Tips For Starting & Maintaining A Tree Nursery

There's a lot of demand for trees, so it's worth considering establishing a tree nursery on your small farm. Check out these tips for getting started.

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by Zach LoeksAugust 12, 2022
PHOTO: Martina/AdobeStock

Growing trees for sale is a great option for the small farmer. But maintaining a tree nursery requires a long-term plan for years of tree growth. Here are some tips for growing fruit and other trees throughout the year. 

Consider Climate

Choose varieties for your tree nursery that are well-suited to your climate and the climate of your customers.

You really need to understand your hardiness zone. Sure, growing barely hardy trees can be a great niche for sales. But you should grow them for several years on your own property first. You need to experience and understand their potential to survive the coldest winters you might experience in your area over a decade. 

Getting Started

Explore your options for getting started, and decide on the best setup for your operation. You can, of course, buy in small seedlings. Or you could start seedlings from seed or even graft favorite varieties onto chosen root stocks in quantity and of the varieties you wish to sell. 

The best way to sell trees? Either bare root (lifted from ground to sell in spring) or newly potted (potted in spring for summer sale). 


Read more: You can start a mini tree nursery for found saplings!

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Size Matters

In both cases, you’ll see demand for trees in, primarily, three different sizes.¬†

  • There’s a lot of demand for small trees (1-2 feet tall). These are usually bought by reforestation organizations and orchards wanting to plant large acreage.¬†
  • There is also demand for tree whips (when lateral branches have been pruned off), usually sold in a medium size (3-5 feet tall).¬†
  • Lastly, there is demand for larger trees (bareroot and potted) of a size desirable for landscaping (5-9 feet tall) where trees are already established.¬†

Of these three sizes, the most economical for the nursery is usually the size they are best set up to manage and market. I like the middle size. These 3- to 5-foot trees grow out well in your fields, from small 6-inch seedlings to the desired size, following the following steps. 

Starting Your Tree Nursery

Fist, furrow your plot for the tree rows about 3 to 5 feet apart, depending on equipment used and scale. I furrow about 8 feet apart. I grow vegetables in beds between the trees to allow for efficient use of the land and maintaining good access for tree harvest later. 

Next, plant small seedlings in early spring into the furrows. Bury roots and keep stems straight. 

Make sure to mark variety changes with wooden stakes and permanent paint marker labels. 

Hill the trees periodically to reduce weeds in summer and avoid exposure of roots.  I use a two-wheel tractor and the power ridger attachment. You can also cultivate with a Tilmor tractor and various types of sweeps or tine weeders. 

Maintaining Your Young Trees

Use blueline or other heavy-duty drip to maintain water in droughts and for early establishment. 

In the fall I cover crop with winter rye and dwarf clover. The cover crop will protect soil surface over the winter and prevent erosion in the spring time. 

Use rodent guards to protect seedlings over the winter.  You can also set traps, and keep cats to maintain rodent populations. 

Lift trees in the spring for sale using shovels for smaller scale farming. You can use tree lifting equipment for a four-wheel tractor for larger-scale operations. 


Read more: Check out these tips for pruning and rejuvenating trees in an old orchard.


In Later Years

If you wish to leave the trees in the ground for multiple years to grow,  deep cultivate alongside the trees to prevent excessive lateral root development. 

I use a chisel plow or subsoiler on the two- or four-wheel tractor, depending on scale. Shanking 16 inches on either side of the tree row will disrupt small roots entering pathways. This allows the trees to focus root growth in the deep fertile trench. 

This will make tree harvest after multiple years much easier and with less root damage to larger diameter roots. 

When growing a tree nursery, remember to plan for multiple years to come. It takes time to grow your trees, and you need to have plots planted every spring to maintain a consistent supply.  

Grow On,
Zach 


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