The Greenhouse Report: Tree Shipping Season

Apr 15 by in Arbor Day, General, Greenhouse, Trees tagged with 2 comments


Happy Spring, everyone!

What a great time of the year here at Arbor Day Farm.  The soil temperature is rising, the buds are swelling, the bulbs are breaking through the ground, and the tree seedlings are heading out the door.  Our annual spring tree shipping season is upon us and I thought I’d describe what it takes to seamlessly send more than 2.5 million seedlings to all of our Arbor Day Foundation members during Spring 2011. 

As you might expect: It all starts with a great plan.

Shipping tree seedlings from Arbor Day Farm

The tree shipping crew at Arbor Day Farm.

The Foundation’s tree order forms and special offers begin to arrive in our members’ mailboxes in the late winter and early spring months. About that same time the tree shipping team builds a plan to deliver all of the healthy, ready-to-grow seedlings at just the right time for your hardiness zone.  The entire plan is based on somewhat of a “right time, right tree, right place” method.  As we survey our projections of how many seedlings we believe we will ship, we begin to firm up the plan on how we will deliver the total volume of mail throughout the United States based on hardiness zones, weather, volume, etc.

With the plan in place and a target end date in mind, we begin the shipping process.  In 2011, we began on March 3rd and are targeting mid-May for finishing.

Currently we have 30 different species of seedlings that make up 40 different tree offerings for Arbor Day Foundation members.  All seedlings are stored in an on-site cooler at 38 degrees, which ensures good dormancy and keeps the seedlings fresh and the fungus threat low.  We paint a stripe across the tree stem and include a color-coded chart that helps the recipient identify the different tree varieties in the package (anywhere from five to 12 trees can be included in the same packet). After painting, the roots get inspected for health and are dipped in a water-holding gel that helps the roots retain adequate moisture during shipping.  The seedlings are then bagged, the appropriate paperwork is inserted, the bags are sealed, and the the appropriate mailing label is applied to the packet.  The packet then joins thousands of other packets of seedlings, and makes its way to your doorstep via the postal system. 

A color code system helps identify tree seedlings.

A color code system helps identify tree seedlings from the Arbor Day Foundation.

For those of you who might be near Nebraska City, this entire tree shipping process is open to the public for viewing. Stop in at the Apple House Market on Arbor Day Farm, 9am to 3pm during this shipping season (through mid-May), and you’ll find us working on what used to be known as the apple sorting floor. Feel free to watch us process lots of trees to lots of members all around the globe.

 By having a good plan, following it closely, paying attention to the weather, and inspecting the quality of theproduct, the Arbor Day Foundation tree shipping team ensures delivery of seedlings that not only you, the recipient, will be proud of, but a group of seedlings that have every chance of establishing themselves as the trees of tomorrow. 

We look forward to sending trees to you, too.



Adam Howard is the Manager of Nursery Operations at Arbor Day Farm and a Certified Forester with the Society of American Foresters. He has been in the forest industry for 11 years and contributes regularly to this blog. For more information on how you can receive trees from the Arbor Day Foundation, visit

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  • Gib Shade says:

    We received our trees and they are looking good, except the two painted orange. They appear to still be dormant. What are the colors=trees combination. Thanks

  • Lindsay says:

    Hi Gib Shade!

    My name is Lindsay and I work for the Arbor Day Foundation.

    I’m glad to hear that your trees all arrived looking good. I think your 2 orange trees would be the White Dogwood trees, if you received the 10 Flowering Trees package. The Dogwoods are notorious for being trees that take a little bit longer to come out of dormancy.

    I’d suggest you do a “Scratch test” on the trees. Just take your thumb nail and gently scratch the bark of the tree. If you see green after you scratch the tree it is still alive and just taking it’s time waking up.

    Here is a link to the color code identifications . What’s really nice about this PDF is that it also has a leaf identification so if the color comes off the trees you can identify the trees by the leaves.

    Hopefully this helps you out, please feel free to let me know if you have any other questions! In the mean-time enjoy your baby trees!


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