A knack for nursery know-how

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NAVARRE, Ohio – After a moment of pause and reflection, Ron Wendling says yes, yes, he has been in the nursery business for 49 years.

“Wow,” he laughed, “I try not to think about it like that.”

Wendling, 59, started his career early. In fact, he started working part time at Lab’s Nursery in Stark County when he was 10, bought the same nursery when he was 21, changed the name to Evergreen Acres and has been at it ever since.

Moving on up. Wendling was a natural in the nursery business. In 1954 when he started, he made 50 cents an hour. In less than a year, his wage more than doubled to $1.25 an hour.

“It’s one of these businesses that if you don’t really enjoy it, you wouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

“Like farming, if it isn’t in your blood, you aren’t going to last.”

Landscape, auctions. Wendling has 18 acres of nursery materials and his large selection includes evergreens, shade and flowering trees, azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies, spring annuals, fall mums, icicle pansies, mulch and more.

He wraps up each year by selling cut Christmas trees, wreaths and pine roping.

A specialty at Evergreen Acres is Wendling’s auctions. His auctions help supplement the nursery business and keep his inventory down.

All types of plants and shrubs are auctioned in the large antique-looking sale barn with old-fashioned wood bleachers and a wood burner. Wendling has also been known to have antique auctions.

Season by season. The Christmas portion of his operation is not one he advertises much although he is open through Dec. 23 each year. Instead, this is the time of year that he starts winding down.

January and February are slower months, although Wendling is still outside working on machinery and making repairs around the nursery.

By mid-February, the nursery is in full swing getting ready for the spring rush. The soil is piled high in what he calls his sale barn and Wendling and his seasonal employees are busy potting shrubs and trees.

In recent years the spring weather has been too wet and too cold and it is hurting the nursery business.

Wendling said each year he has all his trees and shrubs ready to sell and then it continues to be wet and cold. Although this weather is actually good for planting, customers want to wait until it’s warm to plant, which means he isn’t moving his inventory as fast as he would like.

Attract customers. Through much of the year, Wendling’s days start at 5:30 a.m. when he’s outside watering the trees and shrubs. Much of his time in the spring and fall is also spent covering plants and protecting against frost.

In the spring, after everything is potted or balled and ready to be sold, Wendling concentrates on selling plants with advertising.

In addition to advertising, a lot of Wendling’s business is through word-of-mouth. He said this shows him that his customers are satisfied and think his nursery has high quality landscaping materials.

Public’s respect. Although Wendling never had formal horticulture classes, he has almost 50 years of experience under his belt and customers regularly seek his advice and recommendations.

“For the general public, this becomes a public information center,” he said

Approximately 35 calls come in each day. Most calls are from homeowners who want to know everything from disease and insect control to how to move a plant.

As time goes by. Times and tastes have changed throughout Wendling’s years at the nursery. He used to sell peach and apple trees; there is now, instead, a demand for weeping cherries and more ornamental trees.

Wendling caters to homeowners and has a more than sufficient number of trees and selection of landscaping materials for these customers.

Nevertheless, he receives many calls each week for things he doesn’t carry or for quantities that he can’t supply because he isn’t a wholesale nursery.

He said he doesn’t normally have enough inventory to supply a large golf course or large housing development, although he does cater to businesses other than just individual homeowners.

Times have also changed in other ways since Wendling started at the nursery. He certainly can’t find students to weed for 50 cents an hour like he did when he was young. In fact, they really don’t want to weed for any amount of money, and Wendling still does much of it himself.

Like many other farmers, good help is tough to come by at the nursery. The work is hard and the pay isn’t great. Nevertheless, Wendling hires seasonal help.

Looking back. There’s a history to Wendling’s planting background. His parents were avid gardeners, contributing to Wendling’s own gardening passion.

So far, the gardening “bug” hasn’t bitten Wendling’s three children, although his son does help when his dad needs him. Sandra, Wendling’s wife, does the book work for the nursery.

Ahhh, relax. It’s a rare day when Wendling gets time to himself.

“This always comes first,” he said about his nursery.

But, on the uncommon occasion when he finds himself with nothing to do, his time is devoted to his biggest hobby: NASCAR.

“You might think these file cabinets are filled with work stuff,” he said, gesturing toward three tall file cabinets. “But look…”

The drawers are filled with NASCAR memorabilia.

“Can you tell what I like?” he asked, smiling.

A farmer’s a farmer. Like any other farmer, Wendling works long hours, gets awfully dirty, eats dinner hours after the sun sets, rarely gets a day off and relies on the weather for his livelihood.

His “livestock” needs watered, his “fields” need sprayed, his “crops” need harvested and, in spite of it all, he loves his vocation.

Evergreen Acres is located at 6596 Blough Ave. S.W. in Navarre. It is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information about the nursery or its auction dates call 330-879-2365.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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