Tom Skilling, WGN News Meteorologist, recently reported that it was the 4th wettest April on record in Chicago since 2000. Since we started the nursery in 1999, that means this has been one of our rainiest springs yet! Here at Spring Grove Nursery, we have had 4.3 inches of rain just in the month of April – 9.3 inches year to date. A wet spring certainly has it’s host of challenges when it comes to getting our spring field work done in a timely manner. But the trade off is worth it when you consider how essential this spring moisture is to the young trees growing in our nursery and the older trees planted into the landscape last year.
Several farm management techniques help us work through wet springs like this one and get our work done efficiently and effectively. Our soil conservation methods create an environment where a high volume of rain can fall and absorb into our soil without running off too quickly. Planted grass strips, long term no-till practices, and farm drainage infrastructure all work together to absorb big spring rains quickly and hold the moisture in the soil where it can then be available to our growing trees. Because of these techniques after a big rainfall, we can usually be back in our field harvesting by the next day. We are lucky to have a farm with good drainage and soils with a high organic matter content. This combination creates a growing environment that allows our young trees to flourish.
Planning ahead is essential when dealing with extended wet weather like this spring. Within our 100 acre nursery, different tree blocks and even different tree species can be dug at varying levels of wetness. The upcoming weather forecast gives us a heads up to which areas of the field are best to work in. Loading trees for customers this time of year takes some planning ahead as well. After our trees are harvested, they are pulled in from the field to a loading area. The loading area is accessible to trucks even when our field is rained out. So in a rainy spring, we are always looking a few days ahead on the loading schedule to make sure we have everything ready to go on drier ground for loading. This is why last minute requests to pick up sometimes cannot be accommodated. However we always do our best to make it happen!
Spring planting also revolves around spring moisture. We always prioritize planting our new nursery crop into our field as early as possible. This spring, the calendar date was later than usual due to the rain – we didn’t get started planting until April 11. But the cool, wet weather of this April has been good for the young crop. Once again, our early planting was successful and the new crop is loving these rains. We took advantage of rain days and went back through our liners to re-straighten the newly planted trees. This step is essential to our planting process. We usually do it after the first few rains post-planting. We are happy to report that our newly planted crop has been straightened a few times, and our trees have received a perfect amount of initial spring rain to get growing!
The saving grace of this extremely wet spring, has been that the temps have remained cool and steady. Everything we do in the field in the spring, needs to happen before the trees leaf out. Our new crop needs to get planted while it is still dormant. The trees we are harvesting for customers need to get dug while they are still dormant. Shipping trees is ideal while they are still dormant. So when wet weather delays all of these tasks from happening, the timeline to complete the work before the trees green up get shortened. Luckily this spring, the cool temps have kept the the budding trees at bay. Despite the rainouts on the harvest crew, we have completed deciduous digging on most species – we just have Quercus (Oaks), Gymnocladus (Kentucky Coffeetree), Catalpa, Picea (Spruce), Pinus (Pine), Maclura (Osage Orange) left to dig. Those trees haven’t leafed out yet and we can still dig them for a few more days. By next week when the temps start to warm up into the 80’s, most everything will be leafed out or pushing out new buds. Its a beautiful time to be in the nursery and see the rows come back to life after a long winter! The combination of wet weather and cool temps has set up a perfect growing season for our SGN Trees.
So we leave the 4th wettest April and head into May… today is May 6, and we are currently rained out. But we are ALMOST done with spring digging & planting. There is a dry stretch ahead in the 10-day weather forecast, so lots will get done next week. Our SGN Holding Yard is about half full, so once we can get hayracks back into the field we will be pulling in the freshly dug trees from the field to the yard. Hopefully by week’s end, our SGN Holding Yard will be ready for the 2022 season! We are open by appointment only so make sure to call before heading out to tag or pick up trees.
This wet spring has certainly been one for the record books. On top of the record-setting weather, we planted AND harvested a record number of trees this spring! And our SGN Crew getting it all done – they have definitely set the record for most dedicated crew yet. Through rain, mud, snow, sunshine, fog, wind, freezing temps, sunrises, and sunsets – they have worked hard to grow beautiful SGN Trees in this crazy wet spring. While the trees may appreciate the cool and wet conditions this April, our crew probably prefers the warm and sunny days of June to come!
We are ready to see what weather comes our way in May. One thing we know for certain – the trees will be growing and we will be tuning in to Tom Skilling at the weather desk to see what lies ahead each day in the field!