Oregon Small Trees Nursery recently was chosen to receive a Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant. The nursery, based in Wilsonville, Ore., will use its grant funds to evaluate a little-used, but highly efficient, growing practice involving sandbeds.
“The grant allows us to introduce new practices to further minimize our environmental footprint,” Oregon Small Trees owner David Leckey said. “It also leverages the considerable expertise and funds from Clackamas County Soil & Water Conservation District, Oregon State University and NRCS.”
The sandbeds, which the nursery installed in 1996, are sometimes called capillary beds. This is because they take advantage of capillary action to move water from wet sand up to the root system of the containerized trees. This allows the trees to get all the moisture they need without overwatering. Evaporation loss is also minimized.
As part of the study, rainwater will be captured in a cistern. Organic fertilizers will be added to the captured water before it is sent to the growing beds. Once the beds have been fertigated, salt and pH levels inside selected beds will be monitored and logged.
Any water not consumed by the plants will be drained, and the drained water will also be monitored for salt and pH content. This water will be diverted into bioswales. As a final step, the nursery will monitor the quality of the water leaving the bioswales, ensuring that it matches the quality of the incoming rainwater.
“I’m excited about doing real science about a real issue,” stated Leckey. “We have to get smarter about how we use our resources.”
The nursery will collect data on exactly how much water is being used by the plants over the growing season, at different times of day, and at different ambient temperatures.
“This project will allow us to continue to push the envelope of growing better plants more sustainably,” Leckey said. “That is a founding philosophy of the nursery.”
Started in 1995, Oregon Small Trees Nursery is a small, container nursery growing conifers and Japanese maples. The nursery is located west of Wilsonville and sells wholesale and retail to landscape designers, contractors and architects and home gardeners in Western Oregon and Washington.