When it comes to new seedling growers, there are a lot of things to keep in mind before diving into growing your seedlings. We’ve put together the top 5 things new growers should do before starting their business in order to create successful, flourishing conifers.
1. Know Your Soil
Even before deciding what to grow, one of the first things new growers should do is know and understand is their soil. There are a lot of things that go into having the perfect soil for growing conifers. That includes things like having the right pH balance, knowing what and how much organic material is in the soil, understanding how much sand/clay is in the soil, how quickly the soil drains are all important factors into the success of conifers. Not all conifers can grow in the same soil type. Ultimately, if the soil is not conducive to what the farmer wants to grow, then the composition of the soil will have to be adjusted or they will have to choose a different crop to grow. That’s why understanding the soil is one of the most important things a new grower can do.
So, how can new growers figure out what their soil consists of? By doing a simple soil test through your local extension office. If you’re a grower in Michigan, we recommend contacting Michigan State University’s Extension services to test your soil.
Upon connecting with your extension office, they’ll walk you through exactly how to take the perfect soil sample. According to Michigan State University, you can collect your soil sample by digging up 15-20 soil sub-samples that are approximately 8 inches deep throughout your lot and mixing them together in a clean plastic pail. Then, once you have about a pint worth of soil, you can fill a sample box with some additional information about your land and send it off to the extension office to be tested.
After doing that, the extension office evaluates the soil and provides a comprehensive list of what the soil consists of. Typically, they determine things like the soil pH, the amount of available phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as recommendations for lime and fertilizer depending on what will be planted on the plot. Additionally, they would also be able to inform you of the organic matter, zinc, manganese, copper, iron levels, and others.
Upon receiving this information, your extension office will also be able to provide you with recommendations on what to include in your soil for different species of conifers. For example, most conifers thrive in pH levels that range from 5.5 to 6.0. However, if the soil is too acidic or vice versa, conifers will not thrive as they should. The extension office will be able to explain what you can do to balance out your soil in order for a successful growing season.
Overall, knowing your soil and getting it tested is a great starting point for all new growers. In fact, testing your soil is actually recommended every 2-3 years as it can change over time. For more information on testing your soil, check out this FAQ page from Michigan State University or connect with your local extension office.
2. Understand Your Lot’s Drainage
Now that you understand what’s in your soil, it’s time to take note of your lot’s drainage. If your lot has poor drainage, this is something that you will want to be aware of right away. Often, conifers planted in lots with poor drainage lack an appropriate amount of air supply to their roots and are susceptible to bacterial growth and rot root damage that can cause damage beyond repair to your conifers.
Luckily, once you’re ready to plant your seedlings, there are a few things you can do to help combat this issue.
Option 1: Plant You Seedlings Using the Flat Mound or Raised Soil Method
To increase the drainage on a single plant, you can pull soil from the surrounding area to create a flat mound or raised area to increase the drainage away from the plant. The raised area should be a minimum of 3 to 4 times the diameter of the container being planted.
To do this, start by digging your hole in the center of the mound twice the size and depth of the container and loosen the soil as much as possible. Do not add a lot of soil amendments to change the consistency of the soil being planted in. Be sure the sides of the hole are scored so that the roots and moisture can penetrate the soil surrounding the hole to prevent root rot due to poor drainage.
Next, place the seedling in the hole so that the soil in the pot is level with the surrounding soil.
Finally, water the plant to avoid any air pockets surrounding the roots.
If you want, you are also welcome to mulch the plant and mound no more than 2 inches. This will keep weeds out and temper the soil temperature. However, do not mound up the mulch around the stem of the plant. Doing this will decrease the survival rate of the conifer.
Option 2: Plant Your Seedlings Using the Row Planting Method
Growers with clay and heavier wet roils will plow rows in the roil to raise mounds to increase drainage. They will then plant plugs, seedlings, or transplants in the center of the raised furrow (mound) to increase drainage away from the plants to increase survival.
Once you understand these two planting methods and your field’s drainage capabilities, you can now move on to step #3.
3. Strategically Plan What You’re Going to Grow
After you have received information about what’s in your soil and its drainage level, the next thing new conifer seedling growers should do is strategically plan for what you are going to grow.
First, it’s important to determine which industry your company will be. Will you be growing conifers for landscaping sale purposes or Christmas tree sale purposes? Knowing this will help you narrow down your market.
Next, it’s time to take another look at the information your local extension provided you with. What conifers will grow best for your soil? Will you need to change your soil in order to grow the species you want? It’s important to note that different species of conifers require different levels of care and attention. Consult with your extension office to determine which conifers will succeed the best on your lot and how you can treat your soil for maximum growth potential.
Finally, it’s important to determine what species are popular near you. Every location has a different preference, and by doing some market research into what sells the best in your area, you’ll be well on your way to plan for future growing success.
Looking at all of these factors will help you make the most strategic decision on what to grow. Once you have an idea of what to cultivate, properly determine the supply and demand of your product.
4. Look into Pest, Invasive Species, and Quarantines
Now, #4 is a big one. If gone unnoticed and/or untreated, pests and invasive species can wreak havoc on your crop and even destroy your business depending on the circumstances. After you have a good idea of which conifer species you will be growing, it’s time to look into local pests, invasive species, and quarantines within the area. Being aware of what is out there will give you a leg up on what preventative measures you can take, what to look out for, and what to do if you come across an invasive species or unwanted pests.
Again, your local extension office will be your best friend in this situation. Often, they’ll be the ones to provide you with resources on current issues and possible invasive species alerts. Another great resource would be your state’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or your state’s invasive species website.
Along with that, it’s critical to look into which internal and external quarantines may be in place and if you need to obtain a Certificate of Quarantine Compliance (CQC). Obtaining CQCs are mainly for those who are planning on shipping conifers to ensure that no unwanted pest or invasive species is being transported from area to area.
For example, in Michigan, Canadian Hemlock is under an internal quarantine. This quarantine requires that no plant material can move in or out of these regions without a certificate of compliance. There is also an external quarantine in effect for Canadian Hemlock in Michigan, which prohibits the movement of the plant material into Michigan from prohibited regions.
Understanding which pests, invasive species, and quarantines are present is a vital part of following regulations and reducing the spread of potentially devastating species.
5. Connect with Your Local Organizations
If you’re a new conifer grower, getting connected with local organizations and groups can provide you with some great resources as you continue to learn more. If you’re in Michigan, we suggest you join the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) or the Michigan Christmas Tree Association (MCTA). Not only will these groups provide you with the information you need to help you succeed, but they will also connect you with other local growers in the industry as you get established.
Now it’s the time to grow your business faster!
There are many things that need to be done when you’re a new conifer seedling grower. But now that you’re up to speed with 5 of the top things you should do first, it’s time to take your company to the next level and grow your business faster. At Vans Pines, we’re committed to helping you do this with our genetically superior seedlings. To see for yourself, click here to request a free seedling sample of your choice.