Lance Ellis


One of the many business uses of your small acreage could be to plant a tree nursery.

But before you begin, there are many factors to consider so you don’t end up with a messy forest in eight years rather than a bank account with profits. The most common pitfalls among tree nurseries are that people plant them and don’t realize that they are a great deal of work regarding weed control, watering, shaping, and preventing insect infestations. Most importantly, they don’t realize you could be sitting on the tree investment for a lot longer than you expected or wanted, depending upon the state of the economy.

Consumer tree sales are directly linked with peoples’ spending on landscaping and also on disposable income. During the recession, most homeowners balked at buying larger, more established trees. Tree sales slowed dramatically when new construction became almost nonexistent. Now that we are in a building boom and the demand for larger trees is up, it may be tempting to plant trees you could sell and make a profit on.

But, with all investments in small acreage businesses there is risk, and proper planning and some good luck is crucial to turning a profit. If you do this, first select a tree that will grow well in the area you live in, and since this article is intended for eastern Idaho, you don’t have a huge selection of trees to choose from. You want to produce vigorous, healthy trees and get as much size (not just height alone, but proportional width) as possible each year. Technically, you are competing with trees produced in areas with a milder climate and longer growing season, like Oregon, and this puts you at a disadvantage.

Choosing trees that people will want in 5 to 10 years is difficult, as consumer trends tend to change unpredictably. Researching and finding out what trees people are currently looking for is critical, and then plant accordingly with the hope that buying trends stay the same is about your best bet. Choosing a diversity of tree types that people might want is a good way to offer a variety without being over-invested in just one type of tree.

The most commonly grown nursery tree in our area is the Colorado blue spruce, which is way overused, and everyone has them in their yards. Some people love them, others despise them, and most people just assume that’s all we have, but that isn’t true. There are many evergreens that have redeeming qualities and landscape uses, and aren’t so prickly as a spruce when you bump into them.

After selecting your tree varieties, research how to plant them properly for easy digging when they are bigger, and to allow for sufficient space between each one so they don’t have a bald spot on two sides. Also remember the root systems, and planting them too close will be a problem in 5 to 10 years. If planted too close together, digging will kill the neighboring trees.

Shaping your trees so they look symmetrical, and are even on all sides is critical to having an attractive product to sell.

Prior to planting, you will need to build a reliable and low-maintenance irrigation system that will irrigate the plants without producing excessive weeds.

Weed control is critical, as the grass and annual weeds can choke out the small trees, and you end up with stunted growth or a crop failure. Insects can also wreak havoc on the health, shape and production of your trees. so find out what insects are going to be a problem.

Do your homework before you decide to start a small-acreage tree nursery, and understand there is a lot of physical labor, as well as time and money investment for years prior to receiving a payment for your efforts.

Lance Ellis is the University of Idaho Extension educator for Fremont County. He can be reached at 208-624-3102.

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