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Local Mums Make a Burst of Color at Kowalski's

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kowalski's Markets' mums are sourced locally and their extra-bright colors and dewy freshness show it.

Huge displays of potted mums create a prominent flash of color right up front at all Kowalski's stores.

“They're featured this time of year,” Mark Wachter, the nine-unit independent's director of floral, told SN. “We have them on ad this week at $5.99. The grower works with me on the item and the price, and we sell hundreds on a weekend.”

The high-color mums on display at Kowalski's are the product of a years-long partnership with grower Len Busch, Plymouth, Minn., not much more than 40 minutes away from any of Kowalski's stores, Wachter said. Len Busch's operation consists of 15 acres of greenhouses heated almost entirely with two wood-fired boilers.

“It is through these greenhouses that we grow a variety of plants to supply Kowalski's Markets and other retail florists within a 200-mile radius of the Twin Cities,” said John Story, a product manager at Busch, interviewed earlier for Kowalski's monthly newsletter.

“For our mum plants, we start with high-quality unrooted cuttings that are planted directly into the pots they will be sold in. For a typical 6½-inch pot, we plant five of these cuttings.

“After three weeks they have enough of a root system to move to a second greenhouse where they are irrigated from the bottom of the pot. We then determine whether we want small or larger blooms and trim the plants accordingly. The mums are finished in a high-light environment, which produces a plant with brighter colors than other growers' [flowers],” Story points out.

The local-ness of the mums undoubtedly gives Kowalski's a competitive edge.

Tom Lavagetto, consultant and former floral director in the supermarket industry, told SN the shorter the distance mums — or any flowers — have to travel the better.

“Freshness is always a plus. Whenever a retailer has an opportunity to source locally, he should look into it.

“This is an unusual situation in the northern tier of the country. In the Midwest, there are a lot of gray days. So Kowalski's is lucky to have this source,” Lavagetto said.

Grower Len Busch supplies Kowalski's with cut flowers and other plants almost year-round, Wachter said.