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Future Opportunities for the Saratoga Tree Nursery

a State Forest planted with conifers
New York State had the foresight
100 years ago to plant desolate
landscapes to protect water quality
and prevent soil erosion. Today's
challenges need creative solutions.

The quality of New York's future depends on the quality of the environment, quality that depends on the decisions we make now. The Saratoga Tree Nursery has a vital role in our State's environmental future. Trees and other plants reduce stormwater runoff, filter surface water and groundwater, restore habitat, clean polluted soils, stabilize stream banks, improve air quality, cool cities, save energy and provide many sources of alternative fuels.

Riparian Protection

Watershed protection, for example by planting trees and shrubs in riparian buffer zones, is critical for protection of our drinking water. The Nursery has increased its focus on riparian species and will continue investigating native species that help protect safe, clean water supplies. The Nursery offers a special combination package of 10 riparian species for 2010.

volunteers installing a tree tube
Volunteers in the Trees for Tribs program

Tremendous public interest in the Trees for Tribs program shows the need for wider availability of native riparian plants. The Nursery would like to increase the number of riparian species it grows. Because of its unique situation, the Nursery can propagate many native species that commercial nurseries don't grow. For example, native shrubs with difficult germination requirements are not cost-effective for a commercial operation. Yet these may be very valuable species to bring into cultivation. The Nursery is able to grow such species, and grow them in sufficient quantity to make them available for wider use.


Recognition of the importance of plants and forests to the environment has led to a boom in plant research, but many universities lack the facilities to grow plants. The Nursery can provide a test site for plant-based research and development in partnership with state, federal, academic and non-profit groups.

Research on native plants can be challenging simply because of the difficulty in obtaining sufficient numbers of plants. With the ability to grow rare and unusual species in quantity, and also the large range of plants that are already in production, the Nursery can be a valuable resource for native plant research.

Restoration of Rare and Endangered Species
processing equipment at the Nursery
The Nursery uses state-of-the-art equipment to
extract and germinate seeds and propogate over 50
species of plants annually.

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.

rare purple milkweed
New York has the largest
population of purple milkweed in
the nation with over 1000 plants.

Many rare species are in danger of disappearing in the wild, and it is vital to develop ways to propagate them before they are gone. The Nursery would like to increase work on propagating rare and unusual species. Some native species have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to grow from seed. For example, seed of some of the native viburnum species stubbornly refuses to break dormancy even after two or three years. However, these are very desirable species to bring into cultivation.

The Nursery has successfully grown plants for which there is almost no available data on propagation. For example, a test crop of the little-known native vine, American groundnut, which has edible roots, had nearly 100% germination from seed. This species has potential for green walls and as a possible vegetable crop for urban agriculture.

Green Opportunities/Green infrastructure

Greater availability of native species can lead to development of new plant-based industries which can provide jobs and revenue for New Yorkers.

There is growing interest in green infrastructure projects that can provide numerous environmental benefits. There is currently a push in New York State to use native species in all types of planting projects, including green buildings. Currently there are very few suppliers of local source, native seedlings due to all the risks associated with their production.

grapevine growing up the side of a building
Native vines can reduce cooling costs
by shading and cooling buildings.

The Nursery can bridge this gap between need and availability by providing liner stock of a wide range of native species. Private nurseries will be able to grow these seedling to larger sizes and resell to those needing larger stock. This will help preserve the integrity of New York's forest landscape, while positively affecting the New York Nursery Industry by allowing them to better serve a more environmentally conscious consumer base.

Unfortunately, the availability of native plants for potential green infrastructure projects in New York is limited and expensive. Many highly promising species are not available through commercial outlets. For example, the use of vines for green walls is a very cost-effective way to cool buildings. However, many of the commonly used vines, such as Oriental bittersweet, are highly invasive. Yet because few native alternatives are commercially available, invasive species will continue to be planted. Many of the people involved in the design of green walls are not aware of the danger posed by some of these invasive species and will continue to specify them for projects because of their availability. Many design professionals have never heard of many native species. The lack of availability and the lack of knowledge about native species could seriously undercut the potential use of green walls if the result is a huge new population of invasive vines. The Nursery is an ideal facility for growing and testing potential green infrastructure plants such as native vines. An exhibit of native vines at the State Fair recently drew considerable interest.

