Feature photo: Oregon Christmas trees, photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.
Oregon is the nation’s largest producer of shade and flowering trees as well as conifers. Innovation propels growth in the industry. Growing healthier, diverse trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials is no easy task, but with the help of Mother Nature, natural resources and sustainable practices, Oregon’s greenhouse and nursery industry is the state’s most valuable agricultural sector.
Greenhouse and Nursery Products
Oregon produces more than 5,000 varieties of ornamental nursery stock and numerous varieties of fruit tree rootstock. Many of its plants, trees in particular, are shipped internationally. China purchased Oregon nursery products for beautification prior to the 2008 Olympics and 2010 Shanghai World’s Fair.
The state has more than 2,100 nursery and greenhouse businesses. It is the second largest nursery state in the nation with more acreage under nursery production than any other state, most of it within a 90-mile radius of Portland. With such an industry concentration, competition is a given, but it’s also elevating, says Eric Hammond, production manager of Heritage Seedlings Inc., the largest under stock nursery in the country.
“Having so much knowledge and experience in one region of the country helps to lift everyone. We share and learn techniques and practices. There’s a competitive pressure that helps sharpen the tone to do a better job every year.”
The size and success of the nursery industry in Oregon speak to the state’s strengths.
“Our climate is just ideal,” Hammond says. “It’s warm enough, sunny enough and cool enough without being too cold. We have fantastic soil quality and an abundance of water. We have all the components necessary to grow plants. Having those natural resources in place gives us a chance to focus on the art and science of horticulture.”
Heritage Seedlings is a leading wholesale propagator of unusual and sought-after deciduous ornamental trees and shrubs, offering more than 500 varieties of seedlings. Their hard-to-find selections are grown by grafting, cuttings and tissue culture.
“Availability of water, innovative production methods, research, and aggressive prevention of pests and diseases are all critical components to producing healthy and clean plant material,” says Jeff Stone of theOregon Association of Nurseries.
Oregon is the first state to implement a Climate Friendly Nurseries Project, in partnership with theOregon Environmental Council, which blends sustainability with reducing carbon emissions and has the first nurseries certified sustainable by the Food Alliance Nursery & Greenhouse certification program.
Located in Marion County, a leading producer of Christmas trees in the state, Silver Mountain Christmas Trees started out with just 13 acres of Douglas and noble firs in 1968. As of 2013, the operation spans 3,500 acres and ships more than 300,000 trees annually.
“We’d long been looking for crops to grow on these non-irrigated foothills. Luckily, we just happen to live in an area that has the exact climate needed to produce high-quality Douglas and noble firs,” says Jim Heater, owner of Silver Mountain. “We later learned that the noble fir also holds up under a range of temperatures and humidity levels, making it an ideal product for exporting.” Over the years, Silver Mountain has shipped to every state in the country, as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, Guam, Japan and Mexico.
Exports of Oregon Christmas trees are on the rise to markets including India, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
Oregon growers utilize technology and sustainable practices, such as using helicopters during harvest to limit compaction on the ground. This also eliminates the need for tractors, trailers and roads, ultimately allowing more use of the land to meet growing demands.
Oregon’s 2013 Christmas tree harvest, collected from more than 63,000 acres, was estimated at 6.4 million trees, resulting in a wholesale value of $110 million. Oregon ranks number one nationally in Christmas trees with 38 percent of total U.S. gross sales.
“We have to give a lot of credit to Mother Nature,” says Heater. “Rainfall, temperature, soil and slope make Oregon one of the best tree-growing regions in the U.S. and the world.”