Lancaster County is known for its rich soil and agricultural industry. Even in the coldest days of winter, there are hundreds of thousands of plants growing in greenhouses all over the county.
Under glass and plastic, the greenhouses grow plants from aquatic to vegetable, annuals to perennials and edible herbs to cut flowers. While some of these greenhouses sell plants at their own retail stores, many grow for other sellers and aren’t open to the public.
LNP/LancasterOnline reporter Erin Negley has been sharing more about some of the largest nurseries in the county in a series called "Garden Spot: Winter Edition."
We've gathered five of those visits here, complete with video tours, tips and photographs, for a second look.
ESBENSHADE'S GARDEN CENTERS
Esbenshade’s, a retail business, has more than half a million square feet of space to grow plants, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
That makes the company 86th in the top 100 U.S. growers, according to Greenhouse Grower magazine.
The company started in 1960 near Brickerville. Today, a second generation of siblings owns the company and seven members of the third generation also have joined the business.
The public knows the company through its three retail greenhouses, which are near Brickerville, near Adamstown and near Fleetwood, Berks County. At any given time, 200,000 to 600,000 plants are growing in the greenhouses behind the Lititz-area store, says Jim Dostal, salesman and grower.
CREEK HILL NURSERY
Creek Hill has more than a dozen greenhouses at its main location in Leola, plus nearly 30 more scattered throughout the county. The greenhouses are controlled environments with a double layer of plastic overhead, computer-controlled misters and a compost tea mixer the size of a hot tub.
Pests, however, still make their way inside and want to feast on the thousands of tiny plants.
About a decade ago, Creek Hill started moving away from using broad-spectrum chemicals to chemicals that target specific problems. The business also started an integrated pest management system, explains Laura Buck, an assistant grower who runs the program.
The traditional chemicals will kill plant-damaging bugs like thrips, aphids and two-spot spider mites. They’ll also wipe out many more species. The insects, however, develop resistances to the chemicals, so stronger doses are needed, Buck says.
“We can work smarter, not harder,” she says.
That’s where the biological insects come in.
GREEN LEAF PLANTS
Inside five greenhouses near Smoketown grow mother plants of about 120 dianthus varieties. Workers harvest cuttings from these mother plants and share them with garden centers around North America. In a year, Green Leaf Plants will grow and ship about 2.5 million dianthus cuttings.
All this happens in a complex of greenhouses not far from Lancaster’s busy outlets on Lincoln Highway East. Green Leaf sells plants wholesale, meaning the business isn’t open to the public. Yet, with more than 20 million starter plants grown at Green Leaf, it’s one of the largest greenhouse businesses in the county.
The crew at Miller’s spends months conditioning many of the more than 3 million plants it grows and sends around the mid-Atlantic region. The family-owned business started 80 years ago and still does many things the old-fashioned way. Yet the greenhouse has grown to be one of Lancaster County’s biggest plant-growing operations, growing plants such as petunias, bedding plants, vegetables and herbs.
The business is a wholesale grower, but the Millers opened the greenhouse doors to LNP/LancasterOnline for this series about the largest greenhouses in Lancaster County.
GROFF'S PLANT FARM
Groff’s Plant Farm does a little bit of everything. The business near Kirkwood starts some plants from seed and grows others that were started elsewhere. And from April through October, Groff’s sells them at its on-site retail store. The greenhouse staff works nearly year-round to grow perennials and annuals, with some unusual and native varieties.
Barry’s great-grandparents bought this property near Octoraro Creek in 1915. Her grandfather started planting fruit trees in 1945 and ran a pick-your-own fruit business for folks to harvest apples, peaches and strawberries. More than 40 years ago, they built their first greenhouse to grow vegetable plants and, later, bedding plants.
In 1991, the family sold the orchard and decided to focus on growing and selling plants.