Get Out and Grow

Quinn Nowacki '23 has a passion for plants that's been growing since she was 16. Now, she's majoring in horticulture and shares her top tips for landscaping and gardening success.

Story by Nicole Thom-Arens | Photos by Ann Arbor Miller | Illustrations by Leah Ecklund | June 16, 2022

Quinn Nowacki

Quinn Nowacki ’23 has worked at Baker Garden and Gift in Fargo, North Dakota, since she was 16 and is currently a greenhouse manager there. Finding her place at NDSU took a bit of time and exploration through a few majors. She started her academic career as a chemistry major, switched to natural resource management, then geology, and finally math education.

“I was like, ‘Maybe I should just take a step back,'” Quinn recalled. “I took a semester off and realized I should just go to school for horticulture — I enjoyed it so much.”

Quinn re-enrolled, majoring in horticulture in the urban forestry and parks curriculum. The variety of career options within the industry convinced her she’d made the right choice. She’s already gained extensive experience in the greenhouse and retail areas and is intrigued by the idea of starting her own nursery. Or, maybe owning land and practicing alley cropping, a farming technique where fruit trees are planted between plots of field crops — growers accomplish multiple harvests on the same property while the trees protect against soil erosion.

Her true passion is working with trees in any capacity. When she’s around them she lights up.

“I’m in my element anywhere there are trees,” Quinn said. “They’re fun to talk about. They’re really cool. They’re some of the oldest organisms around.”

As we walked around the grounds of Rocking Horse Farm in south Fargo the evening of the photo shoot, Quinn named different species of trees, ran her fingers over the leaves, and examined the branches. From afar, she saw a damaged larch tree and said, “I hope he makes it. They’re a really cool tree. Their needles are so soft.”

When I mentioned my plan to plant two Swiss Stone Pines, she cautioned me about the risk of the needles being burnt by the reflection of the sun off of the snow in the winter.

“Cover them with burlap,” she said.

Quinn Nowacki

Quinn exudes curiosity, admiration, and knowledge in passing. As we continued walking around the neighborhood, she noticed trees and plants and made passing comments — lilacs aren’t her favorite, and maples are hard to grow in the soil around Fargo; they do better farther east.

“I definitely identify a lot more things now. I think it is fun to be looking around and identifying plants,” she said. “Sometimes the people I’m with get a kick out of me pointing at things. It’s exciting when you can look at something and know what it is.”

And, there’s a lot to know in the study of horticulture. Quinn remembers her early years at Baker when a customer would come in seeking advice. She’d have to do a lot of research to be able to offer help, but now, having gone through her coursework at NDSU, she’s better able to assist people with their plant questions — especially when it comes to diseases.

As a Fargo native, Quinn says staying local and attending NDSU has allowed her to put down roots, learn, and grow.

“It’s nice to stay local,” Quinn said. “I know a lot of people like to go and branch out immediately, but it’s been kind of nice to establish myself and get going on something and use that elsewhere if I do choose to move out of the area.”

In the spring 2022 semester, Quinn was awarded the Harry Graves Scholarship. In her application, she wrote about coming full circle with starting at Baker as a teenager and knowing “nothing” — Quinn didn’t grow up with an agricultural family — to studying horticulture and being promoted as a greenhouse manager.

“The horticulture program isn’t huge, but it is nice that my application stood out,” Quinn said. “Being able to write something that made others go, ‘Oh, yeah, she deserves that,’ feels good.”

Quinn’s Home Gardening Tips

  • Choose the right plant for the right place. If a plant needs full sun, don’t plant it in a shaded area. You have to accept you’re not going to win. The plant needs what it needs.
  • Go for it! If you mess up, you can try again next year.
  • Be on the lookout for drought conditions. Plants will show signs of needing water — droopy, wilting, curling leaves.
  • Cut down perennials in the spring and they’ll come back nicely.
  • Trim lilacs after they bloom.
  • Get rid of spent buds on rose bushes to conserve the plant’s energy.
  • It’s OK to visit a nursery, greenhouse, or garden shop and not know what you want. Look around and ask questions.
  • Be curious and explore options. NDSU Extension is a great resource for our region.