Spring Home: Bergen's Greenhouses is a big player in spring plants across the region
“We’ve been working on spring (plants) since December – we started in earnest in January,” said Bergen's owner Chris Bergen. “We’re like farmers, but our peak production is now.”
DETROIT LAKES — If the Easter lily is a symbol of beauty, hope and life, then Bergen’s greenhouse in Detroit Lakes is the place to be over the winter – it starts the new year with 50,000 Easter lilies growing under its roof.
As they get larger, 30,000 of those Easter lilies are moved to Bergen’s greenhouse in Columbus, Minnesota, to finish growing.
All the lilies in this year’s crop started in Detroit Lakes, because the 11-acre DL site specializes in young plant production, said owner Chris Bergen.
“We’ve been working on spring (plants) since December – we started in earnest in January,” he said. “We’re like farmers, but our peak production is now.”
Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 14 this year and that holiday traditionally is peak sales for spring plants, he said. “A lot has to happen in the next 40 days,” he said in an interview in mid-March.
Speaking of spring plants, those lilies are particularly tricky, since most of them are sold the week before Easter Sunday, which fell on April 9 this year. Unlike set holidays like Christmas, which occur on the same date every year, Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25.
“With Easter Sunday always moving, the schedule can be tight, and is adjusted accordingly each year,” Bergen said
Something else has changed as well: The lilies grown by Bergen’s this year aren’t your grandmother’s Easter lilies.
“There has been very little breeding work done in the genetics of Easter lilies since the 1980s,” Bergen said. “This is quite odd, since a lot of the genetics change yearly in most of the other material we grow. Our annuals, perennials, vegetables, poinsettia and garden mums are updated often. New patented varieties are introduced every year. The exception has been the Easter lily.”
The ‘Nelly White’ variety has been the standard Easter lily since the 1980s, he said, but since 2019, Bergen's has been trying out a new variety of lily called the 'Miracle' lily. This new introduction is from Zabo Plants, a Dutch lily breeding company.
“Each year, we grow more 'Miracle' Lilies and fewer Nellie White lilies,” Bergen said. “There is still limited availability (of Miracle lilies) as they work on increasing the stock bulb production. Bergen's is one of the largest growers of Miracle Lily in the nation.”
The Miracle Lily has some advantages, he said.
For one, the growing time is easier to get right for Easter. “It’s easier to control,” Bergen said.”Every year Easter falls on a different date – to hit it is a little difficult.”
Also, since the Miracle lily is genetically a dwarf species, it produces a more uniform plant, with 5- to 6-inch pure white flowers. “It’s a great performer,” he said.
And finally, it provides a great post-production shelf life for the customer. “It’s very hardy and it has a great shelf life – you can plant it in your garden and it will bloom in July,” he said.
Easter Lily plants like bright, indirect sunlight. Cool temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees are best, and they should be watered often enough to keep the soil lightly moist, but not soaking wet, Bergen said. As each blossom fades, trim and enjoy the remaining blooms.
Bergen’s Greenhouses has about 250 total employees across all locations (including about 50 in Detroit Lakes) and operates an 11-acres site in Detroit Lakes, a 14-acre site in Columbus, Minnesota, and a 24½ -acre site screened by trees off Highway 34 just outside of Park Rapids.
Bergen’s owns about 50 semi trailers, and uses a lot of owner-operators to haul its plants. “We have a dedicated crew that comes back every year,” he said.
All the Easter Lilies are shipped out in a three or four day period to Minnesota and surrounding states. Bergen’s serves stores and flower shops of all sizes, “from the biggest retailers in the world to some of the smallest,” he said.
When the spring planting season gets into gear, those drivers really get busy. “In May we’ll have 30 semi trucks on the road every day,” Bergen said.
Lilies have held a significant place in world history because of their aroma, grace, and beauty. From ancient times to the greenhouse down the street, people always think of the lily as "the Easter flower."