Published on 08/19/96

Pine Seedling 'Shortage' Makes Early Orders Vital

In most nurseries, you'll hear babies crying. But adults may be crying this fall -- after they learn that pine nurseries have sold out of their seedling trees.

"Our nurseries produced about the same number of seedlings for this year as normal," said David Moorhead, a forest regeneration specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "But landowners need more than that."

Moorhead said it's not so much a seedling shortage as a demand overage. But the effect is the same. People planning to plant pine trees need to order their seedlings as soon as they can.

Georgia landowners plant about 300,000 acres of pine trees annually -- more than any other state. That helps contribute to the $16.2 billion economic impact of forestry and forestry products in Georgia.

"Adverse weather over the past two or three years was just one factor that kept Georgia farmers from planting as many trees as they usually do," he said. They're trying to catch up now.

Nurseries plant enough seeds in March and April to cover expected demand for the next tree-planting season. Georgia landowners plant pine seedlings from November to March.

In a typical year, farmers plant 600 to 700 seedlings per acre. That creates a Georgia demand of about 195 million seedlings. But landowners will order more than that.

Most farmers order 5 percent to 10 percent more than they expect to plant. "This allows them to cull the seedlings and plant the best of them," Moorhead said. "So they order a little extra."

After adding in the extras for "insurance" and those to make up for acres not planted in 1994 or 1995, Georgians' demand for pine seedlings will far outnumber the supply.

Many people order seedlings from private nurseries or their state forestry commission in early- or mid-fall. But Moorhead said those who wait will likely be disappointed.

"Many of the 200 million seedlings planted for the 1996- 1997 planting season are already spoken for," he said. "Nurseries grew some under contract. Others are secured by order reservations."

Based on a high demand this year, many nurseries may increase the number of seedlings they start for the '97-'98 season.

Across the South, laws require most state-run pine nurseries to sell seedlings to landowners in their home states first. Moorhead said Georgia farmers looking for seedlings in Mississippi or Alabama will find the nurseries can't sell to them yet or have already run out of seedlings.

"Even if farmers can find pine seedlings out-of-state, they need to make sure the variety they buy can grow well where they want to plant them," he said. "It's no use paying top dollar for out-of-state seedlings that are just going to die a year after they've been planted."

Fortunately, homeowners looking for ornamental pines for their landscapes can still find plenty in nurseries.

Moorhead said Georgia pine farmers cut nearly 500,000 more acres than they plant every year. "Some find it's more profitable to grow an annual row crop or convert that land to uses other than pine forests," he said. Others let the forest regenerate naturally, with a mix of pine and hardwood trees.

But you have to look at the forest, not just the trees.

"The 20- to 30-year maturation time of pines helps even out a drop in plantings in one year," Moorhead said. "So it won't make a great impact on forestry production levels."