From Seed to Nursery: A Tree’s Worth

A popular question I get is “Why are plants so expensive?” The question I always want to ask back is “how much do you think they should cost?” But instead of going down that road I typically say they cost what they cost, and they’ve actually stayed at pretty much the same cost for over 15 years.

What I love about my job is that I learn new things every day from my clients. I honestly have never looked at a plant and thought, ‘wow that costs too much’ but my clients tell me this daily so I want to dive into that struggle. But let’s look at it from the perspective of what does it take for that plant to get from seed to a tree in a pot sitting at your nursery.

Plants are living things, they not only need to be mass produced like your ceramic coffee mug, they actually need to be taken care of all along the journey from seed to tree.

I recently attended a local Tree Conference called Think Trees. It is an annual conference that gathers arborists, educators, landscape architects and everyone in between to learn solely about trees. At the conference we heard a great talk by Nancy Buley, Director of Communications at J.Frank Schmidt & son Co. (they grow trees in the Northwest and ship them to NM). She reminded me how much goes into growing a tree all before it even gets to the local nursery.

Below is a breakdown of what goes on each year in a trees life:

Year 1: Tree seeds are planted by hand into raised beds.

Year 1: In the Spring, soft leaf cuttings are taken from that original seed. Those cuttings are put into constant misting in a hoop house.

Year 2: Preparation of the roots, they make a t shaped cut in the roots stock. They will carve a bud off of the branch and then they insert it they tie it into the cambium layers of the tree.

Year 3: Trees start growing and a main branch is chosen and taped to a stake.

Year 4: Develop a central leader on the tree.

Year 5: Harvest bare root trees in the field for delivery to regional tree nurseries. Regional tree nursery plants tree in the ground until they are ready to be sold.

Year 6-7: Tree grows to 2-2.5″ caliper and are ready to be sold. Trees move from regional tree nursery to local garden nurseries around town.

Have you noticed that you can’t always find the exact tree you want?

This is because all the trees for sale right now were seeded in 2008 and we all remember what happened in 2008. The economy tanked, so tree nurseries had to make some changes to stay afloat, one change they made in those years was to not plant as many seeds. Now, 10 years later we’re in a tree shortage. Funny how that works!

As you can see there is a TON of growing  and travel honestly going on behind the scenes before that tree ever hits the nursery. Trees spend 6 years  being taken care of every day by people and then you buy that tree for only $150 -$300. Seems like a bargain to me.

Next time you wonder why it costs so much to buy a tree think about all that’s gone into getting that tree to from seed to your home. Not to mention all the benefits that tree will go on to provide for you at your home! We’ll save that for another blog post.

You can learn more about trees at


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