MINNEAPOLIS — Looking forward to digging in the dirt and enjoying your yard?
You’ve got lots of company this growing season. A year of hunkering down at home during the pandemic has turbocharged interest in gardening and in sprucing up outdoor spaces.
Twin Citians are buying up seeds and bulbs and shrubs, to the point that some already are in short supply. They’re adding firepits, play spaces, water features, chicken coops, raised beds for veggies and pollinator plants for wildlife.
“The phone is certainly ringing off the hook,” said Heidi Heiland, owner of Heidi’s GrowHaus & Lifestyle Gardens.
Her customers are seeking “opportunities for experiences in their yards,” she said, with outdoor features for everyone in the family to enjoy — from kids to parents to pets. People are asking for help with outdoor DIY projects. And they’re taking an interest in soil and water quality, and in supporting wildlife and natural ecosystems.
“Before, people didn’t go that deep,” Heiland said. “They’re paying attention and willing to invest time and money.”
SarahJane Nichols is looking forward to the raised beds, arbor and plantings that Heiland’s crew will soon install in her family’s yard in Corcoran.
“We live in a pretty new development,” she said. “There’s some landscaping but it’s pretty bare-bones.”
Nichols has ordered three custom raised beds — made of white shiplap and dressed up with black metal brackets — to complement their modern farmhouse and to give the family, which includes two young daughters, a place to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs.
“We love to grow vegetables,” she said. They’re also adding berries and native plants to their landscape to support bees.
Outdoor living has been a trend for several years but it accelerated during the pandemic, said Craig Frick, co-owner of Superior Lawn & Landscape.
“Last year there was no travel; people were homebound, taking staycations and spending money to create their own oasis,” he said. This year, his landscape crews are already booked until mid-July. “Before you know it, we’ll be booked out to fall.”
At his St. Bonifacius garden center, Superior Outdoor Expressions, there are enough seeds and annuals to meet demand, but he’s anticipating “a huge shortage of trees, shrubs and evergreens,” the plants that take years to grow. “The growers never saw that [pandemic demand] coming.”
Bailey Nurseries, the wholesale grower, is bracing for a brisk season.
“Demand is incredible,” said spokesman Ryan McEnaney. “Growers and retail customers are frantically trying to keep up.”
He’s seen industry surveys estimating that there were 16 million new gardeners in 2020. “This year demand is at least as strong, if not stronger.”
In addition to trees and shrubs, plants for container gardens are a hot commodity, he said. People want to dress up their decks and front porches, where they can visit with their neighbors.
Every year, Bailey forces some of its flowering plants, such as hydrangeas, roses and clematis, so that they’re blooming early by Mother’s Day. This year, those sold out. “People are so anxious to get color and decoration,” said McEnaney.
They’re also anxious to get their hands on bulbs and seeds. “Those two categories have gone insane,” he said. He advised gardeners to shop early, and if garden centers are sold out of what they want, to shop online. “Don’t be afraid to buy bare root” plants, he added.
Plant sales return
Local plant sales are another resource.
Last spring, when the pandemic arrived, most sales were canceled, even after many had already ordered their inventory.
“We were left scrambling to find homes for hundreds of thousands of plants,” said Robin Huiras, a volunteer with the Friends School Plant Sale, a huge and popular sale at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
Volunteers hastily arranged a few smaller, drive-through sales to distribute last year’s inventory, then pivoted almost immediately to begin working on how to hold a sale safely in 2021. This year’s sale will go on, May 6-9, but instead of being inside the Grandstand, it will be outdoors on the Midway. Shoppers are being asked to reserve a time slot in advance at friendschoolplantsale.com.
In addition to in-person shopping, the Friends Sale will include an online sale of seeds, bulbs, bare-root plants and a variety of mushroom kits.
“We pride ourselves on having things they can’t get anywhere else,” said volunteer Kathie Simon Frank. The sale’s 30-plus-year history ensures that it can get inventory even in a high-demand year. “Because we have relationships [with growers], we place our orders, and they are growing for us.”
Another popular plant sale, hosted by the Men’s and Women’s Garden Club of Minneapolis, will be all online this year for the second year in a row.
“Last year it was a last-minute scramble,” said Becky DeLaCruz, chairwoman of the marketing and promotions committee. “This year we ramped it up” with a new ordering and inventory-tracking platform.
Shoppers can order online (gardenclubmpls.org) now through April 30 and pay for their plants when they pick them up May 12, she said.
The club also expects to have enough plants to meet this year’s increased demand. One club member starts “thousands of seeds in his basement” in anticipation of the sale, she said.
DeLaCruz, a Master Gardener who teaches classes on growing vegetables, said she’s seen intense interest in that topic. “The classes are just crazy,” she said. She and other Master Gardeners decided to offer them free via Zoom this year; the most recent class had more than 800 attendees. “Interest is just so much more.”
For Heiland, that renewed interest in gardening and the outdoors is “the silver lining of COVID. Everybody is going outside to play,” she said. “And discovering that nature heals.”