Stutzman's Garden Center is a long standing gardening tradition in Pratt.

Some people have a green thumb but Ben Miller has been gardening since 1956 so he may have an entire green arm. While many people in Pratt may have never met Miller, they are very aware of his Stutzman's Garden Center, a seasonal flower and vegetable business that takes up residence every year on the east edge of Pratt in a former carwash facility.

Each spring, the carwash transforms into an eruption of color as flowering annuals and perennials fill long tables and hanging baskets along with a variety of garden vegetables, primarily tomatoes, Miller said.

They grow 99 percent of what they sell. Their focus is seasonal flowers and vegetables for replanting or already in a variety of pots, both ground and hanging. The plants are genetically chosen for this area of the state.

"We're pretty broad based. We have the largest selection in south central Kansas," Miller said. "It's a real key factor."

They also produce their own private label soil and have their own fertilizer.

With their big variety of flowing plants and vegetables, the No. 1 seller is tomatoes. It's also the plant they spend the least amount on. Among the flowering plants, petunias are the biggest seller with a wide variety of colors.

One secret to the healthy looking plants at Stutzman's is they run fertilizer through their watering system. That's why some people say their plants at home don't look as healthy as the plants at the store.

As the seasons change, the plants change to match the season. After the cool months give way to the hot months of summer, more heat tolerant plants are for sale. Then the fall plants and flowers plus gourds and pumpkins go on sale so there's always something for the gardener.

Stutzman's has 10 employees in Pratt. They have been in Pratt for several years and a few years ago took over the carwash that had closed down and it was a good move for them. They had an ample water supply, there was an office and restroom plus they have a place to move plants inside if they needed, said Jo Walker, co-manager at the Pratt facility.

Last year they expanded their produce section with black diamond watermelons, Colorado peaches, tomatoes from Cheney along with onions and cantaloupe.

"It was a pilot program and it did pretty well," Walker said.

This year they are trying a hay bale garden with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. The bales are seasoned over a 10 day period with lots of water to get any wheat to sprout. The wheat is sprayed to kill it then tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are planted. They are anxious to see how the hay bale garden will work.

Miller and his wife Marlene took over the Stutzman's operations some 30 plus years ago from Irvin Stutzman, Miller's cousin. They have 12 locations, 11 of those are seasonal facilities only, like Pratt, with a permanent facility in Hutchinson at PleasantView where they have flowers and plants plus a gift shop and boutique. They have a total of 170 employees at their 12 locations.

Miller's son Justin joined the business in 2001 and will some day take over the operation. He is already handling production and operation.

Visitors to Stutzman's will probably see the family pet Pete, an English bulldog that likes to play with plastic water bottles and gets lots of naps during the day.

Stutzman's has facilities in Pratt, Great Bend, Dodge City, Hutchinson, McPherson, Newton, Salina and four locations in Wichita.

Stutzman's hours are M-F 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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