Spring started in 2020 for local plant wholesalers

Giesel Greenhouse, owned by Shawn Giesel, started as a small tomato-growing operation but has expanded to being a major herb wholesaler, specializing in basil.

By Jackie Nelson

HESSTON—While residents are finally looking forward to spring and waiting for their lawns and trees to return from dormancy, winter was over before it even began for local greenhouses. Hesston Plant Company, owned by Joel Hicks, and Giesel Greenhouse, owned by Shawn Giesel, have been cultivating plants since late last fall.

Both growers are wholesalers, supplying business like Stone Creek Nursery, Treetop Nursery, Dillons and even Back Alley Pizza with plants and herbs. 

Hesston Plant Company specializes in providing flowers, while Giesel has come to focus on vegetables and herbs.

Hicks, who purchased the company in 2014, said it presented an opportunity to follow his passion without having to build a company from the ground up. Giesel started the Giesel Greenhouse with one greenhouse growing hydroponic tomatoes in 1996.

“Around 2013, we became acquainted with the potted herb market possibilities and began experimenting with that market,” Giesel said.

The greenhouse pulled back from the flower market and focused on edible plants.

“Currently, we grow a mix of the most popular culinary herbs in four-inch pots, with basil being about 50% of the market,” Giesel. said

The business is also expanding into lettuce.

“We prefer to sell living plants, because they are never fresher than when they are cut from a living plant, and we do not become a food processor,” Giesel said.

Hesston Plant Company, owned by Joel Hicks, said the business specializes in wholesale flowers, which include succulent plants, which he projects will be popular again this year.

Hicks, on the other hand, said Hesston Plant Company has found its place in the flower market, specializing particularly in bougainvillea.

“Our biggest strength is flowers that do well in south central Kansas and central Kansas. We grow stuff here that lives here and will continue to do well here,” he said.

While many industries were devastated by the pandemic, plant companies faced a surge in sales, which created challenges of its own.

“I turned away customers that, either I had never heard of before or were coming to me for the first time—plances I had tried to get business from in the past and they already had their needs being met,” Hicks said.

This year, Hicks projects more of the same, with demand outstripping supply as the pandemic continues to keep people at home.

“I’m going off that, but ultimately, you either add greenhouses or you narrow your scope,” he said.

When most residents were tilling their gardens under for the fall, trimming back perennials and pulling up annuals for the winter, Hicks said spring of 2021 was already on his mind, traveling to trial gardens around the country and meeting with plant vendors to place orders and forecast trends.

“What’s trending other places, like the coasts versus the midwest and what’s coming. I sit down with multiple plant reps, and you go through and basically gamble on what will be popular,” Hicks said.

A new challenge facing the greenhouse industry, Hicks said, is competition for supplies. The booming marijuana industry has made potting and planting plastics and containers more difficult to purchase.

Giesel said delivering consistent plants even during seasonal swings, disease and pests “are every grower’s challenge. The weather swings affect the growth rate of the herbs.”

The recent polar vortex that settled over the Midwest was no exception.

“It was difficult to keep the growing house warm enough to sustain basil growth, which shuts down below 60 degrees. So we lost about two weeks of satisfactory growth in our winter cycle that is already challenged. Also, it isn’t cheap to heat greenhouses when it’s that cold,” Giesel said.

Hicks said, with consistently sunny days, he hopes to make up the lost growing time by the end of the month.

With Giesel’s weekly seedings and plant harvests, two weeks can make a significant difference for the nearly dozen herbs Giesel starts from seed but are expected to be ready for harvest in five weeks.

Hicks said for this year he began planting perennial seeds in September. Using a vacuum seeder, Hesston Plant Company can plant 342 seeds in just three minutes.

“It takes longer to organize yourself than it does to seed a tray. I’ll do 40 to 50 trays at a time,” he said.

As Hicks was planting trays of flowers and edible plants his year, he said, “I think mostly we expect just growth across the board. Everything sold last year. The two big things being harped on a lot are indoor plants and a lot of foliage, succulents and edible plants. It’s growth across the board.”

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