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GardenSMART Episode

Show #47/5008. Trees, Trees, Trees - Lessons From A Tree Farm

Summary of Show

Containerized Trees Vs. In-Ground Trees
Eric would like to start our conversation by talking about the difference between CONTAINERIZED TREES AND IN GROUND TREES. To the uninitiated they may look like a very similar product if we are looking at say, a three inch tree and a thirty to forty gallon container. The tops always look very similar but they're different. Right? Yes, it's a vastly different product. From the beginning the in ground b&b trees that they grow are a higher quality product. It starts with root pruning from the beginning and moves on from there. These trees are grown in natural, native soil that is much better for the plant. So it's just a different product altogether. Containerized trees are using a mill pine bark material, the drainage is so much faster so whatever fertilizers are being put on that plant are being leached out of the soil at a much faster rate. So it's a product that has to be more spoon fed compared to an in ground tree.
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Where Does it Start
Eric is anxious to take a look at the fields. He can't wait to see Pat's operation. The whole PROCESS STARTS with a little, small tree which is called a liner. It is set out with a planter which digs a furrow, the tree is manually set into that furrow and then the soil is moved back around it and from there the whole process of getting this tree ready for market starts. We visit a block of trees that are one to two years old. And there is already a lot of this work that has taken place. From the beginning when they bring in the liner they do a lot of root pruning.
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Establishing The Central Leader
As one looks down this row these trees are incredibly uniform and, and that's not just because they're a cultivar or are all genetically the same but a lot of it is because of the work they put into ESTABLISHING THE CENTRAL LEADER and then establishing the central branches. We can see basically what those trees are going to look like a couple years from now. There is a lot of hard work that goes into these trees to make it from that point to this point and one can see some of the individual pruning cuts that have been made, they are healing over. A lot of work goes into the tree to get it from a liner to here. Eric is interested in the kind of pruning cuts Pat is looking for at this stage in the trees development?
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Disease Or Insect Problems
Part of the process of producing a beautiful finished tree that can then be sold to a landscape architect or designer is making sure that along the way it doesn't get damaged by DISEASE OR INSECTS. So they are having to be ever vigilant, looking at every block of trees as often as they can and making sure that something is not, basically, eating your profits. They monitor their trees throughout the year for different bugs, diseases, fungal problems, even, as one can see with this tree they have deer guards on them. Eric would like to talk about the practical maintenance necessary for a homeowner. Let's say that a homeowner bought one of these beautiful trees, what should they be looking for?
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What's Coming In The Tree World
One of the most important decisions that Pat makes as a tree farmer every year is what trees will he plant and an important part of that is guessing what people are going to want four, five, six years down the road. Another part of it is just SELECTING THE RIGHT TREES, trees that are going to be more timeless that are really strong performers. There are a lot of trees that we look at from thirty, forty years ago that today are really not good trees.
For More Information Click Here

New Cultivars
Eric would like to talk about some of the NEW CULTIVARS or ones that Pat really likes that have been around for a little bit. One Pat particularly likes is an oak called regal prince. This oak tree is a cross between english oak and swamp white oak. English oak was a tree that was used for many, many years in the past but always had issues. The biggest issue was powdery mildew, in late summer your tree would turn white with mildew, so what they did was take the English oak and crossed it with the swamp white oak to take that fungal problem out.
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Beautiful Taxodium
Eric notices some BEAUTIFUL TAXODIUM that are really dense, a little more of an upright branching pattern, which would probably make it a better urban tree. Taxodium is a great plant for urban environments because it really tolerates horrible soil. The biggest problem is that it's so big and so wide, thus doesn't fit a lot of urban environments size wise.
For More Information Click Here

Nyssa Sylvatica
An exciting trend in the industry right now is the movement in the direction towards NATIVE PLANTS and we are seeing all of these really incredible cultivars that are coming out of that work. This tree is one of Eric's favorite trees of all time. It is Nyssa sylvatica. From seed it can be a bit of a rangy plant and any possible shape can come out of the seedling Nyssa.
For More Information Click Here

