One thing most clientele of tree farms want is color when autumn comes.
“People are generally looking for a lot of fall color,” said John Hughes of Hughes Landscaping and Nursery in Cedar Rapids, “and they are always asking us for whatever is fast-growing.”
Hughes and his brother Tom have 10,000 trees in production on 40 acres of ground in their 105-year-old family business. They focus strictly on growing high-quality trees and shrubs sold only through their own commercial and residential landscaping business.
“Probably the best sellers for residential use are the trees that grow quickly,” agreed John Baumhoefener of Baumhoefener Nursery. “A lot of people misconceive that trees are slow growing, but there are some very fast-growing trees, and red fall color is a big plus for shade trees.”
The choices for those come down to a few common varieties that include the oaks — soft white oak, red oak and hardwoods such as locusts.
The return of the elm
Additionally, an old name from the past that struck fear into homeowners back in the 1970s is back in fine form today: “A lot of the new hybrid elms are a good fit,” Baumhoefener added.
“The new ones are resistant to Dutch elm disease, and there are about 10 to 15 varieties. They are a nice tree because they grow quickly and are fairly good wooded,” he added.
“Some of the tops aren’t the best shape, as compared to other species, but it is a pretty adaptable tree.”
Still another tree that he recommends is the Ginkgo biloba tree.
“The herb that people take to increase brain function comes from the leaf of this ginkgo tree,” he explained. “These are actually quite valuable, as they are worth about $70 to $80 a pound.”
Hughes added he’s seeing an increased interest in fruit trees.
“We really believe it is a nod to the organic or locally grown trend,” he said. “People now are more interested in personal orchards, having an apple or pear or cherry tree in their backyard from which they can harvest their own fruit.”
Baumhoefener noted that a couple different conifers are back and in a big way.
“Norway spruce was really common back in the ’40s and ’50s, and it is fast growing and has no disease issues, so that is a good choice today,” he said. “And the Cadillac of spruce, as we like to call it, is the Black Hills spruce. It’s another good one, although it is slower growing, but has a nice dense shape.
“It also has no disease issues and has proven to be fairly deer resistant.”
Jeanette Bohlken, co-owner of Scotch Grove Nursery, said her nursery is one of the few around that actually grows their own evergreens.
“We grow things that have to be drought-tolerant and things that are going to be winter hardy for this area,” adding that they grow spruces, firs, pines and a lot of arborvitae.
“One of the best sellers for us is the arborvitae for the windbreaks,” she said. “Actually, our niche program for the nursery is the windbreak program.
“We also sell a lot of blue spruce and Black Hills spruce for yard trees, in addition to fruit and other shade trees.”
Bohlken said they do some wholesaling, but mostly sell in-state, and they do provide to a number of local commercial landscapers that like to purchase from them.
“We sell a lot to our local farmers,” she added. “This business has been in our family since the 1880s, and we’ve had generations return to us over the years through word of mouth.”
Baumhoefener also has noticed increased windbreak business.
“Actually we have done more windbreaks this year than we have in the past five years combined. The Colorado blue spruce is having some disease issues with rhizosphaera needle cast so it’s taking out the old stands,” he explained. “The farmers have more money right now so they are fixing up their homesteads.”
Prices for trees vary from the $150 range for a six-foot Norway spruce, to $280 for a two-to-three-inch-diameter trunk anywhere from 10 to 18 feet tall that weighs between 200 to 400 pounds with a solid topsoil root ball.
Trunks are seldom perfectly round, so the average of the largest diameter and that perpendicular to it is referred to as caliper. A six-inch caliper tree can cost between $500 and $700.
For nursery owner Nick Willie of Belle Plaine Nursery, maples, oaks and lindens are the three big sellers, but “the maple is our most popular tree,” he added. “People still want them in spite of having to rake down the line.”
He grows and sells them — “and many more” — on 100 acres that supplies the majority of his customers who are private residential owners, in addition to supplying the landscaping and tree installation side of his business that’s been in his family for 135 years.
“There really aren’t too many left in this area that do grow their own trees anymore,” he said.