What will May showers bring?

April showers may bring mayflowers, but May’s showers have so far only brought delays to Minot’s public planting schedule.

“Normally we’d be about done with planting,” explained Steve Wharton, horticulturist with the Minot Parks Department. “As far as a couple of things go we’re way behind.”

A delayed thaw had already set the department’s seasonal schedule back somewhat, and the past week or so of rain has continued that trend, delaying everything from city pothole refilling and construction projects to area farmers’ growing season.

“We’re doing what we can to spruce up our parks,” said city forester Brian Johnson, “to make it usable for the public.”

Though the weather has also set back the forestry department’s planting schedule, he has hopes that projects will be caught up within the next week or two. Forestry’s boulevard tree project has been so far successful, with most of its available specimens bought up. But many of these have yet to be planted, mainly because the water table has been pushed so high. Johnson explained that no sooner can a hole be made before it fills up with water, which could drown the saplings’ root systems.

“It really set back our planting schedule and mowing schedule considerably,” Wharton lamented of the weather. In addition to a late spring and the rain, he explained that they had “not the best growing conditions” for the city’s greenhouses, with limited sunlight and steadily low temperatures over the lengthy winter reducing the nurseries’ effectiveness.

His department has also experienced a slight labor shortage, with Wharton explaining that “trying to fill positions is taking a lot longer” than in previous years. It is a problem that a number of private-sector businesses in the area are by now familiar with, fueled in part by a combination of higher paying oil jobs and rising rent costs that make the plentiful, relatively lower paying positions seem less attractive. As a result, “there are more jobs than there are people right now.”

Although they’ve hired on a new full-time staffer, training will take time and sap some attention away from projects. In addition, Wharton’s assistant horticulturist will be retiring later on in the summer, taking with him over two decades of experience.

A “tremendous asset to the park,” Wharton said he would be “difficult to fill the shoes for. Who do we replace him with?” he asked, joking that “if anything can go wrong, it will.”

However, “not all is gloom and doom,” Wharton is quick to add. He figures the department needs one more week to be back on schedule. Explaining that they are nearly done at the Souris Valley Golf Course, the priority will switch to Roosevelt Park Zoo, then afterward to Oak Park.

“It’s going to look nice this year,” he promised.

In addition, they get to operate from their old facilities again, though ‘old’ may be misleading.

“It’s all new and updated,” Wharton said cheerfully.

The horticultural facilities off of 14th Street Northeast were among those “pretty badly ravaged” by the 2011 flood. Two years later, after extensive renovation the department now has handicap accessible restrooms and updated electrical wiring, among other modernizations. There are also new fans and heaters for the rebuilt greenhouses, which are “still the same size and shape” as before.

Even more heartening, Wharton said “we’ll get to grow our own flowers again.” In addition to the usual assortment, the city should see a number of hastas, day lillies, irises, peonies, as well as different varieties of cone flower, from which he hopes to see what ones will perform best in local climatic conditions. “As I’ve always done, I search out new varieties,” integrating those with the current florae.

Still, it will take some time to build up their plant stock, having to regrow their perennials, which were nearly all lost in the flood.

“It’ll take a few years,” he said.

After getting a bulk of the landscaping and seasonal upkeep work out of the way, the department will have a number of projects to occupy themselves with, particularly Roosevelt Park.

“We want to restore it as close as it was,” Wharton said.

Due in part to some soils being damaged by floodwaters and the rechannelization of the Souris River by Roosevelt Park, Wharton’s crew will need to redevise their flower bed layout this year. “People will see a lot of new planters,” with more color, variety of shape, and the like. “When we put things back this time, we don’t want to have to come back and redo them” in the coming years.

From a landscaping perspective, one of the important projects ongoing at Roosevelt is the repair of its irrigation system. During the flood the park’s pump house that fed its sprinklers was completely destroyed. The city engineering and parks maintenance departments are currently working on it, and Wharton sees the worst case scenario as having to replace the system’s actual piping. So far that does not seem to be the case, and minor repairs are expected. In all, he thinks that by the end of summer the system should be in working order.