Greetings Friends!

A common misconception about nurseries is that we shut down over the winter. Quite the contrary! Read about how our propagation and harvest teams keep busy during the cold months in the February feature article. The plant of the month is Redbud Crabapple, a tree loved by everyone at the nursery and great for all four seasons.


Nationwide, Wisconsin is a leader in Birdwatching as a hobby. Winter provides a unique opportunity to enjoy feathered friends in your yard. For all you bird lovers, we have interesting history on the activity and a couple videos.


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Winter at the Nursery by Johnson's Nursery Propagation & Harvest ManagerFA

From the time the first frosts nip at perennials in October to when the last snowflake melts, people often wonder what our employees do over the winter. Johnson's Nursery doesn't do professional snow removal or salting, so how could we possibly fill the long, cold hours until spring? The pace is certainly slower in February, but a lot of work still needs to be done before spring arrives and our lives are a blur of activity. Read on for a rare glimpse into winter at the nursery.


Ben French - Propagator


The Need for Seed

There are actually quite a few plants that produce seeds that are available in the winter time. Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Oldfield Juniper (Juniperus communis var. depressa) are both collected and prepared in the winter months. Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) and Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) seeds are available for collection well into February. Some shrubs hold their seeds until winter so they can disperse them across the snow with the aid of the wind. Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), Shrubby St. John's Wort (Hypericum kalmianum), and most of the native prairie grasses do this.


Besides collecting seed, I also stratify them. Stratification is merely meeting the seeds' moisture and cold requirements for germination. In other words, fooling the seeds into thinking they are planted in the ground when they are actually in baggies of moist sand and peat in the refrigerator. Some seeds don't need full stratification; they just need to be stored for several months at a cool temperature and then water is added for germination to occur. In my refrigerator alone I have just about 10,000 seeds at various stages of preparation, and every day there's just about 10,000 reasons to check if the power went out.


Pest Monitoring

Voles, mice and other pesky critters are always a concern of mine. They can secretly ravage many different crops without as much as a peep. Every covered house has a few bait stations. These are monitored about once a week for the whole winter until the houses get uncovered in earliest spring. If we detect activity we increase the number of stations and switch out to different types of bait. Alas, no matter how focused our efforts are, we always lose something to our resident "rats"!



On top of all of the physical duties of winter, planning for the upcoming growing season takes up a good chunk of my time. Containers have a fairly finite shelf life so I have to plan on what to do with every crop at every stage of production. Usually there are about 5 to 10 crops per 'house' and I have about 60 'houses'. So that's something like 300 'plans' just for container production. A similar process happens in field production for liners (baby plants). I have to schedule purchases of liners from other growers because some plants we don't propagate ourselves.


In all, winter can be a little lonely. The energy of the crews is gone and the plants are not as demanding of my time. In a way it feels like nothing is happening. But there are many important checkpoints along the way, and each passed checkpoint is a step closer to the intensity that is spring at Johnson's Nursery.


Aaron Jambura - Harvest Manager


Most people think about pruning in the spring or summer when we are outside working in our yards. However, the best time to prune most trees, especially young trees, is in the winter. In the nursery, winter is our slow time, so it is very beneficial that it coincides with the best time for pruning. When the leaves are gone, it's very easy to assess the branching structures of the trees. Each one is analyzed and cuts are made to produce a well-balanced tree that will grow into a low-maintenance, healthy addition to your landscape. Problem branches growing the wrong direction or with poor crotch angles are removed. Some branches may be cut back to encourage the tree to fill voids in the canopy and perfect its overall shape. In late winter many baby trees (liners) arrive from specialized growers in Oregon. These starter trees have their tops and roots trimmed to prepare them for planting in our fields. Also in late winter, many trees are tagged to fill orders in anticipation of the coming spring harvest.


Another important winter task is maintenance of our fleet of equipment. Each piece of machinery, from shovels to the largest tractor, is inspected and serviced in order to keep them operating at their peak level of performance throughout the coming season. Blades are sharpened, filters and fluids are changed, and some new equipment is purchased to replace old or worn out units. Breakdowns can still occur, but doing these tasks in winter lessens the chance of having to deal with a problem when machines are needed most. By the time the frost leaves our soils, Johnson's Nursery stands poised to begin another successful spring harvest and help bring "Nature's Best To You"!

Winterizing Container Houses

Quiet Winter
American Filbert seeds in need of stratification.
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Ben, The Container Messiah 
Propagator Ben is only lonely in winter.

