Stewardship of our land is so important. And planting trees, whether for an urban landscape, suburban yard or rural acreage, is a key stewardship role for us all.
In a past article we looked at how to plant a tree. But in this article we are going to consider the critical role of a nursery bed, a key gardening technique for enhancing your land stewardship through effective and affordable tree planting.
First, we will look at why a nursery bed is important for property management. Then we will consider how to build an affordable and effective nursery bed using a specific hügelkultur style of garden bed preparation that I have found immensely effective on my farm and other landscape sites.
About Nursery Beds
A nursery bed is an essential Permabed that is effective at planting many small trees and caring for them until they are larger and can be moved into other planting sites.
This is important for many reasons.
First, it allows the steward to buy small trees that are much less costly. Second, it facilitates easy management for watering, weeding and rodent protection until the trees are larger.
This can be especially effective for growing out trees until they are large enough to be above browsing deer. It also helps us keep track of our inventory and plan for the planting sites in advance.
As the nursery bed is closer to home, in permaculture zone 1 (we will discuss this in a later article), this means it is easy to observe and record data for our new trees as well.
How to Make Hügelkultur a Nursery Bed
The hügelkultur style of nursery bed often uses woody debris and soil layered for a larger raised bed. However, my twist on this is to maximize readily available small square bales of straw or hay.
Lay cardboard along a 5×15 feet (or longer) area to smother out grass. Place the small square bales in two parallel lines, and cap them at each end with two bales.
You can infill the bales with loose, sandy loam and compost mix (50/50 of each). Then mark straight planting rows.
Now you can plant small, bare-root berries, fruit trees and nut trees along these lines. Leaving only 6-12 inches between plants, you can pack in a lot of important future garden and landscape tree diversity.
Next, allow small weeds to germinate in the top inch of your nursery bed soil. Weed it quickly with a hoe between the rows, then mulch the whole bed with 1 inch of straw or, preferably, wood chips.
Also, make sure to label all the trees with long-lasting name tags and set up your preferred watering system. Your hügelkultur nursery bed is complete.
But wait, there is more!
What about when the trees grow? How do you get them out?
This is where this system really excels. In one to three years, depending on your tree’s size and growth rate (factor of climate, management and species), you will be ready to dig these up and replant them in your hedgerows, permaculture garden beds and fence lines.
At this time, the straw-bale sides can be pulled away and the trees can be easily undercut by a flat blade shovel. For larger enterprises, you can use a tractor bucket to lift trees free from their soil medium.
This will produce large healthy bare-root trees.
Properly nurseried bare-root trees are far superior transplants for your reforestation, edible landscaping or permaculture garden projects! Bare-root, as opposed to potted, trees are ultimately healthier, grow faster and recover from any replanting shock quickly.