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Growing Native Trees with a Family Touch

Clear Ridge Nursery is a place where passion for nature and love for family meet. With a rich history of owning the property since 1984, Joe and Sharon Barley have dedicated their efforts toward reviving the farm and turning it into a thriving nursery.

“The farm was a dairy operation for several generations before going bankrupt in 1980,” says daughter Jessica Todd. “The house had been rebuilt after a fire in 1917, but the house and farm were vacant and in a serious state of disrepair. We renovated the house and continued to lease the land to a local farmer.”

About a decade after purchasing the property, Joe established their nursery that specializes in growing native trees and shrubs in containers. The nursery can grow 150,000 plants with a variety of species including American Hornbeam, Flowering Dogwood and White Oak trees; and Chokeberry, Viburnum and Hydrangea shrubs. “We currently have about 30 acres in production and are working on expanding onto another 50 acres of property we purchased,” Jessica says. “My father and I run the daily operations of the company. I became the majority owner in 2008.”

Sharon has always been a silent partner since her profession was teaching. “My mother supported Dad when he ‘jumped off the cliff’ to follow his dream,” Jessica recalls. ”She helped when she could and her income supported the family during the early years. Today, she is a huge help around the farm now that she is retired.”

The family-owned nursery fits into a specialized market that supplies plants for complying with conservation regulations. “In addition to mandatory requirements, many government agencies, nonprofits and volunteer environmental groups are actively involved in projects that improve air and water quality,” Jessica says. “They use native plants as their primary plant source for improving natural habitats. Native plants are indigenous to our native landscapes and it makes sense to use them for natural ecosystems.” Farmers are also known to add native plants to their farms to act as environmental buffers and to attract pollinators.

Since the nursery grows large quantities of the same plant species which can lead to fast increases in pest populations, they employ an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist. The specialist manages the IPM program and not only works at the nursery but inspects other offsite locations for homeowners, public gardens, arboretums, non-profits and other businesses. “It helps to have someone who can stay focused on insects and diseases,” Jessica says. “The goal of IPM is to monitor the populations of both beneficial and injurious pests and implement appropriate controls when needed. It is critical to control populations of damaging pests that are attacking actively growing young plants.”

There are many reasons for choosing native over non-native species. “Our geographic region is in a state of constant change and development. The use of native plants helps to mitigate the detrimental effects caused by the expansion of impervious surfaces and loss of beneficial wildlife habitat,” Jessica adds. “The Mid-Atlantic region is blessed with great natural landscapes and using native plants helps to maintain a level of quality we all need and want to continue to have, now and in the future.”

Want to plant your own trees? Here are some tips.

  1. When selecting a native tree, choose an appropriate location that will accommodate the mature height and width of the tree. Also, find out if the tree prefers full sun, partial sun/shade, moist or dry conditions.
  2. Dig a hole only as deep as the root ball and two times as wide.
  3. Remove the tree from the container, rough up the roots, and place it in the hole at soil level.
  4. Fill with soil and gently firm the soil to remove air pockets.
  5. Water well, add a layer of mulch and stake the tree, if needed.
  6. Continue to water during the dry summer months. Water is critical for newly planted trees. Monitor soil moisture and water as needed for the first year.

Hungry for more? Read these tips for taking care of your lawn. Learn more about gardening.

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