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Behind the Plant Sale

Julie Harris, Dakota County Master Gardener (and the Plant Sale Team)

Every May, the Dakota County Master Gardeners put on a fabulous Plant Sale. In this article, we focus on what goes on “behind the plant sale.” From harvesting native seeds, to growing vegetables and herbs in our green and hoop houses, our plants are healthy, well-cared for and home-grown. This is a look at the people and processes that allow us to bring you some of the best quality, healthy and unique plants in the area.

Behind the Plant Sale

Every May, the Dakota County Master Gardeners put on a fabulous Plant Sale. This year the sale is on May 18th and will be held at the Whitetail Woods Regional Park, Empire Shelter, 171 Station Trail, Farmington from 8 a.m. to noon. All of the proceeds from our plant sale go to support our local projects: school and community gardens, adult education, the Farmington Seed Library, and seed trials throughout Dakota County, and many more. More information about the plant sale can be found elsewhere in this newsletter.

In this article, I want to talk about what goes on “behind the plant sale;” focusing on the people and tasks that allow us to bring you the finest plants. The Dakota County Master Gardener (DCMG) plant sale is somewhat unique in that all of the plants that we sell are either directly from Dakota County gardens or are grown from seed by our Master Gardeners. We don’t buy plants grown by third-party growers. Our plant sale is well known for the quality and variety of vegetables that are available. Recently, we have also become recognized for the number and variety of native plants that we grow and sell. 

This effort is complex and requires expertise to provide you with the best quality and healthiest plants. Let’s take a look at what it takes to put on our plant sale and some of the people who make it happen. 

Preparing for the plant sale is a group effort. Approximately 70 MGs are involved in preparing for and working at the plant sale but Mary Beth Kufrin and Marie Stolte are the two very organized, very hard working and very talented MGs who are “in charge.”

Collecting Native Seeds

The annual plant sale starts with collecting seeds. DCMGs encourage the use of native plants. Take a look at the many articles on our website about native plants and the environmental benefits of growing them. In the fall, DCMGs collect native plant seeds from Dakota County Parks and our own gardens. The seeds are cleaned and stratified as needed. The seeds are then taken home by several DCMGs who will plant and grow the native seedlings.

The Greenhouse Crew

In addition to the native plants grown by DCMGs, we buy a variety of vegetable seeds based on plants that our customers have preferred the past. In March, those seeds are planted in a greenhouse by a group of DCMG volunteers. The group is led by Marc Battistini, Jinny Berkopec and Lisa Hofmann – all very experienced and dedicated DCMGs who spend many hours directing the volunteers and caring for the young plants.

For the plant sale this year, the greenhouse crew planted: 12 varieties of tomatoes, 13 varieties of peppers and a few varieties of herbs (including Asian herbs). 

Also, in March, the seedlings that have been nurtured by DCMGs at home (including houseplants) are moved to the greenhouse. Over 50 varieties of natives and several different landscape plants were seeded. The greenhouse crew waters and tends to the seedlings as they grow into more mature plants. As they mature, seedlings are transplanted into larger pots.

In April, the maturing plants are moved to a “hoop house” on the grounds of UMORE Park. (A hoop house is a type of greenhouse that is covered in heavy-duty plastic.) The plants will have outgrown our current greenhouse (which also grows plants for our trial gardens) and the hoop house provides a roomier home for the plants. The hoop house also provides a good staging area for the plant sale. 

All of the hundreds of plants must be labeled and priced by another group of volunteers. And - our plant sale is well-known for its very reasonable prices.

Digging and Bare-Rooting Established Plants

Of course, we also provide plants that are established and grown in the gardens of DCMGs. DCMGs tend to grow perennials that will prosper in our part of Minnesota! They dig the plants out of their own gardens shortly before the sale. DCMGs crews go the homes of Dakota County residents with large numbers of appropriate plants and dig those plants, as well. 

You are probably aware that jumping worms have become a significant problem in Minnesota. Jumping worms can severely stunt or kill plants and are transferable in the soil around a plant’s roots. (Read the article on our website about the problems that jumping worms cause in gardens.) As a result, DCMGs don’t just transfer the plants directly from the ground to the pots that we sell. We go through a process called “bare-rooting.” Bare-rooting is the process of cleaning the roots of a plant. (Read our article on “bare-rooting.”) Our established perennials will appear wrapped in wet newspaper and tubing. Presented this way, our plants may not look as “pretty” as in a garden store but you can be assured that you will not be importing jumping worms into your garden. And they carry the added benefit of being easier to transport and plant!

Plant Sale Set up

Finally, the day before the plant sale, the hundreds of plants that have been seeded and grown or dug from local gardens, are moved and set up at Empire Shelter at Whitetail Woods Regional Park, thanks to the generosity of Dakota County Parks and Recreation. In addition to the plants, DCMGs provide educational materials for display at the sale. After all, we don’t just view the plant sale as a fundraiser - the sale is a great opportunity to provide advice to homeowners about the plants. 

Part of the preparation for the plant sale is getting the word out. Providing information in the Garden Buzz, email, news outlets and other tools helps us to bring you in to our plant sale experience. 

Plant Sale Day

As you might imagine, plant sale day is an “all-hands-on-deck” event for the DCMGs. We have volunteers walking the floor to provide advice and direct you to the appropriate plants. At the sale, you will also find a table labeled “Ask a Master Gardener” – DCMGs who are there to answer any gardening questions you may have. DCMGs are directing traffic, tending our “garage sale” and of course acting as cashiers. 

We know that there are many plant sales around the Twin Cities area in May. We hope that this article has helped explain why you should choose the DCMG plant sale for your gardening needs. Our plant sale provides home-grown, unique and healthy plants that, we think, cannot be found elsewhere. 

Come check us out on May 18th and see for yourself!

Photo Credit: Robert Hatlevig (1,2,6), Jinny Berkopec (3,4,5), Marie Stolte (7), Robert Heidtke (8)

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