State forest nursery will start taking tree and shrub orders soon

AMES — One week from today, the Iowa DNR’s State Forest Nursery in Ames will open its phone lines and website for taking seedling orders — both for this fall and next spring.

Nursery manager Pat Griffin says they’re preparing now to handle what will most certainly be a deluge of requests for the tiny trees and shrubs.

“Last year, we processed about 4,000 orders, give or take a little bit,” Griffin says. “We sell bare-root tree seedlings. We sell everything in bundles of 25. Our average order size is about 150 seedlings.” If you do the math, that’s about 600,000 seedlings that were sent out last season, though some years, it’s as many as a million.

The tree varieties include 23 species of native hardwoods, along with eight evergreen species and 15 smaller trees and shrubs. “We grow 45 different species of trees and shrubs, but not everything’s available in the fall,” Griffin says. “Some things we only put out in the spring, but during the fall, you can plant our hardwoods, and shrubs are available. Conifers aren’t available until spring.” Varieties include hickory, maple and walnut as well as red oak, river birch and black cherry, and dozens more.

While orders can be made starting September 1st, the seedlings won’t start shipping out until November 1st. Griffin says November is an ideal time to launch into landscaping. “We’ll keep the trees dormant so they aren’t trying to leaf out, so, it is good time to plant them,” Griffin says. “The roots will stay active underground so the tree will still put on new root growth during that time, but the tree is not growing. It’s a great time to get the trees in the ground. They don’t have to deal with the stress of the heat.”

Situated on 98 acres south of Highway 30 in Ames, the nursery was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and has run continuously ever since.

The nursery had to raise its seedling prices last season, but Griffin says it didn’t impact sales. “No, it did not and actually, we’ll have another 10-cent increase for this year and that’s just to keep up with the cost of inputs, the seed, the fertilizer, everything that goes into growing the seedlings,” Griffin says. “We just have to keep up with our rising costs.”

Prices range from 80-cents to $1.20 per seedling. They’re sold in three age classifications, and range in size from 10 to 30 inches, depending on the species. Sales run through May. Orders can be placed starting September 1st at 1-800-865-2477 or online at