Tree Seedlings, Reforestation And Growing Trees For Profit

Tree seedlings was coined over 100 years ago to describe the growing of tree seedlings on a commercial scale. As the decade’s past, several innovations were made to improve productivity per unit of space in the nursery. Back in the day, seedlings were grown outdoors in cultivated rows in real soil. Originally, they were planted and harvested by hand but by the 1950’s the propagation of seedlings from tree seeds was mechanized.

In the late 60’s, seedling propagation moved indoors where the growing environment could be controlled. By the 1970’s, advancements in growing trays made it possible to grow large numbers of tree seedlings at sufficient density to be extremely profitable.

Government Programs And Commercial Clients

Growing tree seedlings became a big industry with the creation of government tree planting programs and tax incentives to logging companies to replant what they harvested, particuarily on BLM or crown land.

By the 1980’s, private companies began growing multi-year hardwoods and softwoods to fill a niche not exploited by the tree plug growing contracts of the day. These older, taller seedlings were sold to the landscape market for home use.

Growing Tree Seedlings For Profit

Today there are three types of tree seedlings grown for both the wholesale and retail market.

  • Plug Tree Seedlings: Plug seedlings are grown primarily for the commercial market and are used to plant logged lands, private woodlots and create timber tree plantations. Seedlings grow in cavitied 12, 18, 24, 30, 36 and 42 unit trays with each tray sized by depth and width for the root growing characteristic of a particular tree species. Wider, deeper trays with fewer cavities typically grow hardwoods, while trays with more cavities grow softwoods. Trays are commonly made of recycled plastic, however preformed Styrofoam blocs are gaining popularity due to their insulation properties.
  • Bare Root Seedlings: Bare root seedlings are as the name suggests, harvested, and cleaned of soil until their roots are bare. This permits shipment of this type of seedling both domestically and internationally as well as certification that the seedlings are free of disease. Bare root seedlings are harvested as they enter dormancy just before the ground freezes when they are wrapped, usually in burlap, and stored in a temperature-controlled cooler.
  • Container Grown Seedlings: Containered seedlings are grown into tree saplings from tree seedlings in medium to large self-standing pots. Container seedlings are reared to grow large specimen landscape trees that can be decades old. Trees can reach heights of 40 feet or more and calipers of as much as 6 inches. These semi-mature trees generate the most profit ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to $5,000 per tree. Palm trees can fetch $50,000 or more.

Tree seedlings of any type or size can be used in a variety of ways including reforestation, afforestation, landscaping, windbreaks, erosion control, rewilding, tree plantations, climate mitigation, and ecosystem restoration.

Tree Seedlings, Plugs vs Saplings, Planting Trees Video

video about tree seedlings and tree saplings
hardwwood and softwood tree seed
hardwood tree seedling 1 year after transplant softwood tree seedling 1 year after transplant

Tree Seed Propagation

There are several methods to propagating tree seedlings, depending on the species and include industrial grow trays, bag, and pot containers, cultivated open field, and cuttings.

  • Industrial Grow Trays: Grow trays are used to grow seedlings in individual cells, sometimes called plugs, which forms tree roots into a uniform, conical, easy to handle and transplant shape that can quickly be spaded into the ground at transplant.
  • Bag And Pot Containers: Containers, such as pots or bags, can be used to grow tree seedlings for an extended period of time until the tree is sold. Grow pots are reusable, however grow bags are not. Grow bags have the advantage of breathability, which facilitates the development of a fibrous root ball for quick to take transplant.
  • Cultivated Open Field Propagation: Young, year-old seedlings are planted directly into the ground, on the top ridges of the cultivated rows. The furrows between the rows hold water and permit circulation of ambient air into the root systems of the trees.
  • Cuttings: Some tree species can be propagated by taking cuttings from existing trees and rooting them in a commercial rooting powder. This method is often used for species that are difficult to germinate from seed like lilac, for example, or for plants with desirable traits that are not present in seedlings, breeding faster growing or disease resistant trees, for example.
  • Grafting: Grafting involves joining a scion, or a small piece of a desirable tree, onto a rootstock, or the root system of another tree. This method is often used for species that are difficult to propagate by other methods, or for trees with desirable traits that are not present in seedlings.

The choice of propagation method will depend on a variety of factors, including the species being propagated, the site conditions, and the intended use of the seedlings. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and growers should choose the method that best suits their needs and resources.

Return On Investment, ROI

Timber investors primarily consider return on investment above all else. Although vitally important, ROI exceeds even the importance of growing trees to fight climate change. Time to harvest governs return on investment. A method that would harvest a tree sooner would certainly gain the attention of any timber investor. Planting 10 foot tall, virtually branch free tree seedlings would shave at least 10 years from time to harvest, so investors can reap returns in 30 years instead of 40 for most hardwoods and 20 rather than 30 for softwoods.

Earn More Profit Growing Tree Saplings

Margins for young plug and bar root seedlings are small and the risks are high, from cancelled grow contracts to disease and everything in between, which forces plug and root seedling growers to grow large numbers of seedlings, by the hundreds of thousands to make a decent profit.

Conversely, growing tall tree seedlings can be extremely profitable due to the size of root shape of the tree. The path to profitability starts with plant a 1 or 2 foot plug or root tree seedling in one our proprietary grow pots, then manipulating the tree year after year to turn it into a clear-branched, straight 10 to 15 foot tall tree sapling. Rather than making a few scents on a plug or root seedling, growers can make hundreds on a tall sapling.

