From tiny seed to street giant

When our volunteers deliver a tree to your curb by pickup truck or bike trailer, the tree just sort of appears—poof!—like magic. (Our volunteers are pretty magical.) But the story of that young tree goes back 3-7 YEARS when it was a tiny seed in a greenhouse.

Where does Friends of Trees get its trees? From 10-15 nurseries located within about an hour of Portland. We only use local nurseries and don’t accept donated trees, ensuring highest quality.

“A good number of these nurseries have had relationships with Friends of Trees for years,” says Whitney Dorer, our Neighborhood Trees Manager.

One of those nurseries is Rigert Shade Trees  in Aloha. Owner Vince Rigert says our relationship started with a phone call more than a decade ago, and now Friends of Trees is his largest nursery customer.

“Now we’ve both gotten a little bigger, and I’m really happy that we’re able to do business,” Rigert says.

Gingko seedling
Depending on the species, it can take years for a tree to grow 1 or 2 feet tall. Photo: Creative Commons

From a tiny seed in a greenhouse, a tree spends its first year or two growing to be a foot or so tall. That’s when Rigert Shade Trees plants it in a pot or in the ground.

Rigert Shade Trees
Nurseries try to grow trees with strong, upright branch structure. Photo: Rigert Shade Trees

For the next several years, growing a strong branch structure is really important. “You have to keep an eye on it all growing season long,” says Rigert. Ideally a tree grows with a strong main trunk and no competing leaders, which create a “Y” shape and a weaker structure. The nursery keeps weeds away from the tree and fertilizes its roots so it grows strong.

Volunteers load trees into a big moving truck to take to the neighborhood staging area. Photo: FoT File
Volunteers load trees into a big moving truck to take them from the nursery to your neighborhood. Photo: FoT File

Finally, it’s time for the tree to make its trip to the city. All along, the nursery has been managing the roots and “root pruning” where necessary. This ensures that when the tree is dug up, the important roots come with it. “This gives the best survivability, because the roots give all the water and nutrients to the tree,” Rigert says.

Trees are delivered to the neighborhood staging area and ready to plant! Photo: FoT File
Trees are delivered to the neighborhood staging area and ready to plant! Photo: FoT File

The Friday before a neighborhood planting, staff and volunteers pick up the trees from nurseries in a big Penske truck. Sometimes they get delivered to the neighborhood staging site.

Friends of Trees Beaverton planting
Neighbors plant the tree together! Photo: FoT File

When the tree gets planted along your street, it’s about 3-7 years old with a trunk that is at least 1.5 inches in caliper (diameter). This is mature enough to survive the tough early years as a street tree while still young enough that transplanting doesn’t shock the roots. Plus, the root ball is not too heavy for volunteers to lift.

From there, the tree’s story continues for decades, as the it grows tall in your neighborhood!