Jen Gorski, OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension, Clackamas County

Oregon forest landowners and Christmas tree growers are having difficulty locating seedlings to buy.

In response, the Oregon Department of Forestry, OSU Extension and other partners are working hard to identify and solve the problems limiting the supply. It’s not an easy fix; many pieces account for the problems and the solutions.

OSU Clackamas County Extension hosted a meeting in January to discuss the seedling supply. Landowners revealed that certain species or stock types are not always available within a year of planting. This presents some uncertain choices and potential compromise. One year plugs may be available in lieu of 1-1 transplants (2 year old seedlings). The 1-1 transplants have a fibrous root system and a track record of success in challenging conditions. However, future survival of one year plugs is uncertain.

This is not an entirely new problem. There has been a perennial issue for those who wish to order fewer than 20,000 seedlings, the minimum contract order for many nurseries. Consequently, the Clackamas County Farm Forestry Association (CCFFA) and some other OSWA chapters provide the opportunity for their members to batch small orders together and order collectively.

There are many reasons for the current seedling supply situation. These include capacity loss during the recession, shifting management practices and demand following fire.

Part of the challenge is this: producing bareroot seedlings (still the industry mainstay) takes over two years of lead time. Nurseries have to supply all the costly resources at the front end: picking the cones or fruit, cleaning the seed, pre-treating then sowing the seed, and growing/transplanting the seedlings. Timber companies are ordering 2+ years ahead. Small forest landowners and Christmas tree growers may need to get used to the idea of ordering that far ahead as well.


Strategies and Resources

Communicate with the ODF and partners working on this issue! Making your concern and any challenges you’ve had finding seedlings known will help focus our joint effort.

In the meantime, here are some resources to work with when looking for seedlings.

The ODF November 2016 publication, Sources of Native Forest Nursery Seedlings,  provides an up-to-date list of regional nurseries who sell seed and seedlings.

Alternatively, Bob McNitt’s Forest Seedling Network,  is a website in which nurseries can list their available stock online that a user can search to find what they need. It showcases a very useful seed zone map in which you locate your planting site, and get your seed zone number with a list of seedling suppliers and their contact info.

A new website has just come online for ordering tree seedlings. It has been developed by Mike Taylor, also the manager of IFA

A bench of Douglas-fir plugs

Nurseries in Canby. Because of the high need for small quantities of seedlings, this website has been created to bundle small orders together to obtain quantities greater than 20,000. Mike is behind-the-curtain, serving a great market need with his expertise. Visit Saplings, Inc.,. One can order now for winter of 2018-2019, and down the road, the system may help connect people to future seedling supplies.

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3 thoughts on “Tree seedling supply remains uncertain

  1. Jen, I take issue with the statement that the survival of plugs is uncertain. I would invite anyone that needs to see the proof to come to my farm and see my planting of styro-10 plugs that was planted 2 years ago. It was planted prior to one of the worst droughts Oregon has seen, and there was very little loss. Plugs can have better survival than bare root due to the fact that they have no root damage when packed, compared to plugs that start growing into the soil as soon as they are planted. The bare root seedlings have to develop new root tips before growing into the site. We have contractors that really like our plugs because they plant easier and survival is better. They also have less complaints from land owners. Seedling survival is more impacted by proper planting and weed control than any stock type. Poor quality seedlings of any stock type can be a disaster. So when you buy seedlings make sure they are healthy and vigorous. I have been growing over a million plugs for over 30 years and I have many happy customers. If plugs are so uncertain why do I have so many repeat customers.
    Dan Kintigh

  2. Dan you bring up some worthy points, thank you for your input. Research supports your experience of improved performance for plugs on water stressed and also rocky sites vs performance of bareroot seedlings on those sites. You’ve hit the nail on the head on the head with the reason given of the plug’s intact root system able to compete for moisture better compared to disturbed roots of bareroot seedlings.

    However, sometimes one stock type doesn’t provide for all contingencies. Research in the last 50 years has taught us that best survival and growth results from seedlings that have size of shoots proportional to size of roots. Field grown bareroot 1-1 seedlings are grown for two years with a greater spacing and exposure to light than plugs receive. This results in a larger shoot system and greater stem diameter. Conversely, plugs are grown inside a greenhouse for one year and are spaced closer together with more shading and less light exposure. On sites with greater vegetation competition, the larger bareroot 1-1 seedlings can establish and become free to grow more easily than a smaller plug which is more likely to be shaded out.

    History and site specifics can supply guidance but also point to the need for future research with innovations in seedling container production. Even though 1-1 bareroot seedlings have been reliable performers in reforestation plantings, current industry plug production may yield promise with new larger plug sizes and production improvements. The true test is to grow plugs side by side with bareroot seedlings in different environmental conditions; survival and growth differences can be objectively measured and uncertainties can be eliminated.

  3. I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. Thanks for sharing all the information and useful tips.

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