Gaia Grows: Sustainable Seedling Trees

The Native Plant Master Program (NPM)

Kathleen Miller

Few conservation efforts provide the extensive and enduring benefits of planting seedling trees. Seedling tress help: reforest burned areas, enhance wildlife habitat, reduce soil erosion, protect water supplies and serve as living fences that provide protection from wind and snow.  The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) Nursery, located on the Foothills Campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is the state’s leader in producing low-cost, Colorado-grown seedling trees and shrubs for conservation purposes. The CSFS Nursery produces more than 40 species, all selected for their hardiness and adaptability, which are ideal for landowners and land managers to use for conservation in Colorado. The seedling program allows farmers, ranchers, other landowners to obtain trees at a nominal cost to help achieve conservation goals, including: restoration after wildfire and flood, enhancing wildlife habitat, protecting homes, cropland and livestock, erosion control and promoting clean air and water. Conservation and sustainability are the nursery’s primary goals, with a commitment to community, stewardship and cooperation. Growing low-cost seedlings for Colorado landowners is vital to meeting the state’s conservation goals.

One of the easiest ways to live more sustainably is to plant trees. There’s nothing more sustainable and long-lasting than planting a tree. You can plant one simple apple tree or keep going and start an entire ecosystem. The best place to start is The Colorado State Forest Service Nursery or another local nursery in northern Colorado.   Most trees are long term investments. You can expect any tree to need at least a growing season or two to become well-established. Then, years may pass before it reaches maturity. But like vintage wines, a tree’s quality increases with age, and the end result is well worth the wait.

When you think of selecting a tree, you’ll want to use the same care and forethought you would in actually planting it. Each different tree species is an individual with its own set of needs, likes and dislikes. Each farm, ranch or garden is also an individual, having particular advantages and disadvantages that affect plant growth. Select a tree whose needs and habits will match its intended location on your farm or garden so that, in years to come, the tree will fulfill the grandeur you imagined.

Deciduous trees are those that yearly drop all of their leaves at one time. Most do this in the autumn, remain leafless though out the winter, and produce new foliage again in the springtime. Deciduous trees often have broad, flattish, supple leaves and may put on a good show of spring or summer flowers or fall foliage color-sometimes both.

Broad-leafed evergreens generally have the same flat, often wide leaves as deciduous trees do though on closer inspection these evergreen leaves often turn out to be thicker and more leathery than deciduous foliage. However, the most conspicuous difference is that broad leafed evergreens keep a full canopy of leaves though out the year rather shedding all of them at one time.

Needle-leafed evergreens are those trees with mostly needle-like leaves that persist the year round. Often these trees are cone bearing. Like the broad-leafed evergreens, these needle-leaf types shed their old foliage while the new foliage remains on the tree. Old foliage is innermost on branches and turns yellow or brown before it drops.

The first question to ask when selecting a tree is, “Do I want a tree that holds leaves though out the year or one that sheds them entirely at fall, leafing out again later on?” Knowing your climate will help determine whether you buy a deciduous or an evergreen tree. The next question to ask yourself is, “What role in my landscape do I want a tree to play?” In a patio or terrace, the best choices would be among the small or slow-growing types. If you are looking for a tree to provide lots of shade, then it may be the larger kind of tree that would fit the best. Depending on the situation, you might try something low spreading, upright and narrow, or a tree with low-branching trunks. If a large area needs to be screened, you might get best results by planting a grove of trees.

In some situations you will want to avoid trees with certain root systems that will eventually cause problems. For example, poplars have roots that are extremely aggressive and invasive. Planting a poplar near water or sewage lines guarantees future problems with clogged pipes. Try to avoid planting a tree with aggressive surface roots next to a paved area or you will be inviting cracked and raised pavement. To avoid any of these problems, always select a tree by keeping in mind its needs and advantages as well as limitations on your farm or in your garden.

For more information on the The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) Nursery seedling tree program please visit

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.



Gaia’s Farm and Gardens

Sustainable living, gardening, and farming is based on an understanding of ecosystems, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. It has been defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices that will last over time. Having a harmonious relationship with Gaia (Mother Earth) provides food for people enhances the natural environment upon which the community depends, makes efficient use of resources and integrates natural cycles that sustain economic viability as well as enhances the quality of life for the community as a whole.

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