By Lauren Wanko
There’s an assembly line of sorts at the State Forest Nursery in Jackson as tree seedlings whiz down the conveyor belt. Eventually these plants will be donated to residents statewide.
“Superstorm Sandy. Because of that we lost millions of trees across the state. You can’t even calculate that number of trees, either completely destroyed or damaged,” said Michael Vorwerk, nursery manager at New Jersey State Tree Nursery.
That’s something Neptune Township resident Allison Fisher is all too familiar with. Her town lost 2,400 trees to Sandy.
“You’re so used to seeing something, then it’s not there. It’s like it’s missing a big piece, a puzzle piece,” Fisher said.
The Arbor Day Foundation and the New Jersey State Forest Nursery partnered to donate 115,000 tree seedlings to more than 100 communities this month. Municipalities had to sign up for the free program, dubbed the New Jersey Community Tree Recovery Campaign. Fisher plans to pick up her tree seedling later this month.
“It’s gonna be beautiful provide some shade. We’ll see birds. Hopefully it will flower,” she said.
“I think part of the community is defined by their street trees, park trees. It’s just all part of it, it makes for a nicer community,” said Vorwerk.
Back at the state nursery, staffers prepare the seedlings for their new owners. In the field, the team lifts the trees with a seedling digger.
“It goes through the ground and undercuts the roots to lift them up. The oscillating blade bounces up and down and shakes off the soil,” Vorwerk explained.
The trees are all stored in the nursery’s cooler. It’s chilly — 37 degrees. The temperature’s that low to keep the trees dormant. Staffers here don’t want the trees budding until they’re in the ground.
The team sorts and grades the tree seedlings.
“We’re taking out plants that have bad roots, broken stems, sorting them out, put in conveyer belt in bundles of five,” said Vorwerk.
The trees are then collected in a larger bundle, tied, the roots are trimmed and then they’re dipped in a moisture holding gel, which adheres to the roots. That keeps the roots hydrated and prevents them from drying out. The seedlings are only 1 to 2 years old and anywhere from eight to 24 inches tall.
“Even though these trees are small, now you gotta visualize them, have faith in the future and imagine what they’re gonna look like in 10 to 15 years,” said Vorwerk.
That’s something the Fishers can imagine in their front yard — a new tree seedling that will grow, along with their family.