When planning out a spot for a container nursery, flat ground is usually one of the most sought-after site qualities. Flat ground lends itself well to setting up rows, irrigation and fertigation lines and offers simpler conversion to automation, if a grower chooses to pursue that route. It’s easier terrain to traverse by trailer when pulling orders. But, depending on where your nursery is situated, it makes it susceptible to plant blow-over.
Blowover is a major problem in container nurseries. This is especially true in nurseries that grow container-grown trees because they are tall, which makes them prime targets for the wind.
There are several reasons nurseries should try to avoid blowover. The trees that have fallen may be damaged, reducing their value. There’s loss of granular fertilizer to consider, as well as any other soil amendments that may fall out of the pots. Container trees that have blown over also risk drying out, as they won’t be watered properly while down. Of course, there’s also the increased labor costs of setting the trees back upright.
Nursery growers have tried several methods including guy wires on individual trees, trellis wires down the row and stakes driven through or beside containers. Also, some nursery supply companies have developed devices to stabilize plants and containers. Vertical stakes and twine or webbing are a popular strategy. Growers using that tactic also need bands or clips to attach the plant to the stake and the stake to the line. Some nurseries have set up pot-in-pot production systems, in which the container-grown tree fits in a partially-underground socket pot. The added stability reduces blowover, but there is an initial expense of all those containers.
Bennett’s Creek Nursery and Lancaster Farms, two Virginia wholesale growers, are friendly rivals who face the same challenge: strong winds. Bennett Creek CEO Matt Sawyer says use a system of posts and cables to reduce blow-over for tree production. While most of Bennett Creek’s tree production is pot-in-pot, its 25-gallon trees are too big for the socket pot in the ground.
“This is right out of the Lancaster Farms playbook,” Sawyer says. “I really liked their system. We used to spend a lot of time standing these things up.”
Sawyer started using the post and cable system at one of Bennett Creek’s landscape distribution centers for B&B trees of all sizes as a proving ground. It worked so well that in winter 2015-2016, he installed 500 posts and several thousand feet of cable at the Isle of Wight farm. The added stability helps the tree grow straight up, prevents it from falling over, which reduces labor costs and the chance of a damaged tree.
Christopher Brown, Jr. manages Lancaster Farms’ west farm, where the nursery grows its trees. To say it’s windy at that location is a severe understatement. But Lancaster Farms considers it strength training for plants. Brown and his crew even expose oak seedlings to the wind, as a way to toughen them up.
“We grow them out here for a number of reasons. The wind helps the plant harden off. Just like when you work out, you tear your muscles, it’s the same thing. When the tree bends like that it strengthens plant tissue and as it heals, it straightens itself up.”
Top: Trees at Lancaster Farms
Bottom: Post and wire system at Bennett's Creek Nursery