Spring Tree Series with Mike Herrema: Tree Nurseries
There is something exciting about growing trees from young whips or tree stock to more mature trees to be transplanted across the campus at a later date.
This is the third part of the Spring Tree Series with Mike Herrema from Cornerstone University. Previous articles in this series:
I believe there comes a time for almost every groundskeeper when they think that their institution should have a nursery. It seems natural and exciting. It’s obvious that they can grow things from their experience of maintaining the rest of the campus. There is something exciting about growing trees from young whips or tree stock to more mature trees to be transplanted across the campus at a later date. Tree prices from nurseries have really gone up over the last several years and this could even be looked at as a cost saving measure.
More and more, I’m convinced that this is bad idea for a college or university to have a nursery. First off, space can be at a premium and trees do need space to grow. Too often if a nursery is wanted, the space assigned is less than ideal growing conditions whether it be soil, drainage, or available sunlight where any tree will have a hard time growing. The spot could be off campus and easily out of sight of the groundskeeper assigned to monitor the progress.
Nurseries require maintenance that could otherwise be used on the rest of the grounds. Trees need to be checked for diseases, trained and pruned for desirable structure when they are mature. These costs should be factored into the cost of the tree. Decisions must be made on whether or not to install irrigation to water, which will increase the cost also. The risks from diseases and wildlife should be thought about and factored into your final decisions. From experience, deer can quickly wipe out an entire small nursery and all the money thought saved by growing your own trees is lost.
Furthermore, I’m not the best at accurately forecasting what trees I will be planting three to five years out. I look at the place where a tree is to be planted and pick the right tree for the place and occasion. I don’t necessarily want to think that a particular species of tree might thrive in that place just because I have it in stock in my nursery. This year, I have to replace five trees before graduation, and there is no way I could have predicted what trees this would have been or what size I would need if I was planning a nursery. Because of the demands of tree selection on a campus, the nursery trees might never be used. If this is the case, very soon the trees will become too large for the grounds staff to transplant, and the end result is a bunch of abandoned overgrown trees planted in neat rows. It is better to leave the growing to reputable for-profit tree growers that know their business and can deliver the selection of trees that is needed for the particular year.
That’s not to say that I’m not strategic or thrifty in some of my tree selection or planning. I’ve had large trees spaded in for several thousand a piece when the situation called for it. The natural instinct might be we need to grow these species in our own nursery in case we ever need to do this over again. I’ve found it easier to plant these smaller caliber replacement trees around campus where a tree spade can easily maneuver to get them. My thoughts are that the public might as well enjoy the trees as they mature, and if they are never needed, they are fine where they are at. However, the downside is that my plans are only known to me and my succession notes if anyone cares to read them.
Mike Herrema graduated with a business degree from Calvin College and then entered the green industry. Mike has experience with both the commercial and intuitional sides of the green industry. He is currently the grounds manager of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids Michigan.
If you have had a different experience with keeping your own nursery or have questions for Mike, please leave a comment below.