A garden nursery bed sometimes becomes a necessity, even in a small yard. This summer I did what all gardeners do. It was the end of the season—you know, when it’s really hot and steamy, and not a good time to be planting baby trees. A local store was clearing out all of their large nursery stock. They had 5 really nice fruit trees left; 3 apples and 2 pears. They were marked down to $11 dollars each. I had planned on planting a small orchard so, of course, I bought all 5.
Why Make a Nursery Bed?
In my case, a nursery bed was a necessity to get through the winter season. When I bought the marked down trees, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to put them. After much thought and planning, it was decided that we needed to cut down a couple of older mature trees that are in danger of falling. They will clear the space for the new orchard area.
Time is running short. We have the arborist scheduled to take out the big trees. It is, however, the end of October as I write this and it’s a bit late to get trees planted and the ground around them properly prepared in time. So, we’ll over-winter them in a nursery bed.
On occasion, I have ordered small, bare root trees. They come shipped in a dormant state and usually not at optimal planting time in my area. Temporarily planting them in a nursery bed can give them a good start and keep them protected until the proper planting time. (My favorite place to purchase inexpensive bare root trees is the National Arbor Day Foundation. I get no kickback from them, I just think they do great work and I’ve always gotten nice, affordable trees from them.)
What is a Nursery Bed?
A nursery bed is a spot where you temporarily plant young nursery stock to protect it until it either grows large enough to plant it permanently, its permanent spot is properly prepared, or it is the correct season for planting.
You can think of a nursery bed as kind of a staging area. Are you trying to grow a few trees from seed? Perhaps you’ve just divided a big clump of perennials or bulbs and you aren’t sure what to do with them all right now. Did you find a great sale on perennials at the end of the season and they need a little TLC? A nursery bed is a great plant hospital area.
What to Consider When Making a Nursery Bed
You need to choose a spot in a protected area. Your nursery bed should be close to your living quarters, or at least a spot you’ll walk by on a regular basis, so you will be sure to check on it often. It should be in an area that doesn’t get too much harsh wind or weather. There should be easy access to a water source. You don’t want to have to haul buckets of water over long distances.
Make sure the spot you’ve chosen has adequate sun exposure. Even though the spot is temporary, plants still need sunlight. If the spot is too sunny, you can erect an inexpensive shade cloth to keep tender plants from becoming sunburned.
I have lived in places too small to have a dedicated nursery bed. I have successfully overwintered bare root baby trees in a 5 gallon bucket with moist potting soil. Just be sure to place the bucket in a very protected area.
Settling Plants into the Nursery Bed
If your plants are already in pots, you can simply partially bury the pot. You want the top part to be left above ground, so that the plant is still planted at the right depth. Partially burying the pot accomplishes a couple of things.
- It keeps the pot from toppling over in a harsh wind, so that your young plant doesn’t get damaged.
- It helps to insulate the plant from drying winds and uneven freezing which can damage the root system.
- Your nursery pot will have drainage holes in it, so that excess water can still drain off and your plant will have access to ground moisture and nutrients.
The beauty of having a nursery bed is that you have the luxury of being able to take advantage of great end-of-season sales, plant swaps, or generous neighbors who give you starts from their plants. No more ‘freebie’ plants in the wrong place in your garden. No more tender perennials that languish before you have time to get them in the ground.