The Nursery has one of the only large-scale seed extraction and processing facilities in the Northeast, and can harvest, clean and process all sorts of native seed from cones, fruit and pods, which is used by a variety of agencies and organizations for conservation and ecological restoration projects. Custom seed processing is also available.

The many species that are sold by the Nursery hold special promise for people who want to begin new agroforestry businesses and want to plant their land with trees that have special promise to meet the challenges of the future. The Nursery can make it possible for landowners to experiment with new tree crops, because the riskiest and most difficult part is starting the seed, and then growing it into strong seedlings that are hardy and ready to plant.

The ability of the Nursery to provide seedlings of unusual species and their willingness to do custom experimental growing - for the only cost of production - can be the economic stimulus to help the startup of new tree-based businesses and jobs. The private nursery sector and the green infrastructure businesses will benefit from the introduction of suitable new species, which will provide needed diversity to rain gardens, green vine walls, green roofs and urban landscaping.

Alternative Fuels

The Nursery currently maintains over six 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. The Nursery could partner with educational and not-for-profit organizations to further research in this area. The Nursery would also be an ideal site to explore sustainable low cost heat sources for greenhouses by developing a pilot project to heat the greenshouse with biomass it has produced on site. Such a project would provide valuable research for the alternative energy industry as well as make it possible for the Nursery to grow two seedling crops a year, and remove many of the uncertainties inherent in growing seedlings outdoors in the Northeast climate. Improved research on greenhouse heat will also improve the economics for New York greenhouse fruit and vegetable producers to help increase local food production.

Preserving Species for the Future
seed in cold storage
seed in cold storage

The Nursery is truly insurance for the future of our forests. Storing sufficient seed to preserve genetic diversity of a species is vital for our forests' future. But simply putting seed in cold storage is not enough, because seed does not last indefinitely. Some species have very poor germination rates even from fresh seed and will degrade after long storage. For some species, it may be necessary to maintain living stock plants in seed orchards, or for vegetative propagation. In addition to preserving existing genetics, we also need begin increasing genetic diversity to help speed up species' adaptation to warmer climates. The Nursery can begin planting seed from carefully selected southern populations of our major tree species for introduction into the current gene pool.

If we are to be able to preserve the diversity and health of our forests, we need to be able to respond quickly when a species is threatened. Seed of a threatened species can be collected and stored for the future to preserve a healthy range of genetic diversity. When the disease or insect threat has lessened, restoration can begin by growing quantities of seedlings from stored seeds. Huge numbers of seedlings may have to be planted for successful restoration. These seedlings also need to have the right genetic material for the site.
The Nursery is literally the only possible source of the quantity, quality and cost of seedlings that would be needed for emergency restoration of a forest species in New York State.

The Nursery has supplied billions of tree seedlings in the past 100 years, seedlings which have helped New York regain its forest cover and the many associated benefits. In the past 100 years, the percentage of forested land has grown from under 25% to over 62%. This large amount of new and fast-growing forest has helped buffer New York from some of the impacts of global warming. But the benefits of these new forests, notably rapid carbon sequestration, will dwindle as forest growth slows with age. We need additional plant-based resources to augment the existing forests if New York is to be able to progress against the growing impacts of climate change.

father and son

One hundred years ago New York State had the foresight to protect water supplies and improve the quality of life for its citizens through planting trees. The Nursery can play a vital role in dealing with the many complex challenges facing New Yorkers today and in the future.

  • Contact for this Page
    Saratoga Tree Nursery
    2369 Route 50 South
    Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-4738
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