Zane dreams of someday using the bigger equipment.
Zane Mueller cares for a new addition to his yard.

could now sit under an umbrella to pull weeds by hand and stay out of the direct rays of the sun last summer.

At first, the garden thing was primarily his brother’s idea, but as he worked in the soil, Zane found himself enjoying it more and more. He was outdoors, taking in the smell of dirt and flowers, listening to the call of birds and crows—well, speaking honestly, he could do without the crows. But the whole thing had a calming, almost hypnotic effect. Why?

“I think it’s mostly biological hormones and stuff,” he says, in a contemplative, matter-of-fact way.

At times, Zane expresses himself like a miniature adult. Then, in the next sentence, he’s all 11-year-old kid again, mischievous and fun-loving.

Starts annuals in January

Zane plants annuals by seed, starting as early as January. He uses potting soil mixed with peat moss to keep the dirt loose. He fills plastic pots and seed trays discarded from perennial plants he purchased the year before. But before the weather allows for transplanting outdoors, he sometimes feels that his pots and trays actually take over the house—the sun room on the south of the house, for instance, and the dining room table, as well as tables at other windows throughout the house.

But not all the plants are of the garden variety. Zane’s interest in gardening began with houseplants, mostly succulents and cacti. But keeping a houseplant healthy can be challenging in its own right because they are entirely dependent on the caregiver.

House plants don’t have the benefit of rain, for instance. If Zane forgets to water his plants, they die—pure and simple. If he doesn’t find them a place with just the right amount of sunshine, they won’t thrive. If he doesn’t eliminate pests, like mealy bugs, his plants will be sucked dry.

And many houseplants aren’t native to Wisconsin, presenting the challenge of how to create conditions similar to their native surroundings.

“You can’t apply the same rules that you do to a lot of outside plants,” says Zane.

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And so he relies on his brother’s research to help him when he encounters problems.

“He has a lot of books, a bookshelf full of them,” says Zane.

Zeke taps the internet, too, and has been doing research for about three or four years, prompting Zane to dig in, too.

“The last year or year and a half has been a steep learning curve about flowers and stuff,” says Zane.

So with all the information gathered he has been having success, like his jade plant, for instance. He received it as a cutting from a great aunt.

“I never had a jade plant before,” says Zane. “You’re not supposed to water it a whole lot, just once in a while.”

Thing is, before he knew better, Zane watered it probably too much, but the plant seemed to like his heavy hand. It rewarded him by shooting up quickly. In the last month and a half, the plant has grown over a foot.

And though houseplants have to be babied because they are so dependent on their caregivers, when they produce new growth or a blossom or two, they are that much more gratifying than a plant that thrives at the hand of nature.

But now, with the weather warming up, Zane wants to move on from houseplants to garden and lawn.

Last year, his challenge was to get used to his lawnmower. He learned, for instance, not to let the bristles of his sweeper beat away grass.

“Like when I gun it, there goes the grass,” he says, “and Mom goes, ‘Zane!’”

He’ll also look out for seedlings.

“I had this little maple tree I had planted. I was like, ‘Wow, there’s some new leaves on it,” he says. “I ran over it while I was cutting grass, and now the tree was gone. I don’t even know where it went. And the cage was all mangled.”

Learning lessons

But now, a year of experience under his belt, he looks out for things like that. He also watches for steep hills that he could get hung up on and tries to keep his gas tank filled ahead of time, too. When he ran out of gas last year, his brother had to pull him back to the house on his mower

while Zane steered. This year should

be a good year. In fact, he plans to branch out. He has been typing up some ads to distribute, maybe pull in some outside jobs.

But how will he transport his equipment?

“We have a trailer,” he says. “We could just drive the lawnmower up onto it and go where I need to go.”

But who’s going drive the car to pull it? His dad, perhaps?

“No, I’m going to drive,” Zane says with a mischievous glint in his eye and a giggle, knowing full well it will be years before he can take the wheel of a car.

And what about the future? Where will all this research and hands-on practice ultimately lead?

Zane pauses for a long time and then forms a secretive smile before he speaks.

“Mueller Excavating and Lawn Care Service,” he says.

But until that time, he will be content with doing his lawn care on a smaller scale, backyard maintenance and maybe even an outside job or two.

“Until I get equipment like that.” He points in the direction of the crawler hoe and bulldozer resting in his backyard and grins. “Then I’ll be taking out barn foundations and knocking down silos.”

Knowing Zane, almost anything is possible.