By Richard Garrett and Dave Reinecke|
The arrival of Spring can mean only one thing at the John S. Ayton State Tree Nursery in Preston -- nursery manager Richard Garrett and his staff are in full swing! All are hard at work, preparing the 5 million-plus seedlings that will be shipped to tree planters across Maryland and Delaware. This year alone, homeowners, farmers, foresters, wildlife managers and volunteers will plant a total of 38 different species of trees and shrubs raised at the nursery. While it is believed Confucius said, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago,” the folks at the 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.
The new nursery started shipping seedlings in its first year of operation, but the 2.3 million trees produced did not meet the staff’s expectations. One year later, the nursery produced in excess of 3 million seedlings, which was considered a marked improvement. “Every year we learn and adapt,” Richard says. By the spring of 2002, more than 7 million young trees were packaged and shipped.
From Seed to Seedling
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. Five staff and a contract crew then begin 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. Loblolly pine is the predominant species in the 50 acres of the state’s orchards, and the contract crew processes up to 300,000 loblolly seedlings each day. The empty seedbeds are then tilled, and from late April into June the beds are reseeded.
Specialized machinery is needed to enable the year-round operation to meet its ever-growing demand for seedlings. The egedal plant lifter, widely used in Europe, allows three people to lift and remove the same amount of seedlings that previously required 12 people. Machinery for planting, extracting and cleaning seeds, removing walnut husks, and digging seedlings are all critical to the nursery’s operations. In the shipping building, workers gather around two conveyor belts that are used to grade and count seedlings. As would be expected, tractors and forklifts are also common sights around the nursery. Work continues unabated through the summer as the staff irrigates, fertilizes and weeds the seedbeds.
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 pines, Norway and white spruce are used for visual and audio screens and windbreaks.
for Arbor Day
You can access a copy of the Nursery 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 www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/nursery Seedlings can also be ordered by calling 1-800-TREES-MD.
Note: This article originally appeared in The Maryland Natural Resource, Spring 2003. It was up-dated in September 2008.