Aaron Jambura, Harvest Manager
Tapping for maple syrup

Pruning encourages healthy tree growth 

Display of white flowers - Spring/Summer 

Bright red fruit - Fall/Winter 

For the most romantic month of the year, we are giving props to a tree that is loved by all of us at Johnson's Nursery. Not to be confused with Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Redbud Crabapple is so named because of its bright red flower buds that open to incredibly fragrant, white flowers in spring. You can also request Zumi Crabapple and we'll know what you're talking about.


The graceful, spreading habit is perfect for displaying in the middle of the yard or a Japanese-style garden (especially the shrub-form specimens). The bright red fruit will persist into winter, and is adored by birds as an alternative to seed feeders. Watch out when they start devour the fruit. The freezing and thawing that softens the crabapples to allow consumption also causes the fruit to ferment. The birds might not have the straightest flight pattern after their meal. Cheers!  
"God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages." 
~Jacques Deval (French Playwright/Director)

Did you know that, nationwide, Wisconsin is second only to Vermont in the number of residents who claim bird watching as a hobby? 33% of Cheese Heads identify themselves as "birders" and that doesn't include other factions of the population who just have an appreciation for birds and installed feeders in their yards.


In the joined history of man and birds, the latter were mostly prized for food and fashion, and on a recreational level by hunting parties. During the Victorian era, the term "birder" was used to describe "a catcher or hunter of birds especially for market" and a new hobby thrived where an enthusiast collected the eggs and skins of birds for display. In 1896, Massachusetts created the first official Audubon Society in response to the outrage over the slaughter of water fowl for the millinery trade (would you like a feather in your cap?). It was the first time a group existed to actively preserve land for bird species. Wisconsin followed suit in 1898. From there, the desire to save and observe birds began to increase in popularity, and the definition of a "birder" changed to one who "identifies and observes in their natural habitat as a recreation". This trend also coincides with the disappearance of Passenger Pigeons. From about 1830 to 1900, Passenger Pigeons went from being so abundant in the Midwest that their flocks blocked out the sun to non-existent in the wild. On September 1st, 1914, the last living Passenger Pigeon, a poor female named Martha who suffered from palsy tremors, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo. During the demise of the pigeons no official efforts for preservation were implemented. Lucky for future generations of birds and "birders", in 1918 President Wilson signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that legally provides protections for migratory birds.


Bird watching can naturally be combined with another popular pastime, gardening, to create "Birdscaping". Why go tromping around trying to find birds when you can invite them to your yard with trees, shrubs, perennials, and appropriately-placed feeders? Wisconsin is perfectly situated along the highway route of migratory birds. Some birds, like Cardinals, stay year round. The Common Redpoll spends its winters here and then travels to enjoy the summer of Northern Canada. In Southeastern Wisconsin we only get to see the tiny Ruby-Crowned Kinglet briefly during their summer migrations. Some people might say that spring doesn't officially start until the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks return. The "Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide" by Stan Tekiela is a great reference tool to help you identify the visitors in your yard. For help on including the right plants to become a home-birder, you can read more and download our guide Birdscaping in the Midwest


Cardinal (female)


Audubon Logo

Martha Passenger Pigeon 

Common Redpoll 


from Carrie's Quick Tips
by Carrie Hennessy
Duration 1:15

Lots of ornamental crabapple varieties hold onto their fruits through the winter, but only a few will the birds actually eat. 

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from The Dirt
by Carrie Hennessy
Duration 6:50
Enjoy watching some of our resident
finches feed from up close.
Duration 0:40

Saturday, March 7, 2015 


The 2015 Herb of the Year is Savory! Carrie Hennessy is returning as the keynote speaker for the Spring Herbal Symposium, a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Unit of the Herb Society of America. She'll be presenting, "Savory Savvy", a look at Savory species and their uses. Also enjoy a delicious breakfast and lunch, tastings, purchase homemade herbal wares, and raffle prizes!

Invite Flyer     -     Registration Flyer 
March 17 - March 31, 2015 


The Wisconsin Green Industry Federation is getting ready to launch an online auction fundraiser! On March 17, 2015, the W.G.I.F will be auctioning off a number of useful, fun and unique items to bid on to raise money for their organization - and they're asking for your help by making a bid or donation. What is the W.G.I.F? 

Bid On Johnson's Nursery's Items 

Visit our archive to read previous issues of The Leaf in Brief.

Johnson's Nursery, Inc.
Nature's Best to You.
p. 262-252-4988  e.