Maybe it is for the best, because I have had mixed success trying to grow the trees I have ordered from the George O. White State Forest Nursery near Licking, Missouri. When I went to the website this winter to place an order, I found that nearly 75% of their trees were sold out.
I have cooperated with a couple of projects that have paid some dividends, but my personal attempts at growing my own forests have been pathetic at best. I should probably just give up, but “plant native” is such a good concept, and the pricing is hard to pass up. Seedlings are available for as little as 34 cents each.
The flaw in my plans this year is that I considered the suggestion to “order early before supplies run out” to be a marketing ploy. I know a little bit about that trick, but in this case it appears I should have trusted to order them in the fall and have them shipped in the spring at the proper planting time. The last time I checked the online order form, only 16 of the 69 varieties had remaining stock.
More than once I have ordered persimmon trees from the agency, and even the last time, I divided them into two bunches to double my chances to have plants that produced the fruits that made you pucker if you try to eat them green, but are delicious when mushy and ripe. In one location I gave them all the tender loving care and attention I could muster, and in the other planting site I gave them a start and let Mother Nature do the rest.
I really wanted them to grow to attract deer and feed wildlife that enjoy the sweet treats. Their seeds’ ability to predict upcoming winter weather is another story for a different time, but like most similar lore, I am pretty skeptical.
Back to my experiment. The trees that received all my immediate attention lasted into their third year before I finally gave up on what was left of the dead twigs in my backyard. The ones I planted on the farm property were indistinguishable from the other forest edge growth before the end of the first summer.
Coincidentally, we have since found several stands of persimmons in the same vicinity that just showed up naturally. With some regular monitoring, mulching, and most importantly more careful mowing, we have managed to produce a few crops. Other than a few passing tastes, we leave all of them to the deer.
To the good fortune of this year’s persimmon seedlings at the White Nursery, they are sold out, and I don’t have an opportunity to kill more of them.
The other times I have planted trees from the state, the results have been better. The loblolly pines we put in have produced a few tall trees along the farm driveway, but their real claim to fame is how determinedly the buck deer have destroyed their trunks by rubbing them with their antlers each fall.
Most of the trees planted around the big field are just stumps that more resemble ground cover. It seems as soon as they manage a shoot of a few feet off the ground, their trunks get destroyed. On the other hand they have been living that way for a dozen years or more. Loblollies are one of the species that is still available for order.
The best success that I have seen is with the bald cypress trees we planted around the pond. They have thrived along the lake banks. They have not quite turned the place into a tiny Reelfoot, with the trees’ notable knees poking from the water surface but they’re still growing strong. The famous Tennessee lake had a century or so of a head start on us.
Unfortunately for those wishing for similar success, bald cypress trees are among the seedlings listed online as sold out for this growing season. Among the trees that remained in stock at the state nursery include: Norway spruce, nuttall and overcup oak, redbud, river birch, rose mallow, short leaf pine, silver maple, sweet gum and sycamore.
Ordering from the nursery begins as early as Sept. 1 each year. A catalog is included as an insert in the September edition of Missouri Conservationist magazine each year, and the online catalog at mdc.mo.gov offers up-to-date information on which trees are still available.
Telephone orders are not accepted, but for more information about the nursery, you can call 573-674-3229.
Originally published in the January-February 2022 Outdoor Guide Magazine.