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Jesse and Jonah Nelson: “We want our guests to be successful gardeners!”

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Tending the soil is akin to tending the soul. The nurturing of a plant to thrive and grow is one of the best ways to produce goodness for the environment and the green thumber. Mental health care professionals have long espoused the benefits of being outside and coaxing the best from the land.

Jesse and Jonah Nelson understand the power of positivity that can come from watching and encouraging plants and greenery to grow. They run Family Tree Nursery, a business firmly rooted with its founder, Ron Nelson, who passed about a year ago. Now, his legacy lives on through his grandsons, Jesse and Jonah Nelson, with supervision from their father, Eric. After 60 years in business, this proud family heritage continues to share the goodness of gardening with the next generations of Kansas Citians.

“There’s tons of evidence that being outside and working in their yards can help people with depression or anxiety. There can be excitement as you plant different things or when you planted things last year and they’re coming back up this year, blooming throughout the season,” commented Jesse. “They’re the really simple joys that gardening brings into your life, and you don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to know everything because you can come to any of our stores, and we’ll partner with you and help guide you to some things that are easy to care for and raise.”

“The healthy aspects of gardening or even growing plants indoors is understanding that having our hands in the soil, interacting with plants, is part of the human condition,” noted Jonah. “Here in the Midwest, we experience the four seasons, so embracing gardening can help you activate your life as each season turns. This is what I love about our industry. It’s an opportunity to express creativity with the use of plants while enjoying the health benefits. In a world that’s full of noise, calm can happen in the garden.”

Family Heritage
Family Tree Nursery boasts three locations to serve green thumbers or those looking to sprout a green thumb. Overland Park, the original facility, opened in 1964; Shawnee started in 1980 and Liberty, Missouri, welcomed customers in 1989. In 1986, Family Tree Nursery added a growing facility in Kansas City, Kansas, with more than ten acres of covered greenhouses. Jesse, Jonah and their families have now moved to this plot of land to keep watch over the nursery’s prized perennials, mums, poinsettias, bedding plants and hanging baskets. With more than 100 full- and part-time employees, Family Tree Nursery continues to provide top-quality products with the understanding, assistance and know-how to help ensure success.

To assist a shopper on their green journey, the pair suggest customers bring in photos of the areas they want to address with plants or other landscaping materials and the staff will work with them to choose the right plants that will bring the best results. Landscape designers or building contractors can also be serviced by Family Tree Nursery. For those in condos or apartments, patio containers or indoor plants are featured at every location. The offerings in the stores are extensive for greenery and décor to enhance a home or office. Each location changes with the season, offering something new to see and experience. But in a marketplace that offers so many options from big-box stores to mom-and-pop locations, Jesse and Jonah don’t concern themselves too much about the competition.

“We don’t really worry about what other people are doing because we have a pretty high standard of meeting customer needs. We want to continue to raise that forward, elevate the experience, but what separates us is our customer service, number one, and our top-quality plant materials,” shared Jesse. “When those two things come together, it’s a unique shopping experience for the customer. That’s what separates us along with the high-quality product we offer.”

“We have such a knowledgeable and passionate staff. We’re very fortunate in the way our grandfather and dad have led the business over the last six decades,” remarked Jonah. “The tradition is carried on by us in how we take care of our customers and employees. Our group is very passionate about what they do.”

Three Primary Decisions
Cultivating plants in a garden or landscape does not have to be a herculean task and it can teach valuable skills to use in life. Jesse and Jonah share some basics to help you on your journey. “There are three things to help plants survive and thrive. You have to have the correct location. Some plants like shade, some like sun. And then you must correctly water and fertilize them and that can get tricky,” noted Jesse. “So when it comes to watering and fertilizing, you have to educate the guests properly. That’s where we thrive. It’s kind of a delicate dance to try to capture people’s attention long enough to educate them and help them understand how to be successful. But the three major things are correct placement of the plant, watering and fertilizing. Those would be the most important things for people to understand and learn.”

“The number one mistake is watering, whether that’s overwatering or underwatering or both. Ninety percent of it is overwatering because most people love their plants too much. But overwatering brings root rot,” stated Jonah. “On the other hand, people with a new tree may go out with their hose every day and put a little bit of water on it and that’s not good either because the water never fully saturates the plant. The roots don’t take hold. But that’s where our staff makes the difference to help educate people on how to care for their plants. Every guest who comes through Family Tree Nursery is different and every, every plant is different.”

The business owners also advise to be wary of details on the internet. Googling a plant or an issue might bring some information but it may be incorrect or not suited for the Kansas City area.
“There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet. You could be reading an article on growing conditions or plants for the state of Oregon, which is totally different from our region, and not even know it. However, we don’t downplay a guest’s knowledge and experience that they gained in other ways,” Jesse said. “We simply try to determine if they’re open to our teaching and coaching and if so, present other ideas and thoughts. We’re not judgmental when they tell us they’ve killed a plant. You know, I’ve killed my fair share of plants. It’s not accusing them of doing something wrong but it’s asking questions to get to a solution. We ultimately want the same success as the customer.”

Jesse likens the experience of growing plants or maintaining landscape to the emotions gained through working in the medical field and dealing with living things. “Whether it’s parenting or people or plants, there’s weight in the decisions you make when dealing with caring for others. We tell our staff we’re hiring and training every year that you are making thousands of dollars’ worth of decisions when you’re watering, when you are entrusted with a hose to keep the plants alive for our customers. You’re making big decisions every day and you must take it seriously,” he revealed. “When you’re dealing with living products, there are a lot of emotions and a lot of conversations that have to be had.”

Advice for Novices
For those who are contemplating getting their hands dirty and raising plants, Jesse and Jonah offer some safe solutions to realize success. Great plants for beginners to try for their gardens and lawns include annuals such as zinnia, petunia and sunpatiens. “They have been the number one selling flowering plant for the last several years,” revealed Jonah. “They are an incredible nonstop bloomer all summer long.” Jesse shared that coleus is a great plant, especially for condos and apartment patios. “It’s one of my favorites. Take a 14-inch pot. Put five to seven coleus in it and it’ll be one of your favorite plants ever. They are pretty easy to grow.” As for perennials, catmint, allium, hibiscus and panicle hydrangeas such as Little Hottie® and Bobo® are at the top of their lists.
“Whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter, I just encourage people to come in during the different seasons. This place at Christmas time is a winter wonderland, an absolutely magical experience. You walk in and you can’t help but be in the Christmas spirit or the spirit of any season. So embrace the goodness of shrubs, flowers or trees. It’s where you’re planted and where you live and express your creativity.”

“Just smell, touch and see the flowers,” said Jesse. “You can’t have plants and flowers at your house or in your yard every day of the year. But you can always come in here to Family Tree Nursery and embrace the goodness of flowers and plants. It’ll put you in a better mood by enjoying the beauty.”