Pachysandra terminalis is one of the first plants that Peter Orum propagated back in 1969. More than fifty years later, it continues to be one of Midwest Groundcovers’ best-selling plants with sales exceeding 2 million units annually. Surprisingly this huge volume of Pachysandra is produced from a small collection of stock beds at our north nursery in St. Charles. The beds are harvested twice a year—once in spring and once in summer. In order to produce 2 million units, our growers must collect over 4 million cuttings—a staggering number—since we use 2 cuttings per cell in each flat!
At this time of year, our Production Supervisor, Jose Rosas, and his crew of 7 are wrapping up the summer harvesting of the Pachysandra stock beds. The process begins in July when a crew of 3 divides each stock bed into a matrix of smaller sections using stakes and string. Each cutter works in one section at a time to ensure an even cutting. Throughout the day, the cuttings are put into a bucket of water and then consolidated into bags which are picked up every 3-4 hours and moved to a cooler. Within 24-48 hours, another crew of 4 stickers take the cuttings out to the growing shelters where they stick the cuttings into flats filled with a bark mix. The growing shelters are covered with a double layer of shade cloth on the top and sides to protect the fragile cuttings from sun and wind. During the 8-week harvest, each “cutter” collects up to 27,000 cuttings per day, and each “sticker” manually sticks up to 25,000 cuttings per day! Once planted, the cuttings are misted for 10 seconds every 15 minutes for the first 2-3 weeks. Then the misting is reduced to every 32 minutes for another 2 weeks, and then every 64 minutes for another 2 weeks. After 8 weeks of misting, approximately 50-60% of the cuttings will have roots. It takes up to 12 weeks of misting to achieve rooting in 100% of the crop! Each season our Pachysandra crop requires over 100 growing shelters that provide 130,000 square feet of growing space.
While some of our original stock beds still remain at our Propagation South nursery, our current beds at the North nursery were established in 1989. Each year the beds are treated with a granular fertilizer in early April and a liquid feed in May and manually weeded throughout the year. The tree canopy is carefully monitored to maintain deep shade, and each fall, the fallen leaves are left in place as a natural mulch and for winter protection. Each bed is rested every other year in order to preserve the quality of the cuttings. Cuttings that are harvested in summer take 30 weeks to finish and will be ready for sale the following spring, while cuttings that are taken in April will finish in 12-16 weeks and be offered for sale that summer.