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Current Projects of the Saratoga Nursery

people standing in line for their free seedling at the State Fair
People wait for their free tree
seedling at the State Fair.

The purpose of the nursery program is to produce genetically improved tree and shrub seedlings to enhance the environment of New York. The Environmental Conservation law gives the state authority to provide seedlings for conservation purposes at a price not to exceed the cost of production for use on private and public land.

The nursery currently produces over 1.5 million seedlings annually. Because it is very important to know the source of seed, the Nursery maintains over 200 acres of seed production areas and orchards, located across the state. Over 6 million seedlings representing over 50 species are currently growing at the Nursery.

Nursery manager holding a seedling
The above osage-orange seedling is an
example of a native tree for which there
is little propagation information.

Government agencies have always been involved in raising seedlings to meet reforestation and conservation needs, because success is too unpredictable for private enterprise, especially in the Northeastern States. Unlike annual crops, woody plants (trees, shrubs and vines) require a multi-year investment. Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions such as drought, heat waves, ice storms, early and late frosts, snow, flooding and frost heaves can destroy a crop overnight. In addition, experimenting with little known or hard to germinate plants is too financially risky for private nurseries to undertake. The Nursery fulfills a vital niche in the conservation of New York's natural resources.

Sentinel Trap Trees for Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB)

The Asian longhorned beetle threatens to eliminate most of the preferred hardwood species in the forests of New York if it is allowed to become a permanent resident. The Forest Health Section of the Division of Lands and Forests is investigating a promising method to monitor for this pest using sentinel trap trees, and is working with the Nursery to grow seedlings of ALB's preferred host tree in its Asian home.

Black Ash

seeds in cold storage
seeds in cold storage

The Nursery is currently storing seed of black ash for the Akwesasne Mohawks (PDF, 645 KB) to preserve this important source of wood for their culturally-important basket-making tradition. After figuring out the difficult propagation needs of Black Ash, the Nursery is now able to grow this species in quantity for conservation and restoration planting to provide a long term resource for the tribe. With the discovery of Emerald Ash Borer in New York, this project has taken on an even greater urgency.

National Ash Seed Collection Project

The nursery is involved in the national ash seed collection and storage effort to retain ash seed sources in advance of the potential loss of this species across it's North American range due to the invasive, exotic emerald ash borer (EAB) (found in NY for the first time in June, 2009).

Support of State and County Programs

Hearthstone Point Campground entrance

The Nursery supplies flowers, and potted trees up to 5 feet tall to DEC campgrounds. The trees are planted where hazardous trees between campsites are removed and "jump-started" replacements are needed for privacy. The Nursery hands out about 7,000 seedlings to the public at the State Fair every year, and provides many trees and shrubs for various DEC exhibits and special projects around the state. Trees and shrubs are also provided to the Department of Transportation, the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, and county Soil and Water Conservation Districts for special projects.


sandbar willow
Sandbar willow is one of the riparian
species offered for sale in 2010.

Over 100 years ago, the Nursery grew willows for the thriving willow basket industry in Central New York. Today the Nursery grows a wide range of willow species and hybrids for riparian habitat, soil remediation, wetland restoration, rain gardens, and for bioengineering where willow cuttings are used for "soft" engineering such as stabilizing streambanks. In addition, the Nursery maintains over 6 acres of willow production for cuttings. This material has been used by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for biomass and ethanol research.

American Chestnut

The Nursery works with the American Chestnut Foundation to propagate chestnut seedlings which may show resistance to chestnut blight, a deadly disease imported from Asia. The Nursery's manager, Dave Lee, received the "President's Award" from the New York State Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation in 2004.

Trees for Tribs

The Nursery produces native trees and shrubs to support the Department's "Trees for Tribs" initiative to create and enhance riparian buffers. Riparian protection is more important than ever. Vegetated riparian buffer zones are critical for water quality, erosion prevention, flood protection and climate change adaption purposes. One of the Nursery's specialties is growing native riparian species, many of which are tricky to propagate and rarely available from commercial sources.

School Seedling Program

school children planting a tree

There is nothing like a hands on experience to help children connect with nature. When students plant tree seedlings, they can see for themselves the structure of trees, learn what trees need and how they grow. Teachers can use the planting process to discuss the benefits trees provide, while including many subjects that their classes are studying. As seedlings mature, the young trees can be a continuing, personalized way of relating what the children have learned in books to visible, living examples. Students become aware that they can play a role in protecting the environment through personal involvement in establishing a grove of trees. Since 1985, the Nursery has filled over 18,000 orders from participating schools and provided over 632,000 seedlings.

Restoration of Rare and Endangered Species

seed processing machinery
seed processing machinery

State Forests are managed to enhance biodiversity. In some cases this includes planting of seedlings. The Nursery provides on average 100,000 to 200,000 seedlings for planting on State Forests each year.

The State Nursery grows flowers
for DEC campgrounds.

The Nursery has a complete seed processing plant, special chambers for germination testing, and a wide range of processes used to coax stubborn seeds to sprout. This capability has tremendous potential for restoration of endangered plants. In nature, seeds get eaten, get moldy, fall in the wrong place and so on. Very few actually have a chance to germinate and even fewer actually grow. In a controlled environment such as the Nursery can provide, these fragile seeds are able grow into sturdy plants, protected during their vulnerable germination and seedling stage. For example, the Nursery was able to grow seedlings of the rare Purple Milkweed that were used to restore the dwindling population at Stewart State Forest. Using seed collected at Stewart, the Nursery grew young plants that were transplanted into the wild.

Forest Regeneration

The majority of State Forests in New York are now managed for hardwood production and rely on natural regeneration. However, in forests where there are high deer populations, natural regeneration may fail. Some forests have been reduced to little more than a canopy shading a dense understory of ferns. When New York's State Forests need seedlings, the Nursery is in a position to provide large numbers in a short time, using locally collected seed.

Green Infrastructure

native grapevine growing on the side of a building
Native grapevines help reduce the cost
of air conditioning by cooling buildings.

The Nursery is experimenting with growing and testing potential green infrastructure plants such as native vines. An exhibit of native vines at a recent State Fair drew considerable interest. By making use of the valuable outreach potential of plants grown and tested at the Nursery, the Department will be in a much stronger position to promote and encourage wider use of green infrastructure. The Nursery has the resources to pioneer the cultivation of many species that have been ignored by the commercial sector. Without proactive intervention by DEC, the use of native plants for green infrastructure is unlikely to increase. The situation with vine walls is particularly risky because of the extreme invasiveness of popular vines like Oriental Bittersweet.

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  • Saratoga Tree Nursery
    2369 Route 50 South
    Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-4738
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