Red Bud
Another wonderful native in the field is Cercis canadensis or RED BUD, this is The Rising Sun. The first time Eric saw this plant he initially didn't even know what it was because it is so starkly different than the red bud that we know and love. It has an almost electric chartreuse foliage that goes into almost like a neon orange. Eric had to pull over and actually walk up to the tree to even discover what it was. It's a fascinating new cultivar.
For More Information Click Here

Try New Trees
Eric also noticed a field of Lilacs and knows it's a much loved tree and a wonderful landscape plant, not just for the bloom but the fragrance. There are many new cultivars coming out that have really impressive foliage as well. The foliage is great. That's the point, BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS, look at the new plants that are out there. There are always new ones that are coming out.
For More Information Click Here

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Show #47/5008. Trees, Trees, Trees - Lessons From A Tree Farm

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART visits one of our favorite tree farms and gets a behind the scenes look at what it takes to bring a tree from seed or cutting to instant shade for your landscape. We're in Oldham County Kentucky visiting Riverfarm Nursery. Riverfarm is nestled in the rolling hills of Kentucky, overlooking the beautiful Ohio River. This area experiences great weather conditions and enjoys long growing seasons with plenty of rainfall.

Pat Carey the General Manager is our guest host. Pat oversees the 300 plus acres in field production at Riverfarm and for the past 26 years Pat has been growing the highest quality balled and burlap shade and ornamental trees at Riverfarm nursery. Pat is a graduate of Western Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Pat is a celebrated nurseryman who has served for 14 years on the Louisville Nursery Association board and has served as its President. Pat is currently vice president of the Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Association. In this show Pat walks us through the steps of bringing time proven and unique species from liner to landscape ready trees.

Eric welcomes Pat to the show. Pat in turn thanks Eric, he is glad to be a part of GardenSMART. For Eric talking about big trees is a great passion. His very first job in horticulture was working with big in-ground trees where they were both hand-digging trees and machine-digging trees. He worked in propagation starting the little trees that ultimately ended up in the field. So he loves that we are looking at Pat's operation. We have heard wonderful things about Pat and Riverfarm. Pat is glad Eric and GardenSMART are here. Tree farming is a passion dear to his heart as well and is glad to show it off.

Eric would like to start our conversation by talking about the difference between CONTAINERIZED TREES AND IN GROUND TREES. To the uninitiated they may look like a very similar product if we are looking at say, a three inch tree and a thirty to forty gallon container. The tops always look very similar but they're different. Right? Yes, it's a vastly different product. From the beginning the in ground b&b trees that they grow are a higher quality product. It starts with root pruning from the beginning and moves on from there. These trees are grown in natural, native soil that is much better for the plant. So it's just a different product altogether. Containerized trees are using a mill pine bark material, the drainage is so much faster so whatever fertilizers are being put on that plant are being leached out of the soil at a much faster rate. So it's a product that has to be more spoon fed compared to an in ground tree. A container-grown tree is very similar to fast food at McDonald's or something like that. What they do is a more slow, home cooked meal. And another advantage with a tree that is grown in the soil is all the mycorrhizal, the fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with the roots improves the water holding capacity, even the surface area of the roots, so their ability to take up certain nutrients is improved. Also when that tree is dug you know all the roots are pruned at that time and its ability to integrate into native soil is substantially better than a container grown tree which will then need to adjust to this new paradigm. Before it was in pine bark but now is going into soil. Also, a container tree is going to have circling roots. The roots hit the plastic wall of the container then grow around it. That creates a major structural problem. What they do here is so much different for the plant, it's just better for the plant. The natural soil has natural nutrients in it that you can't mimic in pine bark and that greatly effects transplant success. The natural soil holds water and, and the nutrients are there and move with it. You can't mimic that. Then you get to the problem with the circling roots and it's a huge issue that their industry has tried to solve for years and years. There are a lot of people doing a great job of trying to solve that problem but have not quite conquered that issue of the roots circling. They try to cut the roots to accommodate the problem but it's still there. So for the long-term success of the tree, a field dug tree is going to be superior. The field-dug tree is going to be superior in many ways from the roots to the work that's done on the tops of the trees from day one. This tree is going to be a better plant all along the process.

