The Joy of Growing Trees

Our Family

I love learning and the tree business is an unending opportunity to learn and grow. One of my favorite parts of this endeavor is talking about trees, problem-solving, sharing stories, and learning new things. When I meet new people, inevitably, the conversation of my little nursery comes up. I’m amazed at how many people have stories of their own. Here are three of my favorites.

The Time to Plant is Now

I ran into a colleague at a Women in Manufacturing conference. We had never formally met, despite working in the same building on the same floor. We set out to get to know each other and vowed to connect at the office after the conference. As we talked through our different roles and moved on to family and hobbies, it turned out her husband had a passion for trees comparable to my own and he too was determined to start a tree nursery. My colleague expressed awe at the progress we’d made. At the time I only had 500 trees and we were just starting to pot them up. We hadn’t yet prepared the growing area, “nursery” or planted any trees in the ground.  I was baffled at her response as I was feeling significantly inadequate as a nursery owner.  I typically avoided defining us as a nursery just yet. She explained the reaction: Her husband had been talking about starting a tree nursery for more than 5 years, he was taking classes, looking at property, going to meetings, and joining organizations, but he had yet to plant a single tree.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Old Chinese proverb

The lesson here is start now. Stop thinking about it and do it. I too spent a lot of time researching the best times to plant trees (spring and fall), the best soil, the best sunlight, and on and on. The difference that got me over the hurdle of planning and into the actual doing was time. I was approaching my 50th birthday at a time when I was disheartened by events in my life and I needed some escape. My therapy began. I started planting everything and anything that looked like a tree. I kept feeling that if I didn’t start now I would never have time left to see them grow.  I only have a handful of trees left from that initial dive into the tree growing experience but I have at least 50 lessons learned that I will share with you along the way. It was by no means a waste of my time. Whether 1 tree, 50 trees, or 500 trees. If you love trees, plant one today.

Don’t do it for the Money – do it for the Joy

When I returned to work after my broken leg I was assigned to a new project. During a working meeting we all took a break for lunch. One of my counterparts was fascinated with my love for trees. I talked about our upcoming shipment and how I was struggling to manage work, recovering from a broken leg, family, and the spring rush to get the trees in the dirt. She shared with me that her Dad had once thought he would open a tree nursery.  He had purchased a thousand trees and planted them in the back of their property.  After 6 years he wasn’t able to get his nursery license. I was confused (and concerned because I hadn’t yet applied for my license). OI had to ask, “why not?”  He never tended the trees. He planted them and waited with the expectation the trees would grow on their own. Turns out it was just an investment for him. He believed he would plant a 1000 trees and in 7 years he would make a profit: $400  X $1000 = $400,000.00 .

Autumn Blaze
One Year Old Autumn Blaze Maple in the Fall

The lesson here is that in order to grow trees that will sell. Trees that people want to pay for. Trees that don’t spread disease or invasive weeds; You have to put the work in. The learning, the tending, the labor and finally the reward. I don’t expect to turn a profit for a few more years. Even then, my current business plan doesn’t equal millions of dollars annually. My vision is simple, I want to retire in 10 years and supplement my income with my trees. I want to stay active as I age and continue to be excited about learning. For me personally, I love to grow things. A tree nursery fits my budget, financial goals, health goals, and personal well-being.

Build Memories

The Manager from the physical therapy office where I recovered from my broken leg, shared the story of  he and his brothers growing up on a tree nursery and farm. His Dad raised pines, spruce, and fir that were primarily sold as transplants for Christmas tree farms. They did some landscape sales and cut tree sales. I asked lots of questions about nursery licensing, tree excavation, and profitability. The nursery lasted 10 or 15 years in his family, he wasn’t aware of any licensing, and he and his brothers were the excavators. No, his family never made a profit from the endeavor that supported the family. His Dad retired from his lifelong career outside of trees. What happened to the tree business? He couldn’t recall it just went away. While we talked I could see the memories and the value that nursery business had for him.

Grandsons Shoveling
Ann Landers used to ask, “Are you better off with him or without him?” I can’t imagine life without our trees.

The lesson here is to share the joy with your family and friends. Whether you are starting a Hobby Tree Farm or Nursery or a Tree Nursery for profit, even if you don’t stick with it, it’s an opportunity to build family memories. If you truly have a passion, others will get excited for you. Kids and grandkids will look back on this experience for the rest of their lives. I know I remember planting 500 trees with my Dad in 1980. I hated it at the time but I loved watching those trees grow.

Let Your Story Begin

I don’t wake up every morning excited to go weed my tree beds or lay fabric or pot trees. It’s often like going to the gym; getting there is half the battle. For me my trees are my gym membership and my therapy; both mental and physical.

I do get excited about my vision. I look forward to the outcomes and the learning. There’s no fast track with trees. It’s like watching a child grow, you don’t notice the growth, until one day you do. There are more days that I feel overwhelmed then there are days that I’m eager to get out there but it balances out. Nothing worth doing is easy and there are so many days I take pride in our accomplishments and find awe in the beauty of our trees. I struggle to remember what I did before we started our tree nursery.

Do you know someone who has started a Tree Nursery? Have you successfully started a small nursery? I’d love to hear your stories, both good and not so good. Every challenge is an opportunity.

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