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Colonel William F. Fox Memorial Saratoga Tree Nursery

Saratoga Springs, NY

Watch a clip about the Saratoga Tree Nursery and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.
Man with pile of tree seedlings on a table
Staff from DEC's Division of Lands and Forests
sort bare-root seedlings at the Nursery during
the annual spring sale

The Nursery currently produces more than 1.5 million seedlings annually and maintains more than 200 acres of seed production areas and orchards located across the state. More than 6 million seedlings representing over 50 species are currently growing at the Nursery. By using local seed collected from around New York State, Nursery trees and shrubs are hardy and adapted to our state's climatic conditions.

The Nursery offers an annual spring seedling sale each January through May where the public can buy tree and shrub seedlings for a low cost. Consider buying New York-grown seedlings produced from local seed sources - it's an investment for your property that will pay off in healthier, stronger trees and shrubs for our future.

History of the Nursery

The Colonel William F. Fox Memorial Saratoga Tree Nursery in Saratoga is the oldest state forest tree nursery in the country. When DEC established the Nursery program in 1902, the original priority was reforestation. Reckless logging and forest fires had left bare slopes that were losing soil to erosion, contributing to serious flooding problems and contaminating water supplies. The present Nursery in Saratoga was established in 1911 as one of several State Nurseries across New York. In the decades before World War II, the primary mission of the Nursery was to grow conifer seedlings for water supply protection, soil protection and for timber plantations to ensure a steady supply of lumber.

historic photograph of young trees planted in an open field
Tree seedlings were planted on reforestation areas
that were previously abandoned farms

In the early 1930s the State began the reforestation system by acquiring abandoned farms. Most of this land had to be planted to protect the soil. Nursery production rose to meet the demand, and peaked in 1938 at 72.8 million seedlings produced for planting just in that year. These plantings were mainly accomplished by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

With the establishment of the Department of Environmental Conservation in 1970, which combined Natural Resources and Environmental Quality in one department, the Nursery's mission became more diverse. Along with traditional forest seedling production and wildlife shrubs, the Nursery also began to produce trees and shrubs for remediation, wetland restoration, riparian protection, with a focus on growing native species from local seed sources. Over the past hundred years, the Nursery has adapted to the changing needs of forestry and land management practices. The Nursery is an essential part of DEC that embodies the goals and mission in the form of living plants that support the multiple goals and missions of DEC. Since the inception of New York's nursery program in 1902, more than 1.6 billion tree and shrub seedlings have been produced by the State.

In 2019, the State Tree Nursery in Saratoga Springs was renamed the Colonel William F. Fox Memorial Saratoga Tree Nursery. A civil war veteran who went on to become New York's first superintendent of forests, Colonel Fox is credited with establishing the New York State tree nursery program, putting forest protection under state authority, expanding the Forest Preserve, and being an early advocate of the importance of urban forestry.

Articles on the Nursery's History:

Nursery Projects

The Nursery fulfills a vital niche in the conservation of New York's natural resources. 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.

Current and future opportunities through the Saratoga Nursery include:

Support for State and County Programs

flowers from the Nursery near a check-in booth at a state campground
Flowers grown by the Nursery

The Nursery supplies flowers and potted trees to DEC campgrounds. The trees are planted where hazardous trees between campsites are removed and "jump-started" replacements are needed for privacy. The Nursery provides a few thousand seedlings to be given out 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.

Restoration of Rare and Endangered Species

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 fail when they get eaten, get moldy, or fall in the wrong place. Very few actually have a chance to germinate and even fewer actually grow. In a controlled environment such as the Nursery, these fragile seeds are able grow into sturdy plants because they are 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.

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.

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.

Research Partnerships

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.

Willow

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.

Preserving Species for the Future

seeds in labeled jars on shelves
Seeds 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. Seed of a threatened species can be collected and stored for the future to preserve a healthy range of genetic diversity and then when the species threat has lessened, restoration can begin by growing quantities of seedlings from stored seeds.

Black Ash

The Nursery is currently storing seed of black ash for the Akwesasne Mohawks (PDF) to preserve this 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.

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.

National Ash Seed Collection

The Nursery is involved in the national ash seed collection and storage effort to retain ash seed sources as a way to mitigate the loss of ash across many parts of its North American range due to the invasive, exotic emerald ash borer (EAB).

Support Tree Planting in New York State

The public can now support forest conservation and enhancement by donating to the DEC Tree Planting Fund through the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT). Donations will help the Nursery provide free and reduced cost seedlings to the Trees for Tribs Program and the School Seedling Program, among other purposes.

The NHT has established in 1968 as a public benefit corporation of the State of New York. The NHT's mission is to receive and administer gifts, grants and contributions to further public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes of the State of New York. The NHT accomplishes its mission by accepting donations, raising funds, and through cooperative programs and projects with its agency partners: DEC, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), and the Department of State (DOS). The NHT also partners with a number of other public and private entities, not-for-profits and friends groups to secure and administer funding. The NHT is dedicated to building and sustaining relationships with organizations that share mission-compatible goals and purposes.

Checks should be made out to: Natural Heritage Trust and indicate "DEC Tree Fund-602" in the memo line.

Mail donations to:
NHT Tree Planting Fund
c/o Director of Management and Budget Services
NYSDEC
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-5010


More about Colonel William F. Fox Memorial Saratoga Tree Nursery:

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  • NYS DEC
    Saratoga Tree Nursery
    2369 Route 50 South
    Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-4738
    518-581-1439
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