Eric is anxious to take a look at the fields. He can't wait to see Pat's operation. The whole PROCESS STARTS with a little, small tree which is called a liner. It is set out with a planter which digs a furrow, the tree is manually set into that furrow and then the soil is moved back around it and from there the whole process of getting this tree ready for market starts. We visit a block of trees that are one to two years old. And there is already a lot of this work that has taken place. From the beginning when they bring in the liner they do a lot of root pruning. They take out any bad roots, any crossing roots, any broken roots, things like that. This really sets the plant up for success. Then after it is planted it is very important to get the tree staked up and pruned properly. So they take off any lower limbs that don't need to be there and try to get this tree up to the landscape height, then they stake it with a good fiberglass stake that's able to flex and move with the wind. There will be six to eight ties on every tree to keep that tree nice and rigid and straight for the first couple years. The importance of being flexible is that if the tree is not able to move then it doesn't build the right kind of ligament that makes it strong and we want to also make sure the stake only stays on the tree as long as it needs to but not any longer. Years ago they used metal stakes but they had a real issues with that approach. As soon as they pulled out the metal stake the tree would flop over. They want to support the tree and create a straight tree but want to use a stake that is able to move so the tree will build caliper. That tree knows that if it's being blown in the wind it needs to build more strength in the trunk so that's why they now use fiberglass stakes. Another objective with the staking process is to, what they call, chase the central leader. Thus they've added on another stake. They chase that central leader up higher than the fiberglass stake with a bamboo stake. That way they continue to maintain the strong central, leader throughout. The idea is to create this nice, scaffold branching going all the way up through the head and as it gets higher and higher they build higher with the bamboo stakes.

Eric next wants to look at some older trees to see what the younger trees are going to look like a couple years from now. There we see the impact of all the work that goes in the first couple of years. As one looks down this row these trees are incredibly uniform and, and that's not just because they're a cultivar or are all genetically the same but a lot of it is because of the work they put into ESTABLISHING THE CENTRAL LEADER and then establishing the central branches. We can see basically what those trees are going to look like a couple years from now. There is a lot of hard work that goes into these trees to make it from that point to this point and one can see some of the individual pruning cuts that have been made, they are healing over. A lot of work goes into the tree to get it from a liner to here. Eric is interested in the kind of pruning cuts Pat is looking for at this stage in the trees development? At this stage you have kind of built your base and staking up the central leader. Then what they're trying to do is maintain that and continue to come back to that tree year after year, sometimes month after month and see if there is anything that is kind of going awry that they need to get out of the way and then just maintain that nice pyramidal shape. A year or two from now the tree will be quite well established, the form of it should be pretty well set and the maintenance from a pruning standpoint is much lighter at that point. Most of the work is done in year one and year two on these trees. After that it gets a little easier. And that's a good thing because it's a little bit more difficult because obviously the trees are taller and a little harder to get to. The work at the base, all that is done in year one and two. At what point are you not as concerned about maintaining the central leader? Obviously you're not necessarily trying to protect that for fifteen or twenty feet? Once they get up after the third year or so they won't do a lot of maintenance to the central leader but do keep an eye on it to make sure that another co-dominant leader hasn't really tried to take over or something like that. There is a lot of hands on labor that goes into taking these trees from that little liner up to the finished product. The nursery business, especially the way they do it at Riverfarm Nursery is very labor intensive and really in a lot of ways is a form of art.They have these trees here in the nursery and they're maintaining them, they're working with them and molding them for four to five years before they go out to someone's yard. It's a really neat process and they have a lot of great employees that care about what they are doing.

