Homegrown in Port

Created at a time of high demand and low supply, city’s nursery is now growing hundreds of trees that line streets and grace parks

WALKING AMONG THE trees in the City of Port Washington’s nursery near the Mineral Springs water tower recently was Supt. of Parks and Forestry Jon Crain. The nursery was started five years ago and today provides 150 to 200 of the trees the city plants each year. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Five years ago, the City of Port Washington embarked on an experiment that is reaping benefits that can be seen throughout the community today.

The city nursery — created during the aftermath of the 2008 recession and the discovery of the emerald ash borer that wreaked havoc on the area, a time when demand for trees was high and the supply low — is today providing many of the young trees that grace the city’s parks and parkways.

There are about 500 trees in the nursery, and Jon Crain, the city’s superintendent of parks and forestry, said between 150 and 200 of them will be replanted along city streets and in its parks and natural areas this year.

These trees are used to supplement trees purchased from other vendors, he said, noting the city has been planting about 600 trees annually since 2012.

“I don’t think we’ll ever plant 100% from the nursery,” Crain said.

That’s because the city has neither the space nor the time needed to expand the nursery to the point where it could supply all the needed trees, he said.

“There’s no way it would be efficient to produce all of them,” Crain said.

Port is one of the few communities in the area to have its own nursery.

The nursery, which is near the city’s Mineral Springs water tower, was an experiment funded initially by a forestry grant from the Department of Natural Resources. The first 500 trees were planted there in 2018, after crews spent a year amending the soil and preparing the site.

“We had better success than I anticipated,” Crain said, noting the first trees were taken out in 2021 — hybrid elms, a fast-growing species that grow rapidly.

“The elms have grown the best, the fastest,” he said.”We’ve had good success using them for street trees.”

The city grows about 15 species of trees at the nursery, and Crain said that among the species that have done especially well are swamp oaks and several other types of oaks, honey locusts and hackberry.

“I tried hickory. I’m still waiting on those,” he said. “I’m not planting them anymore.

“And birch can be a little sensitive. We’ve pulled back on those too.”

The nursery allows the city to try different trees as it works to diversify the trees in the community, Crain said.

The importance of planting a variety of tree species is a lesson that took Port and many other communities years to realize.

Decades ago, a canopy of large elms greeted motorists along the city’s streets, but they were destroyed by Dutch elm disease.

Many of those trees were replaced by ash, but then came the emerald ash borer, first found locally in 2008, which decimated those trees. Today, Crain noted, the city is removing a number of Norway maples that are in decline.

“We’ve learned a lesson,” he said. “We’ve really added a lot of diversity since we found out about the emerald ash borer.”

The nursery also allows the city to try out the trees and see what works best without a major expense, Crain said, noting the smaller trees the city plants cost about $20.

Otherwise, he said, the cost is often $150 to $175.

The nursery stock is generally about 5 feet tall, lightly branched and about 1/4-inch in diameter, Crain said. The city staff prunes the trees to promote trunk growth, and they are transplanted anywhere from two to six years later, when they’re 8 to 10 feet tall and 1-3/4 inches in diameter.

While most of the trees are destined to be planted along the city’s streets and in the parks, some of the smaller seedlings are being placed in natural areas, such as the Birchwood Hills Nature Area.

  And when a tree has to be taken down, Crain said, the city uses every piece of it.

Wood chips are used in the parks and put out for residents to pick up for use at their homes, he said, while the remnants from stump grinding as well as lawn clippings are composted. The topsoil it creates is then used to amend the soil in the nursery.

Because that soil is a product of trees grown here, Crain said, it works well to help the new trees grow.

Crain said he’s pleased with the way the nursery has progressed.

“We’re starting to see these younger trees really do well,” he said. “So far, this has been a successful experiment.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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