MONROE, NC – King’s Greenhouse is a wholesale grower in southern North Carolina which grows seeded annuals, vegetative annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, herbs, vegetables and more for independent garden centers, landscapers, golf courses and resorts. They also sell to nonprofits, such as churches and Scouts, who use the plants for fundraisers. They offer over 1,700 product lines to their roughly 450 accounts.

“Our goal is to be a one-stop shop,” said General Manager John Gibson. “Our customers can get from us anything they need, short of shrubs and trees.”

The business was founded in 1971 by Dot and David King. In its early years it was seasonal, located on a two-acre site in Stallings, which now serves as the retail outlet for the business.

Today the wholesale operation is on a 32-acre parcel, with 8.5 acres of greenhouses and four acres of field production. There are 78 houses, mostly gutter connected, and 18 Quonset™-type houses.

Most of the greenhouse complex has poured concrete walkways to facilitate the use of carts. The greenhouses are heated with natural gas and have thermostatically controlled pop-up roofs and sidewall curtains. Irrigation can be overhead or drip, depending on the needs of the crop.

The production area is a hub of activity: a Pack Manufacturing in-line mixing system allows the team to output 5,000 flats a day during the busy season.

Craig and Jeanie Leonard bought the business from the Kings in 1989. Craig had graduated with a horticulture degree from NC State in 1975.

“Steve Waddell of Rountree Nursery suggested I look at buying the business,” Craig recalled. “Steve is one of the many great people in this industry.”

In 1992, Craig’s brother Larry and his wife Jean were brought into the business. Larry had an accounting background, so he focused on the business side of the operation while Craig focused on growing.

Gibson joined the team in 2001, heading up landscape sales and running production and growing. About eight years ago he took on the GM role, permitting both Craig and Larry to take a step back.

The business divides its efforts into two main areas: garden center production and landscape production.

King’s used to start their potted geraniums with rooted plugs. Now they use calloused cuts – and the plants thrive! Photo by Karl H. Kazaks

“We run golf course and resort sales the same as landscape,” Gibson said. “It’s great to have a segment of our business pre-booked. It helps fine-tune the production schedule.”

Each side of the business has its own water supply, either well, 5 hp pump or water storage.

These days both Craig and Larry have children involved in the business. Craig’s son Eric is in charge of landscape production and growing, and his son Grayson is in charge of garden center production and growing. Larry’s son Johnathan is in charge of garden center sales.

King’s sells to garden centers and landscapers in the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee. It sells to golf courses and resorts in Charlotte, Asheville, Asheboro, North Carolina’s Sandhills and Myrtle Beach.

Until 2008, most of the marketing was in Charlotte, Greensboro and Columbia. They have since expanded to Charleston, Asheville, Raleigh, Boone and even Tennessee.

“We introduce new options every year – better varieties, plants with more disease resistance,” Gibson said. “We grow a line of Proven Winners® which are very popular.”

Over the years Gibson has seen the business’s growing methodology be honed in countless ways, with improvements occurring in watering practices, product selection, fungicide and growth regulator use, ventilation and many other aspects of the operation.

One thing they weren’t able to predict was the impact of Hurricane Florence in 2018. “We received 16 inches of rain in 30 hours,” Gibson recalled. “Ten houses flooded. In one we had pansies growing on the ground. When the water receded, you could see how high the floodwaters had been by the perlite on the sides of the houses – three feet up on the plastic!” (Another house was washed into an adjacent field.)

This time of year, the operation focuses on production of hanging baskets and pots, including mixed pots. As the season ramps up it will become time for flats.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to make our customers happy, from delivery time to delivery day,” said Gibson. “That’s different for each customer. But all of our customers are happy with the quality of our plants.”

by Karl H. Kazaks