NVK Nurseries is one of Canada’s largest wholesale nurseries serving customers throughout Canada and several Northeastern U.S. states. We operate in the West Flamborough area of Southern Ontario on over 1000 acres and employ more than 200 employees. An additional 250 acres are under contract production in the local area. We offer more than 4,000 varieties of high-quality trees, shrubs, perennials and, green-roof plants, relying on more than 100 specialty nurseries from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe to grow specific stock to round out our own inventory. We stand behind the quality of our plants and ensure each plant is healthy and true to its name.
In order to ensure we stay true to our promise, we have developed an innovative Plant Health Team to provide in-house support for our greenhouse, container and field growers. The team is focused on conducting research and providing guidance on pest and disease challenges, as well as soil, water, weed and organic waste management. Ultimately the goal is to raise the bar in terms of sustainability, production efficiency and product quality. Whether you’re a fellow grower, researcher, arborist, landscaper or urban forester, feel free to reach out to us and we’d be happy to discuss what we’ve learned and implemented so far!
As a company, one of our main goals is to continually strive to improve our production practices and enhance overall plant quality. This requires taking a closer look at our current methods and assessing opportunities for change. Some areas the Plant Health Team are currently investigating include; the state of our field soils and how we can work to improve soil health throughout our acreage; investing in more biological controls to manage pest and disease issues in an effort to reduce pesticide usage; and focusing on tree root structure and quality.
This has led to some exciting projects we have been working on over the last couple of years that we are thrilled to share with you. As of 2019, the nursery has implemented the use of cover crops in over 1000 acres of our tree field production, effectively reducing erosion, improving weed control while simultaneously improving the health and biological activity of our soils. With all of these additional benefits, the issue of cover crop maintenance became more pressing. The need for increased labour and specialized equipment provided an opportunity to think outside the box, or paddock, if you will. Cue: working animals! In late May of 2022 we brought in a flock of sheep to begin work in our tree field production, maintaining our cover crops and eliminating the need for mowing, while also giving back to our soils with their by-products. We experienced some trial and error as we observed their behaviours and noted which tree species they enjoyed snacking on as a palette cleanser. We are looking forward to continuing our work with our four-legged colleagues next spring and expanding our knowledge. Additionally, we have tested the soils in the tree block where they spent the spring and summer, for nutrients, organic matter and compaction levels.
Pictured: Sheep flock working through the cover crops in field tree production
In our efforts to reduce the use of chemical pesticide applications and minimize their adverse environmental impact, we have also been putting other creatures to work for us. Specifically, biological control agents. These can be in the form of; parasitic wasps, who seek out and lay their eggs in the host of a plant pest; predatory mites who battle the almost microscopic insects that suck out the juices of leaves; the larvae of various beetles, midges and lacewings who help out with their voracious and diverse appetites; or a particular strain of fungus or bacteria working to target certain pests or disease. Over the past decade we have increased the use of these biological control agents within our greenhouse facilities, but have recently begun playing with the idea of their use in our outdoor production areas. Utilizing the good bugs to battle the bag bugs reduces the need for chemical intervention and invites natural predators to make themselves at home and help engage in pest management as well. It’s a win-win-win. For the environment, our coworkers and our customers.
As mentioned, a strong focus on root quality and formation is a vital piece of our mandate for improved plant quality, not only in the nursery, but in the landscape as well. In order to gain a better understanding of how our plant roots are formed and in what way our production practices influence their growth, we are taking a deeper dive into our soil chemistry and biology, and digging into how we grow our liner stock. This past year, we’ve experimented with the growing seeds of certain tap root tree species in gravel beds, forcing the seedling to produce a much more fibrous root system, leading to improved transplant success and enhanced growth. Future investigations will lead to root pruning trials, where we will be using our tree spade to cut roots while they remain in our fields, promoting more fibrous root formation within the root ball and allowing us to harvest healthy, thriving trees with minimal plant stress.
As with any effort to grow and adapt, there will always be challenges, successes, failures and learning opportunities. We at NVK are committed and inspired to push forward with our industry partners, work together with our customers, and continue to strive for excellence in plant quality while we look forward to a green tomorrow, starting today!