to be worked. This month’s cold, wet days have kept many people out of their yards and gardens.

“People can’t get in their yards to clean up. The soil needs to thaw out and dry out and then they need to start all this,” he said.

Although the bulk of Abrahamson’s business is landscaping, Johnson hopes the weather improves soon and allows people to start working in their yards and gardens. He notes that the bulk of his company’s retail garden business is done until about Memorial Day weekend to the end of the school year the following week in early June.

“We certainly hope so,” Johnson said when asked if he’s hoping for better weather soon. “If it (cold) lasts too long, business goes away.”

But Rose and Cella both believe their stores’ business will pick up once warmer air arrives. Cella said Linder’s plans to open the Valley Ridge Flower Mart Friday and the Oak Park Heights Flower Mart Sunday.

“Ultimately, it seems to compress the season and makes for a busy May,” Rose said.
Rose Floral hosts its popular spring open house Saturday and Sunday at its 60th St. North store in Stillwater.

Although cooler-than-normal temperatures are forecast for the Valley today and Thursday, the National Weather Service in Chanhassen forecasts highs in the lower 60s Friday and in the upper 60s to low 70s Friday through Monday. Lows will rise from the upper 20s tonight to the upper 40s and low 50s by the weekend.

While that weekend forecast is music to the ears of retailers, Cella said that the cold April has leveled the field for both large and small retailers.

“This year everybody is in the same place,” he said.