After the Meltdown Й Spring Color!

Known for its bitter-cold winters and a white powdery setting, Grand Forks, North Dakota, after the meltdown, brings forth lush green grass, a full-color palette of floral displays and contoured beds of vegetation throughout the parks and city streets, sure to catch the eyes of passers-by.


A program developed in the late 1980s,“Adopt-an-Area” was conceived as part of an effort by Urban Development in partnership with the Grand Forks Park District. The purpose of the program was to effectively beautify various areas in the city, while encouraging local businesses and agencies to volunteer to adopt a particular area and maintain the perennial shrub beds (including arborvitae, pine, burning bush, lilac, daylilies, peonies and irises). Urban Development provided funding for the program through a city beautification fund, purchasing materials and plants, while the park district provided equipment, labor and design to develop and maintain the areas. The initial program remained a staple in the community and for local clubs and agencies for a span of over 10 years. For example, the mayor’s office and the Listen Center volunteers maintained the beds by clearing debris, weeding, and watering when needed.

Currently the park district horticulture department maintains all the Adopt-an-Area program sites. There is hope that the city will re-establish the program, which will require area businesses and agency volunteers to help in the maintenance of 32 sites.

The Flowers by Design

In a distinct attempt to provide originality each year, the Grand Forks Park District horticulturalist, Melissa Grafenauer, prepares for spring planting long before the winter meltdown takes place. A strategic plan and timeline for development are implemented in October that will benefit the process in the spring. Once the temperatures cool and the Red River Valley experiences its first hard frost of the fall season, the flowers are pulled from the ground and all sites are composted and tilled. During the months prior to snowfall, the flowerbed design process begins. Grafenauer designs each site individually, providing a diverse landscape with optimal colors and contrasts throughout city parks and designated plots. Oftentimes a flowerbed design will be developed using colors and greens that include words or an image, bringing attention to a local special event, patriotic symbol or an enlightening message from the park district to the community.

Once the blueprint of each flowerbed is complete, the park district will initiate a bidding process, accepting bids from local and regional garden centers and growers. The Grand Forks Park District plants and maintains over 50 flowerbed sites (20 parks and 32 Adopt-an-Area sites) annually. A typical order from garden centers and growers will encompass approximately 532 flats containing 22,500 annual flowers.

And along comes spring. March, and even as late in the spring as April, will be the beginning of the winter thaw. Once the frozen earth is ready, preparation begins at each site. Each site will be raked and then a process of deadheading and clearing of debris will begin. (Deadheading is the pulling of dead foliage from previous season growth.) Once the beds are cleared and cleaned, they will be prepped for planting by being sprayed with an herbicide, which helps to eliminate a substantial percentage of pesky weeds. The week prior to planting, the beds are tilled, which allows for softer soil and a more efficient planting process.

Once the beds are prepped, planting begins, which takes only one and a half weeks to complete. Watering and continual weeding maintenance are required throughout the summer months and into the early fall in order to preserve optimal flower growth and longevity.

Flowers Spring Growth In Our Youth

In a collaborative effort to enhance opportunities for Grand Forks’ “at risk” youth, Job Service of North Dakota, Urban Development and the Grand Forks Park District provide a successful leadership and personal development program in the community, Youth Opportunities Program (YOP). YOP identifies qualified individuals ranging in age from 14 to 21 who may benefit by the reduction of long-term social effects caused by poverty, welfare, crime, substance abuse and discrimination. The program teaches employment responsibility, maturity, job skills, initiative, and leadership skills while providing a connection to the community.

The program is designed to pay each youth employee minimum wage and then allows opportunities for wage advancement when an individual demonstrates positive behavioral improvement and work ethic. The park district offers educational clinics for the participants during the summer term, including “helpful hints for the future” (e.g., managing a checkbook, continuing education opportunities, workforce-related tours at major corporations, where they may at some point be able to obtain a position, job preparedness skills, such as resume writing, completing an application and interviewing). Grafenauer supervises up to 15 youth each summer. They are placed in crews and work at various sites. They have the opportunity to learn all aspects of the horticulture process (e.g., while one group works on irrigation one day, the other groups are weeding flower beds, and then they will change job responsibilities when directed). Aside from feeling personal gratification from working with diverse groups, who often mature and prosper during their summer term in the youth program, Grafenauer realizes the advantages not only for them, but for the community as well. Reaching our youth at such a critical time can be challenging, but rewarding. With a little patience and understanding, mixed with a splash of genuine kindness, the youth will grow and flourish--like a day lily in June.

Brandy Chaffee is Communications Specialist for the Grand Forks Park District in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She can be reached via e-mail at