Tree Nursery Science in Maryland
"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago - the second best time is today." - Anonymous
In 1914, Maryland Legislature passed the Roadside Tree Law. It was one of the first laws in the country that gave a state forestry department authority to plant, care, and protect trees in the public right of way. It also enabled the State Board of Forestry to establish a state tree nursery, its primary purpose to grow trees for roadside planting.
In 1914, Maryland’s first state forest tree nursery was established at College Park. The University of Maryland, originally the Maryland Agricultural College, donated this tract of land. It was located at Paint Branch and the intersection of Route 1 and Lakeland Road.
The nursery later evolved and expanded to grow seedlings for conservation purposes including wildlife habitat, watershed and soil protection, and forest products. The state tree nursery was important to the ecological restoration of Maryland’s forested landscape that was devastated from abusive logging and agricultural practices that occurred in the late 19th century.
Fred W. Besley, student of Gifford Pinchot (father of American forestry), brought forest tree nursery science to Maryland as its first state forester. Besley gained this knowledge and experience from working in 1904 as a superintendent at the U.S. Forest Service Tree Nursery at Halsey, Nebraska, the first federal tree nursery established in the country.
Kirk Rodgers, Fred W. Besley’s grandson, said that one of the earliest and most vigorous efforts his grandfather undertook as a state forester was to establish a state tree nursery. “He was particularly interested in forest regeneration. He was ashamed with the way Maryland’s roadsides looked. He made this into a crusade."
During his term as State Forester between the years 1906-1942, Besley established three state forest tree nurseries, all on the property or near the University of Maryland at College Park. With each passing year, productivity increased at the tree nursery from thousands of trees produced annually to millions of trees.
Around 1944, The State expanded operations to the Beltsville Experimental Tree Nursery. From 1949 to 1950, the tree nursery at College Park closed and moved to Harmons, in Anne Arundel County. Here, a new Tree Improvement Program propagated superior Loblolly and Eastern White Pine. Harmons was the first state tree nursery to sit on land actually owned and deeded to the Maryland Forest Service. Later it was renamed Buckingham Tree Nursery, after the third State Forester who had a strong interest and background in the tree nursery science.
In 1996, due to the construction of Route 100, the Nursery relocated again to its present site near Preston, in Caroline County on the eastern shore.
Since 1914 to present, only a handful of individuals have served as head nurseryman at the state tree nursery, among them was Silas Sines, a native of Garrett County. From 1929-1974, Sines oversaw and guided the growth and operations of the state forest tree nursery.
Over time, the self-sufficient work habits of Sines have become legend. Sines
pioneered methods for economically growing and replanting large numbers of
healthy trees. The employees he supervised respected and looked up to him. He
was not above working in the field right along with his staff.
Because of Sines, the Maryland State Forest Tree Nursery gained a reputation among nurserymen in the eastern United States for growing the best tree seedlings at the cheapest price. Henry C. Buckingham, the third state forester, once told a group of nurserymen that of all the trees grown at tree nurseries in the eastern United States, Maryland's trees stood out like a "fly in buttermilk."
While it is believed Confucius said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago,” the folks at the John S. Ayton State tree Nursery have adopted another: “There is no time like the present.”
The 300-acre John S. Ayton Nursery was built in 1995, when state officials decided to move the state nursery from its site at Buckingham near Baltimore-Washington International Airport to a new location in rural Caroline County. The state of the art facility is named for John Ayton, former nursery supervisor at Buckingham, who was instrumental in the new nursery’s design and construction, from buildings to grounds and operations. John began his career with DNR’s Forest Service in 1961 and retired in 1996, one year after the new nursery’s completion. Richard Garrett is the present day manager.
The 2.3 million trees produced that first year did not meet the staff’s expectations. By the spring of 2002, more than 7 million young trees were packaged and shipped.
A seedling’s life begins in the fall, when seeds are collected from parent trees statewide, as well as from trees in state orchards at the nursery and at another site in Worcester County. Volunteers, students, homeowners, community groups and DNR personnel collect hundreds of pounds of acorns and walnuts, along with seed from ash, dogwood, sycamore and several other tree species. The seeds are collected from parent trees displaying good growth and form, and then brought to the Nursery where they are sorted, bagged and cleaned of excess debris. They are then further processed and planted in nursery beds.