Part of the process of producing a beautiful finished tree that can then be sold to a landscape architect or designer is making sure that along the way it doesn't get damaged by DISEASE OR INSECTS. So they are having to be ever vigilant, looking at every block of trees as often as they can and making sure that something is not, basically, eating your profits. They monitor their trees throughout the year for different bugs, diseases, fungal problems, even, as one can see with this tree they have deer guards on them. Eric would like to talk about the practical maintenance necessary for a homeowner. Let's say that a homeowner bought one of these beautiful trees, what should they be looking for? What are the kinds of problems that if detected should concern a homeowner? And then what are the kinds of issues the homeowner shouldn't be as worried about? First of all when you go to plant a tree it's important that you kind of look it up and spend some time educating yourself about that particular plant online learning what issues you may have coming down the road. Part of the issue is planning ahead so you know that you are going to have some issues, you then know how to target those problems. Managing the populations of insects is an important consideration. There is an amount of damage that's not going to impair the growth of the tree. Some of it may just be light cosmetic damage. Those are probably not going to need any kinds of sprays. However, if that insect population gets sizable enough you then have got to get in and do something preemptive. Pat shows us one tree in particular that has some Japanese beetle damage. It doesn't bother Pat too much in this setting, it's just really aesthetic damage, it's late in the summer, a lot of the growth has already finished on the tree for the year. So each individual person has to look at the threshold of what they can stand. If it's a beautiful staple tree right in front of your house you may not want too much damage on that at all but if it's a big shade tree out in your back yard possibly you can accept some damage there. What they are trying to do is limit the chemical usage. It doesn't mean they don't use chemicals, instead means they limit them and are conscious of what they are spraying. Often times insects are going to attack a weakened tree so maintaining fertility and also making sure the water schedule is correct for the tree, helping it be strong, actually goes a really, really long way towards protecting the tree from insect and disease problems.

One of the most important decisions that Pat makes as a tree farmer every year is what trees will he plant and an important part of that is guessing what people are going to want four, five, six years down the road. Another part of it is just SELECTING THE RIGHT TREES, trees that are going to be more timeless that are really strong performers. There are a lot of trees that we look at from thirty, forty years ago that today are really not good trees. A very obvious example would be something like Bradford pear that we now know is probably one of the worst landscape trees that we could have ever planted. They are weak wooded, they fall apart. Breeders and selectors are constantly trying to look at range or other traits. Can we get a stronger tree, can we get a tree with better form, one that's more compact, has better fall color, grows faster, any number of those type qualities. Bradford pear was probably the worst tree to ever come out, it was introduced with good intentions, we are always trying to look for that perfect tree but sometimes we find out down the road that what we thought was perfect is not quite that.

Eric would like to talk about some of the NEW CULTIVARS or ones that Pat really likes that have been around for a little bit. One Pat particularly likes is an oak called regal prince. This oak tree is a cross between english oak and swamp white oak. English oak was a tree that was used for many, many years in the past but always had issues. The biggest issue was powdery mildew, in late summer your tree would turn white with mildew, so what they did was take the English oak and crossed it with the swamp white oak to take that fungal problem out. They have accomplished that resulting in a very beautiful tree, it has very nice foliage throughout the summer, good growth habit for that kind of semi-columnar tree and it will fit in most spots. They also have the burgundy elm, it is an example of a tree that has been around for a while. Burgundy is probably twenty-five years old, it's a tree that has, come in and out of popularity but it has stood the test of time. It has an almost blackish-green or reddish burgundy color foliage in its first flush. It has a really good structure, a super strong tree, and is one that Pat is happy to see. And really coming back into popularity. Sometimes the new trees are also old trees so we reach back into time and find some of the older selections that we didn't realize all the good aspects of them, so bring those back out and say hey, why did we lose this in our industry. The burgundy elm is one of those. Pat shows us several others. These are just babies, he has bigger ones down the way. Especially for a Chinese elm for the northern end of the market, the burgundy elm is a great one, has great fall color, stands up really well to snow and ice, really a phenomenally good plant.

