That might sound like a lot, but the nursery’s six full-time staffers are used to it. On any given day, they tend to 5 million seedlings and more than 50 native species at two sites on Routes 9 and 50. Since 1911, when the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) opened the nursery, more than 1.7 billion trees have been grown right here in our backyard.
“A lot of local people don’t even know this is here in Saratoga,” said nursery manager David Lee. “I think it’s important that they realize the state offers this service; that [we are] supplying local seed source and planting material for conservation purposes.”
During the annual spring seedling sale, the nursery sells inexpensive bundles of hardwood, conifer and shrub plants to private and public landowners. Orders are accepted between early January and mid-May, and the minimum purchase is between 25 and 100 seedlings, depending on the species.
The nursery doesn’t compete with area businesses, as seedlings are not distributed for ornamental use. Rather, the small trees are supplied for conservational use, site restoration, wetland buffer planting, watershed protection and Christmas tree production, among a variety of other purposes.
“We give landowners a low-cost choice for reforesting and conserving their land,” Lee explained. “We don’t sell to nurseries and homeowners must sign an agreement that they won’t remove the root system.”
The nursery also sponsors a school seedling program that provides area districts with free stock. Nonprofits are also eligible.
As the only remaining state-run tree nursery, NYSDEC’s Saratoga operation is also responsible for preserving the genetics of New York’s forests. The nursery is home to one of the largest seed factories in the northeast. The plant, referred to as the extractory, prepares seeds for future planting. Inside the facility, a cooler contains hundreds of carefully labeled jars that preserve the seeds of more than 50 native species, including ash varieties that are threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer.
With spring just a few weeks away, Lee and his staff are eager to hit the fields and begin filling orders from thousands of landowners across the state. However, Lee is certainly thankful for the late snowstorm that hit this week.
Unseasonably warm temperatures forced many of the species into early germination, and without a thick layer of snow to protect the crop from frost and high winds, many of the seedlings were damaged or killed.
“In some areas we lost over 50 percent,” Lee said. “When Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, some species may be in shorter supply.”
But after this week’s heavy snowfall, the outlook for the 2012 spring crop is looking up. Seedlings that began to sprout prematurely will be insulated from the snow and remain dormant until spring is here to stay.
In the meantime, Lee and his team are staying busy processing seed in the extractory to prepare for future plantings.