The “lifting” of seedlings begins in December. Hardwood species are the first seedlings removed from the beds and brought into the facility’s coolers. The two massive coolers, which are located in the shipping building, can each hold up to 4 million seedlings. The staff then begins to prepare the hardwoods for shipping. This process includes dipping the seedlings’ roots in a clay mixture to retain moisture before the final packaging.
Throughout February, March and April, seedlings are continually dug up and readied for shipping. In March, a contract crew comes to the nursery to prepare the loblolly pine seedlings that will be shipped to forest landowners. Loblolly pine is the predominant species in the 50 acres of the state’s orchards, and the contract crew can process up to 150,000 loblolly seedlings each day. The empty seedbeds are then tilled, and from late April into June the beds are reseeded.
Seedlings are grown for many purposes, chief among them to provide wildlife habitat, watershed and soil protection, windbreaks, sound barriers, forest products, and stream buffer stabilization. One legislative initiative, the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), encourages Maryland landowners to plant seedlings along waterways for the creation of forest buffers by paying them bonus land rental rates and reimbursing their installation costs. Those with croplands or marginal pastureland by streams or on erodible soils within 1,000 feet of water are eligible for the program. Bald cypress, swamp chestnut oak, silky dogwood, and red osier dogwood are just four of several species available at the nursery for planting in moist soils and along stream banks.
Deciduous trees such as hazelnut, black cherry, flowering dogwood, chestnut oak, paw paw, and American plum are valuable wildlife food sources. Conifers such as white and black pines and Norway and white spruce are used for visual and audio screens and windbreaks.
One of the busiest times of the year at the John S. Ayton State Tree Nursery is early spring, when Marylanders gear up to celebrate both the official end of the winter and the coming of Arbor Day, traditionally the first Wednesday of April. Its founder, Julius Sterling Morton, said: “Arbor Day... is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future. The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful, and the ennobling in man.”
In honor of Arbor Day, the state nursery provides every third grader in Maryland’s public school system with a tree seedling to plant at their home, school or in their community.
You can access a copy of the catalog, as well as find out what species are currently available, their conservation benefits, and how to order, by checking out the nursery’s website at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/nursery/ Seedlings can also be ordered by calling 1-800-TREES-MD.
Perhaps this quote form Larry Maxim, Savage River State Forester, best captures the significance of Maryland’s State Forest Tree Nursery: “The State Forest Tree Nursery symbolizes man’s hope for the future. It is a testimony to man’s love for the forest and his desire to establish trees where there are none. People who work at a nursery are doing God’s work. Tree nurseries are the epitome of what forestry is all about – reestablishing and maintaining the health of the forest.”
Since 1914, there have been only four Maryland State Forest Tree Nursery Managers, as follows:
Mr. Klein - Little is known of the State's first tree nursery manager. State Forester Fred W. Besley referred to him only as Mr. Klein.
Silas Sines, a native of Garrett County, oversaw and guided the growth and operations of the state forest tree nursery from 1929-1974.
John S. Ayton, former nursery supervisor at the Buckingham State Forest Tree Nursery, was instrumental in the design and construction, from buildings to grounds and operations, of the present-day nursery which bears his name. John began his career with DNR’s Forest Service in 1961 and retired in 1996, one year after the John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery was completed.
Richard Garrett became the John S. Ayton State Tree Nursery Manager in 1996. Richard has been with the DNR Forest Service since 1984.
Plaque Dedication and Ceremonial Tree Planting
Photographs (top to bottom):
Dave Reinecke... serves as the Forest Service’s Resource Specialist. A native Marylander, he graduated from Allegany Community College with a degree in Forest Technology in 1976 and joined the DNR Forest Service in 1979.
Richard Garrett... became the John S. Ayton State Tree Nursery Manager in 1996. He grew up on his family’s farm near Port Royal, Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech University in 1984 with a degree in Forestry. Richard has been with the DNR Forest Service since 1984.
Visit DNR's Online State Tree Nursery Historic Photo Gallery
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