Pot-in-Pot Offers Alternative Growing System for Christmas Tree Farms, Nurseries

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Bert Cregg, horticulture and forestry scientist, is refining a production system for container-grown trees. (view larger image)

Potted evergreen trees are the hottest trend going in the Christmas tree market, and nurseries and Christmas tree farms are poised to take advantage of this budding niche market.

Potted evergreens are ideal for consumers looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to artificial trees, and container-grown table-top evergreens provide Christmas tree growers and nurseries with a profitable specialty line. They’re also the tree of choice for those who prefer a live tree but don’t have room in their home or apartment for a large tree, or for those who like the option of planting their tree after the holidays.

“Consumers can purchase a live potted conifer between 2 and 4 feet tall, use the small tree for their holiday celebrations, and then plant the tree in their yard to watch it grow and enjoy for years to come,” said Bert Cregg, MAES horticulture and forestry scientist.

Cregg and graduate student Wendy Klooster are in the second year of a project to refine a production system for container-grown trees known as pot-in-pot. In pot-in-pot production, growers first place a “socket pot” in the ground. A second pot, containing the crop tree, is then placed inside the socket pot.

“Pot-in-pot production combines the benefits of container growing with standard field production techniques,” Klooster said.

“The system eliminates problems with trees blowing over in the wind, and placing the tree container in the socket pot in the ground insulates the roots and prevents cold damage during the winter,” Cregg said.

Cregg and Klooster’s research is focused on improving fertilization practices for conifers used for living Christmas trees and for deciduous shade trees.

“Identifying the types and amounts of soil, nutrients and other resources that various tree species need to thrive when they’re grown in the pot-in-pot system will help us develop management guidelines to help growers avoid common missteps such as overfertilizing or over- or underwatering,” Cregg said.

Christmas tree farms and nurseries across Michigan are already experimenting with pot-in-pot growing. Cregg said he has received a good response from growers who have seen the system in operation and producers who are interested in expanding their markets to include living trees.

The largest barriers for growers interested in the pot-in-pot system are the start-up costs and the need for a suitable production site. The costs of installing socket pots and irrigation occur up front, though these can be used for multiple crop cycles. If the production area does not drain well naturally, growers must install drainage, which adds to growers’ initial costs.

Despite the initial costs, Cregg expects the use of pot-in-pot production to continue to increase for both nursery stock and living Christmas trees.

“The general trend in the nursery industry is toward container production,” he said, “but for Michigan growing conditions, pot-in-pot is a great option to produce high-quality container-grown trees.”

This research is supported by Project GREEEN, J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Nursery, Boring, Ore.; Nursery Supplies, Inc., Chambersburg, Pa.; Renewed Earth, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich.; Peterson’s Riverview Nursery, Allegan, Mich.; Fairplains Nursery, Greenville, Mich.; Scotts, Inc., Marysville, Ohio; the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association; the Michigan Department of Agriculture; the Michigan Christmas Tree Association; and the Michigan Forestry and Parks Association.

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