Amid erratic weather, local garden centers keep springing forward

  Rosario De La Torres of Leider Greenhouses and Garden Center pots plant clippings Tuesday in Buffalo Grove. Brian Hill/

Snow in April. Unseasonably warm 70-degree days in March. Springtime weather in the Chicago area is inconsistent and uncertain, but local garden centers and nurseries take it in stride.

The topsy-turvy temperatures do pose challenges. According to Elizabeth Leider, production manager at Leider Greenhouses in Buffalo Grove, weather is the “defining factor” of their business.

“This time of year, when it’s springtime and there’s crazy weather, we really see that sales are impacted,” Leider said.

To combat the difficulties and to better plan for the spring season amid unpredictable weather, Leider Greenhouses has turned to technology: LED lights during long periods of low sunlight, irrigation systems that reduce labor costs when business is slow.

Leider said most people buy plants in a concentrated window from mid-April to mid-June, which “makes the pressure of delivering a very high quality product when we’re dealing with different weather issues that much more of a challenge.”

This year, winter was unusually mild in Northern Illinois. According to the National Weather Service, Chicago experienced its fifth-warmest winter on record and Rockford its warmest. Snowfall in the two cities was 11.1 and 9.1 inches below normal, respectively, despite total precipitation being higher.

  Employees at Leider Greenhouses and Garden Center in Buffalo Grove prepare new stock Tuesday. Brian Hill/
  Country Bumpkin Garden Center in Mundelein. Paul Valade/

The low snowfall was a problem for businesses like the Country Bumpkin Garden Center in Mundelein, which provides snow removal services in the winter.

Owner George White said the moderate temperatures did allow some landscapers to do work like pruning, tree removal and transplanting of existing plants, things that typically would be impossible during the winter. But abnormally high temperatures can be harmful for plants.

“We all enjoy the more mild winters, but it’s not natural, and the plants in the Midwest area, they need the dormant period in the winter,” White said. “Their natural cycle includes a dormant period in order to flourish.”

  Hawthorn Gardens on Old McHenry Road in Hawthorn Woods. Paul Valade/

Bill Koch, owner of Hawthorn Gardens in Hawthorn Woods, sees the erratic weather as par for the course, and snow in April, and even May, is something he’s learned to handle over the years.

Regardless of the uncertain variables, the dominant advice remains the same: wait until Mother’s Day to plant annuals and pay close attention to nighttime temperatures. But for eager gardeners who want to get a head start, cold-weather possibilities abound.

“We really emphasize pansies, ranunculus, some perennials, things that will tolerate cold, and you can have color at your front door for six weeks before Mother’s Day,” Koch said, adding vegetables like radishes, lettuce and cabbages are other great options for early planting.

According to Leider, plant-lovers shouldn’t be deterred by the weather. Plants can be kept in pots and brought into garages at night until the soil outside is ready for planting.

“People who are excited about buying plants now, there’s lots of really awesome cold,-hardy plants,” Leider said. “We try as much as possible to sell plants that we know are very tough in this environment.”

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