Mark Felthousen is ready. So are his pansies.
Felthousen, owner and manager of Felthousen Florist and Greenhouses in Niskayuna, can show off large pots full of purple, pale blue and yellow pansies. Other outdoor flowering plants — marigolds, impatiens and geraniums among them — will soon open for spring and summer seasons.
Felthousen said people are eager to put plants in the ground. Like cyclists, golfers and high school baseball players, gardeners have waited for early spring cold temperatures to fade. April warmed up last week — and while bicycles, seven irons and leather gloves are back on pavement and park, gardeners still have four weeks before annuals and perennials can be planted outdoors.
Springs frosts — they can happen into late May — are the danger. And that’s why Felthousen and other greenhouse operators are still waiting for the spring rush.
Pansies are one exception — Felthousen said the flowers can tolerate some cold. But people who are buying at greenhouses right now are buying porch plants. “You can bring them in every night if it’s going to frost,” Felthousen said.
He expects plenty of customers by Mother’s Day for hanging baskets and Memorial Day for other floral accessories.
“People gear up for cemetery plantings, foundation flowers around the house,” he said. “These people don’t really get into gear until May 22 through June 15,” Felthousen said. “That’s a big push, getting your house to look nice.”
Felthousen and his staff are involved in their own big push right now, watering plants and watching them mature. “It’s all the time, really,” he said. “Starting in April through the end of May, you’re working every day of the week.”
Linda Pigliavento, who runs Pigliavento Greenhouses on East Lydius Street in Guilderland with her husband Bob, is also on a hectic schedule.
“You have a short time to get everything ready,” she said. “You have about eight weeks to prepare for the spring planting season.”
Pigliavento doesn’t carry any Easter plants, so there will be no extra lilies to sell. “There’s no money in it for us,” she said. “It’s hard to compete with Price Chopper and places like that.”
By next week, Pigliavento expects to be showing customers assorted greenery and colors. “They’ll start coming in at the end of the month for perennials and pansies — perennials are the flowers that come back every year,” she said.
Pigliavento is not expecting any cranky customers — not this year.
“They’re very happy when they shop because of the winters we put in,” she said. “When the spring comes and you plant your spring flowers, you know spring is here and summer is on the way.”
The past winter — with 71 inches of total snowfall — damaged many plants and shrubs. John Kulak, owner of the Kulak Nursery in Rexford, said the weight of the snow broke branches in many cases,
“And if they didn’t get good insulation from the cold, there was a lot of damage there. And there was a lot of wind damage,” Kulak said. “There was just a lot of damage from the kind of winter we just had.”
There have been other weather problems that have delayed the Kulak operation several weeks. Kulak said weather problems throughout the country slowed down some deliveries of stock to his place. And while his greenhouse is heated, he can’t do anything about the absence of natural lighting.
“We just haven’t had enough sunny days to get things growing,” he said. “It was one of those winters we haven’t experienced in a long time, not just the Northeast — everybody was affected by this.”
Cathy Vogt, owner of George’s Market and Nursery in Latham, said foot traffic at her place has already started.
“Thank God, finally,” she said. “People weren’t in the mood when it was snow flurry-ing and cold weather.”
Like other greenhouse operators, people at George’s have had to calm down some eager members of the trowel and shovel club.
“They’re not ready yet,” said Ken Carnes, the horticulture salesman at George’s. “I’ve had half a dozen customers ask for perennials and they’re not ready. The first perennials won’t be ready until the first of May. They’re potted up, but they’re not going to show any vitality until Mother’s Day ... they just need to be patient.”
John Mishoe, vice president of Dehn’s Flowers and Greenhouses in Saratoga Springs, is watching thousands of plants in the 22 Dehn greenhouses. He said people in the nursery business must worry about temperature drops during chilly April and May nights.
“We have temperature alarms, if the heat fails,” Mishoe said. “Anything around freezing, 32 degrees, if you lose the heat or forget to turn it on, you can lose a lot of plants. And that has happened in the past.”
Like Mishoe, Carnes said spring heating can mean expensive operations. “Greenhouses need a lot of energy to keep them warm, about 50 degrees,” he said. “When there are cold days and cold nights, you’re heating them non-stop.”
And like Felthousen, Carnes praised the merits of the pansy in April. “Pansies can tolerate a frost, they can even tolerate a late snowstorm and still survive and do well,” he said. “It’s a very tolerant plant ...we have people planting them right now.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.