NEW ULM – There are many opportunities for a person walking down downtown Minnesota Street to stop and smell the flowers, but only if someone stops to water the flowers.

For years Ulm’s New Chamber, the city and the mayor have worked together to fund and staff the downtown flower program.

The agreement with the Chamber of Commerce pays for the flower and the city coordinates the volunteer watering program. Years ago, the city hired part-time workers to water the plants, but watering responsibilities have become a volunteer operation. Former mayor Joel Albrecht took over recruiting and organizing the watering volunteers and it has remained the status quo ever since.

Recently, a shortage of volunteers has created a problem that could threaten the viability of downtown flowers.

“We used to have five volunteers to water the flowers from Monday to Friday,” Volunteer Keith Rolloff said: “Now we are down to three. This leaves two out of five weeks uncovered for watering.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Baskets of red flowers decorate 300 North Minnesota Street in downtown New Ulm.

Rolloff volunteered to water the flowers for 14 years. He was initially approached by Albrecht. He explained the planned call for a single volunteer to water all the flowers from Monday to Friday. Other volunteers who cannot work on weekdays water the flowers on weekends.

Each new week, watering responsibilities pass to the next volunteer. With five people, this meant that only one volunteer was needed once every five weeks. With the loss of three volunteers, it fell to a three-week rotation.

A five-week schedule was already prepared for the summer. Moving to a three-week rotation will conflict with the summer plans of the remaining volunteers. Rolloff said at least one of the volunteers had a separate part-time job.

Watering the flowers in downtown New Ulm might not seem like a big time investment. But given the number of factories involved, it is a serious commitment.

On Minnesota Street, 1st South to 4th North, each lamp post contains at least two flower baskets, but some have more. There are about five lampposts on each side of the street, per block. According to House reports, 122 hanging flower baskets need to be watered every day.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt There are several different vibrant flowers in downtown Minnesota Street in New Ulm. Volunteers are however needed to keep these flowers blooming.

There are also large flower pots located at each corner. Volunteers also manage the corner flower pots located on Broadway and a few flowers near German Park.

Rolloff said it took about three to four hours to water the 250 flowerpots and baskets downtown. Since watering is needed almost every day, this amounts to a 15-20 hour volunteer service. The city is appealing to anyone who can volunteer.

Rolloff said the volunteer must be dedicated enough to go out and water each day. Usually the volunteers water the flowers in the morning, but they can water at any time of the day depending on their schedule.

The person who waters the flowers is allowed to drive a special side-by-side off-road vehicle equipped with a water tank to perform the task. This vehicle is provided by the city.

Rolloff said the vehicle is easy to drive and he could teach any volunteer to use it in minutes. The water tank comes with a special spray attachment to reach hanging baskets.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt

Rolloff said any additional volunteer help would be appreciated.

“I don’t want to see these flowers die” he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering to water plants is encouraged to contact Rolloff at 276-2240.

In addition to a shortage of volunteers, the flower program experienced an inflation problem. On average, the House has paid about $7,000 for flowers each year, but this year the flowers cost $8,400. Part of this cost was to cover the replacement of the hamper liners, with the remainder likely due to inflation.

The Chamber recently held a rummage sale of vintage items to help defray the additional costs.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt

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