© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Laying down roots: why Ohio is getting back into the tree business

A large pile of seeds sits in a barely visible plastic bag.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Seeds waiting to be planted.

There’s an old greenhouse off a rural road in Zanesville, Ohio. It sat empty and unused for decades, but now it’s quite literally coming back to life.

Inside, Carla Jarvis stood at a soil-covered table beside a bucket of black walnuts and a bag of chestnut seeds.

“They’ve got a good sprout on them right now,” she said, holding one up to the light.

She poked a hole in the soil with her gloved hand and placed a seed inside.

“We just keep making them nice little homes,” she said.

Two people stand at waist high tables, with buckets, wheelbarrows and bags of soil.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio NewsroomThe Ohio NewsroomTThe Ohio Newsroomhe Ohio Newsroom
ODNR workers planted 700 seeds for tree saplings in one day.

When one plastic planter is full, another greenhouse worker sprayed it with water and set it on a table beside rows and rows of other freshly planted seeds.

The two-man team has planted about 700 on this day alone. And they have a lot more to go.

“When we get this whole building here filled up, we should have over 17,000 seeds in here,” said Nate Linscott, a forest manager with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry.

And the planting won’t stop there.

Outside, a crew is already clearing the way for a new greenhouse and hoop houses, which will house more than a million additional seedlings.

The Buckeye State Tree Nursery

Ohio lawmakers passed a bill establishing this tree-seedling nursery earlier this year, in order to meet the state’s growing demand for trees.

Decades ago, the state had several tree nurseries: one here in Zanesville, another in Marietta, and a third in Green Springs closer to Lake Erie.

But as industry shifted and paper needs dried up, they started to close. The state’s last tree nursery shut down in 2008.

The need for trees, however, didn’t entirely disappear.

“People from Ohio are still buying seedlings, but they're buying them from outside of Ohio,” said Stephen Rist, a district manager for the Division of Forestry and one of the people overseeing the new nursery.

A pair of hands covered in black plastic gloves holds a seed in front of a segmented grid of soil with individual seeds in each quadrant.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Workers at the nursery are busy planting thousands of seeds for future Ohio trees.

By his count, the state bought about 1.5 million seedlings from outside of the state last year.

For a long time, many of those seedlings came from West Virginia. But that state closed its last remaining nursery down in 2021.

“So there has not been the ability to buy bare root seedlings with this Ohio ecoregion,” Rist said. “And we don’t want to get stuff from Alabama.”

Trees from outside the region aren’t as suited to Ohio’s climate and growing seasons, Rist explained.

“So what we're trying to do is collect as much native seed as we can from here, and then it will be best for Ohio in this region.”

As seeds fall from trees all over the state, greenhouse workers and volunteers collect them.

Those are the seeds in the bags and buckets before Carla Jarvis. Several hundred hickory seeds are from Gov. Mike DeWine’s Greene County property.

“Once we get a whole tray [planted], we'll go back and recover them and water them,” she said. “And then we send them off to start growing.”

From seeds to trees

Eventually, when these sprouted seeds grow into tiny trees, they’ll go all over Ohio.

They’ll be planted on reclaimed mine lands in the southeast, as windbreakers between acres of farmland in the northwest, and along the state’s river banks to stabilize shores.

A small tree sapling in focus. A man is holding it, his face is out of frame. He wears a blue polo with a patch that reads "Division of Forestry ODNR."
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
The Buckeye State Tree Nursery is the result of a bill passed earlier this year, aimed at addressing the state's growing need for trees.

“If you got a big gnarly sycamore, the roots are coming out of it, but they're holding in the bank so that it doesn't keep pushing further,” Rist said, “because rivers like to meander.”

The state will contribute some seedlings to the Girl Scouts, as they endeavor to plant 250,000 trees by 2026.

And eventually, some will be available for public purchase too, Rist said.

No matter where they end up, someday these baby trees will spread their roots and reach to the Ohio sky.

For now, though, they’re waiting to be planted.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.