Government nursery expanding 'essential' tree selection

The P.E.I. government tree nursery is expanding its selection of native species in response to the needs of Island watershed groups.

'I don't know what we would do if we didn't have them'

Separating the seedlings into individual containers can be painstaking work. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The P.E.I. government tree nursery is expanding its selection of native species in response to the needs of Island watershed groups.

The J. Frank Gaudet Nursery will grow more than 700,000 seedlings this year. Most will be used for reforestation projects on public and private land, but it is Island watershed groups in particular who rely on the plants grown at the nursery. 

"It's essential for watershed groups, actually. I don't know what we would do if we didn't have them here," said Kelley Farrar, coordinator with the Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group. 

Last year, the Stratford group planted more than 700 native trees and shrubs from the nursery. 

A forklift delivers some one gallon containers of native trees that will be heading soon to be planted by a P.E.I. watershed group. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"We've given trees to residents and sold trees to residents," Farrar said. "I think we'd be planting a quarter of what we plant now without the nursery."

'Trying new things'

The provincial tree nursery also grows species of trees and shrubs that would otherwise be hard for watershed groups to find.

"I know that they've brought in things like swamp milkweed and some rarer species," Farrar said. "I think they're really trying to cater to projects that watershed groups are doing and they seem very open to trying new things."

Nursery manager Mary Myers checks out the native shrubs and trees which include milkweed and marram grass for watershed groups. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Mary Myers, manager at the tree nursery, says the number of species has grown in response to the needs of watershed groups.
"The reason for that is providing seedlings to the watershed groups that most of our other clients aren't interested in," Myers said. "So we've gone from about 10 to about 40 different species."

She says the species they're growing are also very different from what many nurseries offer.

They used a mechanized seeder here at the J. Frank Gaudet tree nursery to help with planting 700,000 seedlings a year. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"I would say nobody grows the shrub species we grow because they're not ornamental," Myers said.

"They're meant to contribute to wildlife health by providing food or for stabilizing stream banks so we don't get erosion so I don't think anyone else would grow those, they'd be out of luck."

A great deal

For years, watershed groups received seedlings for free, but as of 2016 they now pay 50 cents per plant.

"Because we do have to recoup some revenue for the work here, we added a small fee to the watershed groups of 50 cents per one gallon tree," Myers said.

The tree nursery grows hardwood and softwood seedlings in containers, while most nurseries sell larger bare root trees. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Farrar says the seedlings are still a great deal.

"We do get donations from residents for trees and so it didn't impact us that much," Farrar said. "I'd say we're still increasing the number of trees and shrubs from the nursery even with that 50-cent charge."​

The provincial nursery also sells its stock at ten garden centres across the Island on consignment. 

One of the greenhouses at the J. Frank Gaudet nursery is all trays of acorns. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"We're not set up anymore to deal with small orders, people coming through the gates not sure what they want, they want to look around," Myers said.  "They are kind enough to take our seedlings and provide them for sale to the public."

The provincial nursery also provides seedlings for hedgerows, Christmas tree growers and the Greening Spaces program which provides seedlings to church, school and non-profit groups.

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About the Author

Nancy Russell

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog.