By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN With the spring planting season drawing near, customers of Cokato Nursery Landscaping will need to find an alternative greenhouse to purchase their annuals and perennials.
Owners Mike and Monica Berg have announced that after more than 40 years of business, the greenhouses will no longer be open.
“One of the hardest things is people come up to you and ask ‘I bet you’re getting your greenhouses ready,’” Berg commented. When I tell them the new, they reply, “Now where are we going to get our flowers?”
Mike’s dad, Gene, who passed away in 2013, started the nursery in 1970 as a summer hobby while he taught math and physics for the Dassel-Cokato School District. After retiring in 1990, Gene expanded the nursery business, located just north of Cokato on Wright County Road 4.
Mike’s mother, Bev, added a florist shop to the nursery in 1985, but the shop was phased out in the 1990s.
In the 1980s, Gene began the landscaping side of the business, which Mike later took over in 1989, after earning a degree in landscape and design.
“Dad’s specialty over the years was geraniums,” Mike said.
He would do a lot of research, and was very careful and precise in using the proper fertilizer and ensuring the soil was at the right pH level for optimum growth, Mike explained.
“He wanted to make sure they were high-quality,” Mike said.
Gene’s precision and care must have paid off, since geraniums were undoubtedly the top seller at Cokato Nursery.
The Bergs would start their planting season in late February or early March, and the geraniums would come to them pre-rooted from wholesalers. They would then transplant them in the greenhouse.
Mike remembers growing up and working alongside his father in the greenhouse.
As a fifth- and sixth-grader, the worst job he had was watering the shrubs.
What likely took only two hours to complete, seemed like an all-day affair, Mike said.
Because he had grown up in the landscape business, Mike knew he couldn’t work in an office setting. He wanted to continue working outdoors in the landscaping business and, therefore, went to college to learn more about the trade.
When Mike took over the landscaping business in 1989, the business name became Cokato Nursery Landscaping.
Mike and his wife, Monica, took over the nursery and greenhouses six years ago so Mike’s mom and dad could retire, though they were always there for advice.
Last summer, Gene passed away from prostate cancer.
After that, it was decided the Bergs would redirect their focus to the landscaping business and discontinue the nursery, which had ultimately been Gene’s passion.
“The rest of us worked at it,” Monica said, “but it was his passion.”
The rising fuel costs also were a contributing factor to their decision.
Since they would begin heating the greenhouses in late-February, the long winters and late springs took a toll on the heating bills.
Last March, Mike stayed at his parents (where the nursery business was located) and set the alarm every hour so he could check the furnaces in the greenhouses.
“If one furnace goes out, you lose everything,” he said.
Necessary upgrades on the greenhouses would also be costly, which contributed to their decision to end the nursery part of the business.
With this being the first year in more than 40 years the greenhouses won’t be open, Mike will miss the annual Mother’s Day open house. Monica will miss the wet dirt smell at the start of the planting season, though she is looking forward to having more motivation to do her own planting.
“We started getting our hands dirty by late-February or early-March, and by June 1, I was done,” Monica said, noting she didn’t have any desire to maintain her own flower gardens.
The Bergs will continue the landscaping side of the business and will keep the Cokato Nursery Landscaping name.
Cokato Nursery Landscaping is a full-service landscaping design and building company offering imaging and design, installing plants, building paver patios, and providing maintenance and pruning of trees and shrubs.
The business also offers rock, dirt, and mulch for either pick-up or delivery.
The Bergs will honor any gift certificates that may be out there from the nursery towards the purchase of landscape supplies.
For more information, call (320) 286-5231.