Garden Variety: Now’s the time to order tree and shrub seedlings
Trees and shrubs release oxygen into the atmosphere, provide habitat and food for beneficial insects and wildlife and increase property values, among other things. Early spring is a great time to plant, and late fall is the best time to be thinking about what spaces in your yard could use more plantings.
If you have conservation in mind for your property, this is also a good time to place orders for the Kansas Forest Service’s Conservation Tree Planting Program.
The Conservation Tree Planting Program offers tree and shrub seedlings at low cost to “anyone wanting to plant for windbreaks, woodlots, songbird or other wildlife habitat, erosion control, riparian filter strips, Christmas tree farms” or similar uses, according to the Forest Service’s website. The trees and shrubs may be planted on any type of property.
Most of the tree and shrub species sold by the Forest Service are native to Kansas. Others are native to surrounding areas and especially well-suited for growing in Kansas soil and weather conditions. Some of the offered tree and shrub species may be better suited for drier areas in western Kansas than the Lawrence area, however.
For the most part, the plants are sold as bare-root seedlings, but a few species are grown and sold in containers.
The available shrub species include common native plants such as American plum, serviceberry, elderberry and sumac, but also some less common ones such as spicebush and buttonbush. The deciduous tree list has 24 species to choose from, including several species of oaks and fruit-bearing trees such as pawpaw and persimmon.
The evergreen species available for order are Black Hills spruce, eastern red cedar, oriental arborvitae, ponderosa pine and Southwestern white pine.
The forest service sells seedlings in bundles of 25 per species. It also offers several special bundles for those wanting a variety of seedlings.
The eastern pollinator bundle contains 30 seedlings and includes American plum, chokecherry, golden currant, false indigo, elderberry, buttonbush and redbud. There are also quail and pheasant bundles that are intended to create the thickets that those birds need for protection from predators. Each of those bundles has 100 seedlings. They include plum species, sumac, golden currant and chokecherry.
The Forest Service also offers stratified black walnut and pecan seeds. Stratification is a natural process that stimulates seeds to break dormancy and sprout.
Bare-root seedlings are usually shipped at 8 to 18 inches in height. They may look like dead sticks when they arrive because they are typically shipped while dormant. Follow the planting instructions that are included with the seedlings to ensure that the plants break dormancy and get off to a healthy start.
It may take two to three years for the seedlings to establish and start putting on a lot of growth. But despite the waiting period, bare-root seedlings are desirable because of high survivability rates and low costs to produce and ship.
Container evergreen seedlings will arrive in individual tubes that are 2 inches in diameter and 7 inches deep. These containers keep roots from drying out or being damaged before planting.
The Forest Service also offers protective tubes to prevent rabbit damage; tree tubes to protect deciduous trees from deer and other sources of damage; marking flags; weed barrier fabric and pins, and a root-protective slurry recommended for bare-root evergreen seedlings.
Orders for spring shipping are accepted from Dec. 2 through May 1. Orders are typically shipped or available for pickup beginning in mid-March. Availability lists and order forms are available online on the Forest Service website, kansasforests.org. You can also call 888-740-8733 or visit the Douglas County K-State Research and Extension, 2110 Harper St.
— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.