Competition and Plant Maintenance

The key to growing trees successfully is water, nutrients, and sunlight. Right? Well, it seems to be more complex than those three important factors. Each plant has specific growth requirements however, one of the main concerns that can be overlooked is plant maintenance. American agriculture is known for their reliance on herbicides and insecticides practices to maintain their crops. Unfortunately, there a several drawbacks leading to soil quality degradation and insecticide resistance. Additionally, there are concerns regarding the toxicity of agrichemicals on humans and wildlife. When chemicals are used safely and intermittently this can benefit plant health. Growing trees on a large scale warrants the use of mechanical and chemical control to increase plant survivability.  Therefore, we use agrichemicals at the nursery as needed.

The bare root fields and green house containers have separate pretreatment protocols. The bare root fields undergo pre sow soil fumigation as a form of weed control. The fumigation process has significantly reduced the number of invasive plants present in the field but not eliminate them.  With weed seed dispersal by wildlife, humans, farm equipment, runoff, erosion, and/or wind, weeds inevitably sprout through the fields. On a weekly basis, the season workers monitor and mechanically remove the weeds to protect the crop during the active growing seasons. Additional practices to protect the fields are creating shelterbelts which reduces soil erosion caused by wind and increases and improve irrigation efficiency. The shelter belts in the fields contain lilacs, cedars, and a variety of pine trees. After planting the seeds are set at a shallow depth, covered with sawdust, and fabric is laid across the beds to prevent any disturbance. An electric fence is also placed around the hardwood species’ bed to control wildlife interference with the crop.

The greenhouse concerns are different from the bare root fields. As a controlled facility, the greenhouse is protected from extreme weather conditions, overwatering, and direct sunlight. However, many of the issues that threatens the green house crop is due to improper management, insect infestation, or a poor seed source. To prepare the greenhouses for planting the containers are removed, the surfaces are power washed to remove debris (dirt and algae), then the facility undergoes a sterilization period to kill bacteria. After planting, we monitor each lot for any changes and maintain a clean facility. There are monthly and biweekly practices to prevent weed and bacteria overgrown. I typically flush out the filters and tips for the irrigation boom. Maintaining the irrigation boom allows for an even water pattern and reduces the potential for clogs. Some of the crop loss could be due to drought stress or not receiving an adequate amount of nutrients from the fertilizer.

Problem solving and analyzing has become a part of my daily routine. There are many aspects to consider: weather, water requirements, nutrient deficiencies, weeds, pests, and pathogens. We try to monitor the many changes to avoid crop failure. High humidity and poor air circulation can increase the chances of pest infestations and fungal growth. Fortunately, the container has drainage holes to reduce excessive water retention and allow air circulation. There are fans and heaters to regulate the temperature in the greenhouses. For further precautions, we open the doors and building sides for better ventilation in the greenhouses. This year we had concerns with pathogens such as, Fusarium (common issue for early crop development), Botrytis foliar (common issue in later crop cycles), Insect infestations (fungus gnats, spider mites, beetles, caterpillars, pine tip moths), weeds (liverwort,), scales, and cedar-apple rust. Certain species are more susceptible to pathogens than others therefore we over sow by 20% to account for negligible loss due to competition and to maintain the quota for client orders. Unfortunately, once the foliage on a conifer starts to brown, the buds dry out, or the plant is simply damaged there are not many ways to reverse the problem. However, we try to reduce the spread by treating each fungus or infestation appropriately.

 Before the plants are distributed, each lot undergoes an inventory check for quality and quantity control. Inventory checks ensures our quotas are met and each seedling meets our minimum standards. Furthermore, visual assessments are made daily when checking the water retention rates to determine the health of the crop. With competition the chances of crop damage are inevitable and working at the nursery has revealed several ways to mitigate these problems. I received the opportunity to witness pesticide application and assist with maintenance to cultivate the trees from seed to seedling. Although the difficulties we encounter can be stressful to identify, problem solving has been one of the most interesting learning processes at the nursery.

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