Growing Tall Tree Seedlings

Tall, straight and clear grained tree seedlings (saplings) are essential for maximizing returns on investment (ROI), increasing survivability after transplant, minimizing damage from foraging animals, rebuilding ecosystems damaged by industrial land clearing and fire, preventing land erosion, growing the highest value commercial sawlog and sequestering large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Increasing Survivability After Transplant

Half of all reforestation tree transplants die after first year. This is because traditional plug seedlings grown for the forestry industry are small (often less than a foot tall) and have underdeveloped root systems. Underdeveloped roots struggle to adapt to foreign soil after transplant and freeze after the first winter. Tall tree saplings adapt quickly to their new soil surroundings because of their developed root systems increasing the survivability rate close to 100% a year after transplant.

Minimizing Damage From Foraging Animals

Minimizing damage caused by foraging animals is an important consideration in new plantations near forests populated with young shoot loving deer, for example. Deer love to nibble and graze on both winter dormant and new spring branches of young trees. A herd can do considerable damage to a second, third and fourth year plantation. By the fifth year, the terminal branches of young trees are out of reach for most deer. Planting a tree plantation with 10 foot tall tree saplings ensures that tips and branches are high above the ground; well out of reach the very first year.

Quickly Rebuild Ecosystems

The planting of tall tree saplings quickly rebuilds ecosystems damaged by industrial land clearing and fire. It can take several years if not decades for a damaged ecosystem to recover from the devastation caused by the machined harvesting and clearing of land, even longer in forests damaged by fire. Ecosystems begin to recover immediately soon after transplanting tall tree seedlings. This is because the tall seedlings leaf out quickly, growing an impressive forest canopy that partially shades the forest floor. The filtered light that penetrats the canopy encourages the development of delicate organisms, which rapidly populate the understory of the new forest.

Prevent Land Erosion

Land erosion is a major problem with reforestation, particularly after fire. With the forest cover gone, the land is exposed to the elements; sun, wind and rain, which can do even more damage than was witnessed by the original land clear. Water runoff causes the worst damage carrying the burnt carcasses of trees, stump remnants and soil to be deposited elsewhere. Steep slopes and hillsides are the most vulnerable. Horizontal trenching combined with the strategic planting of tall tree saplings can mitigate a lot of this damage. Trenches collect, contain and retain runoff for use by the trees during dry spells and they quickly stabilize the soil. The rapid development of a forest cover further protects the landscape from the elements.

Grow High Value Commercial Sawlogs

Trees growing wild in the forest are well branched and have for the most part crooked or bent trunks. Only a few may have any noticeable commercial value; trees that are straight and branch free along a considerable length of their trunk. Commercial tree plantations produce a straighter wood product with fewer branches however the wait for returns can be prohibitive for most investors, particularly growing hardwoods, which can take 40 years or more to harvest. Therefore, almost all commercial tree plantations grow faster growing but less valuable softwoods. Planting tall tree saplings change that so commercial timber investors can grow more valuable hardwoods, harvesting in 30 years instead of 40.

Sequester Large Amounts Of CO2 From The Atmosphere

Depending on age, climate, type of forest and soil, an acre of trees captures a ton of CO2 each year. The trees must have a forest canopy typically grown by a 12 year old forest to achieve this. A forest created by the planting of 10 foot tall tree saplings can achieve this in just 3 years after transplant, shaving 9 years off the wait time for meaningful carbon sequestration. This fact is vitally important when you consider the climate peril that exists now on the planet.

Tree Plantation Nurseries Grow Tall Tree Seedlings

Tree Plantation nuseries grow tree seedlings that are tall, straight and branch free most of the length of its trunk. The photo below shows one of our tall pine tree seedlings 4 years after transplant. It has a 3 inch caliper and a height of 27 feet. It is almost entirely branch free, which means at harvest in 20 years or so, this tree will have knot-free wood and produce valuable grade 1 veneer or timber.

tall tree seedlings

Pyramidal Tree Pots

Our Pyramid Tree Pots are designed to grow trees in the same pot for up to 20 years. Their pyramid shape conforms to the natural root habit of a tree, which is bottom half hourglass shaped. The shape encourages superb root development and rapid terminal branch growth, which will determine the height of the tree. The root shape eliminates the need for after transplant tree supports and guide wires. Pots are easily assembled and disassembled for a quick plant and harvest. The formed root and long stem of the tree facilitates ease of transport by container, truck, or trailer. Tall trees are transplanted using a PTO tractor mounted post hole digger. Pyramidal Tree Pots are used once and recycled after the tree is harvested.

Tree Pallets

Our tree pallet propagation system grows tree seedlings 10 feet more in height over a span of between 5 or 6 years. The system features parallel rows of vertical 6-inch-wide x 36-inch-deep tree pots 20 feet in length. Each length grows 40 trees, and several lengths are laid out. One adjacent to the other on top of a rubberized, weatherproof ground cover. An elevated drip irrigation system waters the trees. Periodic pruning is achieved by accessing elevated walkways between the rows of tree seedlings. The tree pallet system is reusable and recyclable.

Tall Tree Seedling Opportunities

We would like to build a network of tall tree growers across the country. A network of growers will eliminate the long-haul shipment of trees that can be grown locally. It also creates a home-based business opportunity that can earn a significant income. The only requirement is that you have a small plot of land, a little money, some time, water and are willing to grow a few of the trees for us – the rest you can sell for whatever the market will bear – commercial tree species are in high demand. We supply everything else, installation, pyramid pots, soil, seedling starts, irrigation lines and attachments.

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The best time to plant tall tree seedlings was 6 years ago.
The second best time is now!