Farm Horizons, August 2007

Lull in housing market makes for a slow year for nurseries

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

With the housing market at a standstill, the lack of new housing developments has made it difficult for those who rely on the building industry including carpenters, plumbers, electricians – and landscapers like Jim Wilson of Wilson’s Nursery in New Germany

With the increase in interest rates, new developments have been put on the backburner, and along with it, landscaping goes down, according to Wilson.

“Right now, with the housing market as it is, we are in a down cycle. We aren’t in a desperate situation, but it’s definitely going backward from a few years ago,” Wilson said.

Between 1995 and 2005, sales numbers for Wilson’s Nursery doubled. In 2006, numbers started to drop, he said.

During those 10 years there was a big boom of building and new developments. “All of us were busy, busy, busy,” Wilson said, including his friends who are carpenters and excavators.

Despite decreased sales to landscaping contractors, Wilson is thankful he still has some business, he said. He contributes part of this to high gas prices.

“People stay home and look outside and see what they can do around the yard, like remodeling their landscape,” Wilson said.

The majority of his wholesale goods go to landscape contractors. The rest goes to municipalities, schools and universities, golf courses, and garden centers within the five-state area.

Wilson’s Nursery has rows upon rows of deciduous, coniferous and grafted trees and shrubs. Grafted trees have become more popular now. In this process, nurseries like Wilson’s can take a bud from a mother plant and attach it to another root stalk. The bud then becomes the newly-grafted tree, according to Wilson.

Grafted trees that are becoming more popular include unique-looking trees like short, round, and weepy dwarf trees.

Wilson saves money by doing his own propagation of plants and trees. Propagation is growing plants and trees by taking cuttings from a mother plant in the fall and allowing them to establish roots throughout the winter in a heated greenhouse.

Each winter, Wilson has approximately 20,000 cells of evergreens in his greenhouse growing roots.

Wilson also propagates his own perennials – growing approximately 100,000 a year in individual one-gallon containers rather than out in the open field. This ensures the plants’ survival during the critical growth period.

Wilson graduated from Ferris University in Big Rapids, Mich. with a degree in horticulture. Prior to college, Wilson worked with his father in his landscape business in Michigan.

After college, Wilson took a job with Minnesota Tree, now known as Waconia Tree Farms, for five years before going on his own and starting Wilson’s Nursery.

He now has 200 acres of land just off of Highway 7 in New Germany. During peak season, Wilson employs around 30 workers to weed, propagate, plant, and dig up trees to fill orders.

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