If planting hundreds of tree seedlings sounds like an impossible task, imagine thousands of Missourians doing that every year. Many have been at it for decades, passing the tradition down from one generation to the next. Some plant trees because they’re trying to reestablish wooded areas on their property, or to improve wildlife habitat. Some are working to reduce erosion control. When asked, most say the same thing — they just like trees.
Those trees start out at the George O. White State Forest Nursery, which has been operated by MDC since 1947. The nursery is located just north of Licking in Texas County. While its original purpose was to provide shortleaf pine seedlings for the state’s national forests, its mission has changed over time. Now most seedlings are sold to Missouri’s private landowners.
“We have 754 acres of property where we grow about 70 different species of trees and shrubs, and almost all of them are native to Missouri,” said Mike Fiaoni, nursery supervisor. “The variety and scope of our efforts is unusual for state nurseries, and you won’t find many that produce as many species as we do.”
Each year the nursery processes more than 10,000 orders and ships almost 3 million seedlings. To grow all these trees, the nursery collects or buys tens of thousands of pounds of seeds each summer and fall. For example, about 2,000 bushels (50,000 pounds) of walnuts, 6,000 pounds of white oak acorns, 12,000 pounds of shellbark hickory nuts, and 16,000 pounds of bur oak acorns are needed just to establish seedlings for these four species.
“Missouri’s private landowners are responsible for most of the state’s forests and woodlands,” said Fiaoni. “The nursery is here to support their efforts to keep their woodlands healthy and growing for decades into the future.”
Planting seedlings is a low-cost way to improve the landscape, whether you have acres of property or just want to enhance the yard around your home. Depending on the quantity of seedlings purchased, the prices range from 22 to 60 cents for pine seedlings and 36 to 90 cents for hardwoods and shrubs. It’s a bargain that many landowners take advantage of year after year.
“I became nursery supervisor in 2017, and one thing I realized right away is that people love these tree seedlings, and they come back year after year for them,” said Fiaoni. “I believe it’s because the staff here take pride in their work and deliver quality seedlings to Missourians every year.”
Secret to Tree Success
Lawrence Buchheit has been buying seedlings from the nursery for over 30 years. His connection with the Missouri Department of Conservation isn’t just limited to the nursery. He was an MDC employee for decades, taking care of conservation areas in the southeast part of the state.
His love for trees started when he was young. Growing up in a rural area, he spent a lot of time outdoors. His father taught him the value of trees.
“He told me a tree isn’t just a tree,” said Buchheit. “Every tree has its place. Every tree has a purpose.”
After retiring from MDC in 2001, Buchheit and his wife, Shirley, started their own reforestation business, planting trees for other landowners. They had an eight-person crew and planted thousands of trees across southeast Missouri. He attributes his success in that venture, in part, to the nursery in Licking.
“I would order all the seedlings on behalf of the landowners I was working with,” said Buchheit. “Year after year, the people working at the nursery were always helpful and organized.”
Buchheit said there’s no way he could have planted all those trees without the nursery. There was no other place to get the variety and quantity he needed. He still orders seedlings each year to plant on his property.
Regardless of whether he’s working on his 93 acres of woodlands or when he was working on other’s properties, his objective is the same. He plants trees because trees are necessary for the environment — for clean air, clean water, and for soil conservation.
Buchheit has no plans to stop, and now he gets the whole family involved. He encourages anyone who wants to get started planting trees on their property to plant a variety of species, including shrubs. He also has some tips for keeping the seedlings alive.
“Make sure you’ve got the soil tightly packed around the tree roots, or the voles and mice will come for them,” he said. “If you can, dip the seedling roots in a solution that helps preserve moisture, and try to manage the weeds.”
Working with Shortleaf Pine
Mark Nikolaisen’s experience with seedlings might seem a little contrary to what one would expect to read in a story about planting trees. Nikolaisen has been working on his property in Phelps County near Maramec Spring for almost 17 years. He has invested plenty of hard work to improve the mostly wooded acreage and has planted over 1,300 seedlings.
“My goal for the property has been to provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife, and I also wanted to establish a few shortleaf pines since my acreage is on the northern part of their natural range in Missouri,” he said. “The nursery seedlings are an affordable way to do that, but you have to put in the effort to get your plan moving forward.”
Unfortunately, nature can be tough on his trees. Hot and dry summers, insects, and especially the deer have claimed many a seedling. Tree protection tubes, bamboo stakes, and, as the seedlings get a bit bigger, 4-inch plastic drain pipes have helped more trees survive.
While the shortleaf pine survival rate hasn’t been what he would have liked, other tree species are doing well, including persimmon and black walnut trees in the woodland valleys. For Nikolaisen, the seedlings are one part of his effort to manage his property.
Nikolaisen’s reason for planting trees is one piece of his overall plan to keep improving his property. He wants a diverse natural area that provides good habitat for all sorts of wildlife. He’s built brush piles for rabbits and he’s seen bobcats and foxes. Deer are plentiful and his interest in hunting them has changed a bit over the years.
“If I see a mature deer and I get a clean shot, I’ll take it, but as I get older, I just enjoy seeing wildlife using the land,” he said. “Planting seedlings and taking care of the property is the reward itself.”
Start Your Own Tree-dition
Seedlings can be ordered each year, starting Sept. 1. Check out the seedling order form included in this issue, or order online at mdc.mo.gov/seedlings. Order early for the best selection because certain species sell out quickly. Seedlings ship in the spring.
A few tips to remember when you order: Think about what trees and shrubs would best meet your needs. Consider the size of tree you want to plant, your site’s soil condition and sun exposure, and the proximity to buildings, overhead wires, and other obstructions. Plant the right tree in the right place.
“Centennial Celebration Bundle” Celebrates 100 Years of State Forestry
This year marks the 100th anniversary of state forestry agencies in the United States, and the George O. White State Forest Nursery is helping the National Association of State Foresters celebrate by offering a special centennial bundle. The bundle will include 100 seedlings total and will be available in 2019 only. It includes 10 each of 10 different species that represent the various reasons for planting trees and shrubs and the benefits they provide. The species include deciduous holly and wild plum for wildlife habitat, false indigo and buttonbush for pollinators, witch-hazel and ninebark for erosion control, eastern redbud and bald cypress for urban beautification and shade, and white oak and black walnut for forest products.