I was privileged to take a tour of Mariani Plants, a 120-acre nursery, in Garden Prairie, Illinois. They started developing the property in 2002 to grow shrubs for the landscape trade.
Cuttings are taken from shrubs as they are pruned and stuck in sand in a propagation greenhouse.
Beds are formed with concrete blocks and filled with sand where plants can root easily. One of the three propagation greenhouses has concrete floors with bottom heat for shrubs like boxwood and some evergreens. Each house holds 100,000 cuttings – amazing!
When plants have formed sufficient roots, they are planted out in the fields. Mariani Plants prefers not to use herbicides to keep weeds at bay, and their fields are gorgeous and weed-free. Mechanical cultivation is done between rows and hand-hoeing is performed between plants in rows.
Another practice good for the soil, Mariani Plants uses cover crops when a field is between plantings. Sudangrass is a heat and drought-tolerant, fast-growing annual grass that suppresses weeds. This grass will be mown and turned into the soil, adding organic matter.
After anywhere between one and three years, depending on the growth rate of the shrub, shrub are lifted from the field in the fall and stored in a freezer at 31 degrees. At this temperature, shrubs remain dormant and disease free until they are planted up in containers the following spring.
Containerized shrubs are then moved to new digs. An environmentally and fiscally responsible decision, plants are watered with a drip irrigation system so none of the 700,000 gallons of water used each day to water the plants is wasted.
A pump with sensors is set in each block of shrubs. It sends information to a central location so the grower can monitor watering for all plants.
Shrubs continue to grow in the beds until they are pulled to fill orders from landscapers or garden centers.
Growers who care about growing healthy, beautiful shrubs and the land on which they grow them make me proud to be in this industry and deepens my appreciation for the work they do. Garden with me!