Eric notices some BEAUTIFUL TAXODIUM that are really dense, a little more of an upright branching pattern, which would probably make it a better urban tree. Taxodium is a great plant for urban environments because it really tolerates horrible soil. The biggest problem is that it's so big and so wide, thus doesn't fit a lot of urban environments size wise. So they came up with a new cultivar called Lindsey's Skyward. Skyward is an upright cultivar that is very nicely shaped, a very beautiful tree yet it has the ability to be used as street tree because it is upright and it won't grow out into the streets which was the problem before with bald Cyprus. It can grow limbed up off the ground or grow it limbed to the ground like regal prince.

An exciting trend in the industry right now is the movement in the direction towards NATIVE PLANTS and we are seeing all of these really incredible cultivars that are coming out of that work. This tree is one of Eric's favorite trees of all time. It is Nyssa sylvatica. From seed it can be a bit of a rangy plant and any possible shape can come out of the seedling Nyssa. Some are nice and some not so much and that limits its utility. When a designer is looking for ten matched seedling Nyssas that can be tough to do with a seedling block. But green gable, is an exceptional cultivar and you just see the regularity of it, the density of it, that's not common to a seedling block of Nyssas. The really, really shiny, black-green leaf and the fall colors are so amazing on this tree. Just because it's a cultivar does not mean it is not native. So the green gable, is a wonderful plant oak, an upright habit, it's a very good alternative to the pears, what we've had in the past. So throw those pears out and come back with something like this.

Another wonderful native in the field is Cercis canadensis or RED BUD, this is The Rising Sun. The first time Eric saw this plant he initially didn't even know what it was because it is so starkly different than the red bud that we know and love. It has an almost electric chartreuse foliage that goes into almost like a neon orange. Eric had to pull over and actually walk up to the tree to even discover what it was. It's a fascinating new cultivar. This industry is really in the middle of a red bud revolution. Rising Sun is one of those plants and is a show stopper. When you see it you won't forget it and you'll want to have one. It starts as a green leaf on the inside and kind of fades to a yellow and then the new shoots are like an apricot, orangey kind of color. It just will knock your socks off. It's an absolutely beautiful tree and Pat says there are more to come. There are lots of new red buds that are coming onto the market that are going to be even better than this one. This is also a plant that has fantastic blooms even though it's deciduous. They are really nice, the beautiful kind of pinkish-purple flowers mean it's a multi-season interest tree. There are no down sides to it. You're going to get the normal red bud blooms that you get in early season, probably March or April, but then in the summer time they hold this beautiful color all summer long.

Another plant Eric would like for Pat to talk about, and one he is not familiar with is this wonderful, really tight chionanthus, or Chinese fringe tree. This one is called Tokyo Tower. We're having some issues with bugs here in the United States with chionanthus virginicus, so that gives us a good reason to jump over to chionanthus Chinese fringe tree. This Tokyo Tower is a really beautiful upright fringe tree with a smaller leaf and beautiful white flowers. It really fits a lot of spots.

Eric also noticed a field of Lilacs and knows it's a much loved tree and a wonderful landscape plant, not just for the bloom but the fragrance. There are many new cultivars coming out that have really impressive foliage as well. The foliage is great. That's the point, BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS, look at the new plants that are out there. There are always new ones that are coming out. Go to your local landscape center and talk to the professionals, ask them about the new plants that are out there. Take some pride in branching out. Let's not just use the same plants that we had from years ago. We can find beautiful summer foliage, fall foliage and flowers, there are many different options available to us today in trees. Eric wholeheartedly agrees.

In this episode we've taken a behind the scenes look into of of the countries best tree growers to find out what we need to know to have the most success with our trees at home. Eric thanks Pat, we've had a wonderful day and learned so much getting behind the scenes in the world of trees. It has been fascinating. Pat, thank you so much for your time. Pat returns the compliment, thanks Eric for coming, he thoroughly enjoyed showing Eric and the GardenSMART audience Riverfarm Nursery.

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