My latest copy of the Missouri Conservationist arrived with the annual seedling order form from the George O. White State Forest Nursery tucked inside. The mini-catalog is included each year with the September edition of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s magazine.
Last year I set an alarm for myself, and on September 1st, I placed an order for flowering dogwood trees. The official state tree is always one of the first trees to go on sale, so I was lucky to have 10 shipped to me in April. This year they will be more difficult to get. By noon on the first day, eight of the 61 tree and plant species — including the flowering dogwood — were already listed as sold out on the web page order form.
According to a short story in the back of the brochure, a wet fall limited annual plantings at the nursery in 2022. Since most tree species need moisture and cold to stimulate germination, not having seeds in the ground over the winter complicated the planting process. Chances of success. As an experiment, nursery workers placed the seeds of 40 trees in coolers to divide them into layers and store them.
“This has never been tried before, but we have had great success with all but four species: flowering dogwood, wild plum, blackgum, and black cherry,” the article said. “The black cherries have not sprouted at all, and we will have a limited supply of the other three varieties.”
Coincidentally, the trees I ordered and planted this spring were flowering dogwoods and wild peaches. In addition to their relative rarity, dogwoods come with an advance warning on the order form. “The survival rate of this small to medium shade tree is very low.”
Like a cooling experiment in the nursery, I feel good about my little dogwoods. They arrived on a UPS truck as tiny, bare-rooted branches. I placed them on the ground along the edge of our tree where an old dogwood tree was cut down last summer.
The little sticks stood barely a foot above the potting soil, moss, and mulch beds I had made for them. I was happy to see nine of the ten trees making little leaves within the first few weeks. All summer long I regularly carried water (sometimes mixed with Miracle-Gro) to them, but even that amount of TLC left only six survivors heading into this fall. How well they handle the winter will be the next big test.
Big box stores and other tree vendors can supply a variety of dogwood hybrids and different color options, but there is something special about knowing that my seeds came from native Missouri seeds, started and cared for as they were originally created.
The wild plum trees I planted look as strong as weeds. They made it through the year on the same watering schedule and had the same soil mix, but I’m more confident that their remarkable growth and 10 for 10 in the first year is a sign that they will deliver on the seedling order form promise of a mini-forest of color and nutrition for birds, bees and more.
“One of the first trees to bloom in the spring, (wild plum) produces bright red edible fruit and provides excellent food and cover for wildlife.”
The Conservationist is delivered free of charge to state residents who request it. Many of the Leader’s readers will likely have a copy of the latest issue, with a picture of a robin splashing in a puddle on the cover. Inside, in addition to many other great photos and information, a seedling order form and instructions await you.
As with most of the department’s publications, the seedling order form is full of the kind of photos that will make you say, “I want to grow a button bush.” “That American beauty looks delicious.”
Although some may not be available or supply is limited, now is the time to place your order for next year’s tree growth.
John Winkelman has been writing about outdoor news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the associate editor of Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas for the Leader’s outdoor news page, email email@example.com, and you can find more outdoor news and updates at johnjwink.com.