Made in Kane: Midwest Groundcovers Makes Groundbreaking Innovations

Made in Kane: Midwest Groundcovers Makes Groundbreaking Innovations

  • “Made in Kane” is a monthly feature on Kane County businesses selected by the Kane County Development and Community Services Department. If you know about a cool company or product that’s “Made in Kane” worthy, please send an email to Kane County Planner Chris Toth at Include a brief description of the company or product, a link to its website and contact information.

If you’ve ever done any landscaping for your home or business, there’s a pretty good chance your life has been made just a little greener, more colorful, environmentally friendly — happier — because of an innovative company based here in Kane County.

In a way, Midwest Groundcovers LLC is one of Kane County’s best kept secrets, an industry powerhouse whose work is regularly featured in major trade publications such as The Landscape Contractor.

Midwest Groundcovers LLC, located in St. Charles, is a leader in the propagation, growing, and wholesale distribution of quality container nursery stock, selling to landscape contractors, independent garden centers and other “re-wholesalers.” The company operates more than 700 acres of state-of-the-art nursery production facilities at five locations — in St. Charles and Virgil here in Kane County, and in Glenn, MI.

Each year, these facilities produce millions of container-grown plants including more than 130 groundcover varieties; more than 240 species of local eco-type native plants identified as Natural Garden Natives®, 140 regional Midwest native species of which some are naturally occurring selections; more than 500 varieties of perennials and ornamental grasses; and more than 275 varieties of deciduous shrubs, native shrubs, broadleaf evergreens, hardy shrub roses, conifers, and vines.

The company is a leader not only in its variety of plants but in the way it goes about its business, blazing trails in solar energy, sustainable practices, customer satisfaction and community service.

Sustainability Is a Core Value

Midwest Companies — which includes Midwest Groundcovers and Midwest Trading, Inc. — is all about sustainable practices.

What’s really kind of amazing is how the company is able to reuse and recycle its resources.

(CREDIT: Midwest Groundcovers)

Local landscape architect Chris Lannert, who founded the Lannert Group and created the master plan for Midwest Groundcovers corporate headquarters, had an “ah ha” moment when he realized the scope of Midwest’s efforts.

“This is really an industrial process,” he told Adam Regn Arvidson, who wrote a case study on MG’s sustainability practices. “But they don’t make widgets, they make plants. When you machine a part and you scrap metal, you don’t just throw it away, you gather it up, you melt it back down, and you pour a new part. They do the same thing with all of their nutrients, with all of their water.”

The planning and design process for Midwest’s drainage, irrigation and fertilization system took five years, and is considered — pardon the play on words — groundbreaking.

Drainage, irrigation and fertilization is actually one system — all three are inextricably linked, said Christa Orum-Keller, MG’s owner and chairman.

“Every drop of water that falls on the developed part of the property moves to detention basins and is used for irrigation,” she said.

Essentially, each growing center is made of free-draining aggregate, like that found under permeable pavement. Water moves downward into the aggregate and enters a perforated pipe, through which it makes its way to swales, then to large storage ponds.

Near each system of ponds (one for each growing area) is a highly complex pumping system.  Water is drawn from the ponds and is tested for its nutrient content. Fertilizer is only added if necessary. Then the water is provided to the plants through aerial sprays or, sometimes, more expensive (but more efficient) drip irrigation. The whole site is graded, according to Lannert, to move water from the growing areas into the ponds then back to the growing areas in the form of irrigation.

Recycling Innovation

Midwest Groundcovers was featured in American Nurseryman magazine as an industry pioneer for launching a horticultural pot recycling program.

MG’s “plastics baler.” (CREDIT: American Nurseryman magazine)

According to the EPA, the green industry, somewhat ironically, is responsible for sending about 350 million pounds of discarded plastic containers into landfills each year. MG officials wanted to do something about that, so they set about creating a horticultural plastics recycling program.

You can read more about it here, but in essence it involves the purchase of a specialized “plastic baler” to pre-process plastics onsite.

But the company didn’t stop there. It opened the recycling program to key customers, accepting all recyclable containers, even if they came from plants grown or purchased elsewhere.

Midwest Groundcovers President Gary Knosher told American Nurseryman that the recycling effort was a labor of love.

“A business exists to serve its customers and make a reasonable profit,” he said. “And if recycling is going to take place in the business world, somehow it has to fit into those criteria.”

Midwest Gives Back

The Midwest companies support and contribute to local communities, social service agencies, Eagle and other Scout groups, schools and non-profit foundations, through in-kind plant gifts and donations toward beautification projects.

For more than 12 years, the Midwest companies have supported local social service agencies through donations from the Midwest Charity Committee, a volunteer group composed of both Midwest Groundcovers and Midwest Trading employees.

The committee coordinates internal events to raise money annually for local homeless shelters. The Midwest staff participates in fundraising with cash contributions for events such as a spring bulb sale, flower and vegetable sale, luncheons and a year-end raffle. At the end of the year, the companies match the total dollar amount raised and present a check to the charities.

“Family and community are core values of the Midwest Companies” Christa Orum-Keller said. “Giving back is one way we can make a difference in the community and our environment.”

About Midwest Groundcovers

Founded in 1969 by Danish immigrant Peter Orum and his wife Irma, Midwest Groundcovers LLC began as a backyard liner operation, propagating several thousand vinca and pachysandra groundcover cuttings. Today, Midwest Groundcovers LLC is an industry leader in the propagation, growing and wholesale distribution of quality container nursery stock.

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