Where Do Trees Come From?

Written By Stacy Bare

At Friends, we spend a lot of time talking to people about why and how more trees in their neighborhood create so much positive change. This year, we will plant more than 1,000 trees. We have planted 8,314 since 2008. Our goal is to plant 15,000 more in the next five years. We believe the planting of those 15,000 trees will help to resolve a multi-generational issue of environmental justice that exists in historically redlined and working-class neighborhoods without existing tree canopy. These trees will raise the baseline mental health of all residents, lower temperatures in the heat of the summer, minimize flooding from storms, and support cleaner air.

But where do they come from?

We are lucky enough to partner with Trees of the Field, a nursery in Parma, MI, owned and operated by Dan Riddle. Last week, we had the opportunity to visit Dan’s tree farm, meet his staff, and learn about the journey of a tree from seed or cutting all the way to a parkway in Grand Rapids!

Most of our team are either certified arborists and forestry professionals, or training to be certified arborists. For me though, everything about forestry is brand new! I have joked that before I came to work at Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, I knew about lollipop trees (deciduous) and triangle trees (coniferous). It was, however, the first time any of us would visit Dan’s 56-acre tree farm.

Trees of the Field can grow as many as 10-12,000 trees when fully planted, but before the trees make it into one of the many rows, they begin their time, usually on a different farm, as a seedling or sapling. There are nurseries that specialize in the growing of seedlings, where trees are either started from a seed or a cutting and grown in a carefully controlled environment for 2-3 years before being moved from wherever they started life to Dan’s tree farm.

Once they arrive, they are planted in a container for another year or two until they can handle being planted out in the field. Even before they make it to the field, Dan and his team work diligently to not only water and care for the trees but also to minimize the impact of deer grazing and rubbing on the trees, as well as a host of other invasive pests that can kill a tree.

Once the trees are large enough to transplant, which for us means a trunk caliper of 1.5-2 inches around or about 5-7 years old, Dan and his team will dig them up, carefully wrap them in burlap to keep the roots healthy and deliver them to planting locations throughout Grand Rapids.

Some of the trees that we plant with residents and private property owners are the very same container trees that could be transferred to “grow up” in a tree row, but instead are brought to Grand Rapids for planting in front and back yards. Planting on private property can significantly reduce the amount of stress a newly planted tree experiences when compared to trees planted right next to the road. This allows us to plant a smaller caliper tree, .75-1 inch or 3-5 years old, that can still establish and thrive.

Whether they end up lining the boulevards or planted just outside your window, all of our trees are handled with the utmost care at every step of the process—it was amazing to see just how much work goes into each and every tree we plant. A special thank you to Dan and his team at Trees of the Field!

To get involved with Friends and get to know some of your local trees better, you can join us for a tree species identification walk or come and plant with us! For more on how we select what trees to go in the ground, check out this post!