Last week, I got to spend two very enjoyable days at a 1200 acre tree farm south of Houston. This farm is owned and operated by Tree Town USA. Tree Town USA is the largest tree farm in the US. They have several farms and sales offices all over the country. This one is located just south of Wharton in beautiful Glen Flora, Texas (Click on the link and you can see the farm from the air, pretty amazing).
I was the guest of one of their salesmen named Morgan McBride. Morgan and I have been friends for most of our lives. He and I share a great sense of humor and a deep love of all things horticultural. Morgan has worked in the green industry his entire life. He is a Texas Certified Nursery Professional and a true master of horticulture. Since I had never visited a tree farm of this magnitude, he thought I might enjoy getting up close and personal with the inner workings. He was right.
To say I was amazed is an understatement. Until you see a working 1200 acre tree farm you just cannot grasp the amount and the scale of the work that it encompasses. To support this much intensive agricultural production, Tree Town USA employs a huge amount of infrastructure. The watering system was truly an engineering marvel.
Morgan and the other sales people regularly visit the farm to pick the best inventory for their top customers. On this trip, He needed to pull several small quantities of oaks and then 120 30 gallon yaupons. Helping him was going to be a very pleasant way to spend a Friday away from the office. I arrived late Thursday afternoon. He had just finished a lot of his work so he took me on a tour of the place. I thoroughly enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the tree business. This farm employs between 200 and 250 workers. It takes all of their efforts, seven days a week, to keep an operation of this size moving.
Since it takes so long to grow a tree, tree farms are much different than a traditional nursery. Their quickest crops typically take three years to develop. Some of their larger trees have been grown for 3, 5 and even ten years before it is ready for sale. I cannot even begin to imagine the management required to keep a plant alive for 3 to 10 years in a pot in the wildly variable Texas climate.
This past month, Morgan was the top salesman in the company. While I was happy for him I was a little confused. I asked how he could sell so many trees in the middle of the worst drought in history. Many of his biggest customers are landscape architects. In order to get paid for a large commercial project, everything has to be complete. That includes the landscape. So, even though this has been the hottest AND driest year on record, these firms still have to install trees, shrubs, ground cover and turf. Since there is a lot of building going on in the DFW metroplex, Morgan has been selling a lot of trees and shrubs. He did tell me that the cities of Austin and San Antonio have been making some concessions to the builders because of the drought. Trees and shrubs still have to be planted, but they are amending the contracts to allow the firms to come back later and plant the water sucking ground cover and turf.
Another very interesting thing happened on my trip. Around 6:30 pm on Thursday night, a MASSIVE thunderstorm blew in. This storm brought some much needed rain. However, it was accompanied by 60 mph winds. High winds are not the friend of a tree farm. These high winds blew over an INCREDIBLE amount of stock. Even though they were all well anchored, the wind pulled the anchors up. Friday morning was a very sad day on the tree farm. All 200 employees had to stop what they were doing and walk the property and stand up and re-anchor the stock. The blow down was so massive that at the end of the day, 200 people did not finish standing everything back up.
The blow down caused problems for Morgan and I as well. We still had 120 30 gallon yaupons to find and tag. What was supposed to be a very enjoyable learning experience for me turned into an awful lot of work. These yaupons were all six to eight feet tall and had a spread of six to eight feet as well. Before we could find the best ones, we had to stand up a whole bunch of very heavy shrubs. I do not know how many 30 gallon yaupons are on a two acre pad, but it is a bunch!
Despite the hard work, this was truly the most enjoyable “field trip” that I have ever been on. Thanks a ton to my buddy Morgan and to Tree Town USA for allowing me to visit. Tree Town USA only sells to the trade. So, while I wish I could make a product placement plug for them, you can’t buy from them directly. However, you can request Tree Town USA trees from your local Home Depot or your independently owned nursery. Since I have had this experience, I can tell you that if you buy Tree Town trees you will be getting a very high quality product that was grown with the best science possible by a whole lot of people who truly love trees!