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Media release: What goes into establishing a mature tree nursery

The following article was published in the Prolandscaper Africa September 2019 edition. Click on the image below to read the edition for free.

Have you ever thought about what it takes to start a nursery, perhaps to supply your own projects? Or, have you ever been intrigued to find out just what goes into establishing the sites we visit to source for up-coming projects? Production Manager, Raymond Loftie-Eaton of Trees SA gives us an insight into just how one would go about establishing a mature tree nursery, from the
ground up!


Before starting to develop a nursery, whether small or large, some careful thinking and planning needs to be done. There are so many factors influencing the outcome and should you make mistakes, it may be quite difficult to correct afterwards.

When starting the process, it is important to have a clear vision of what you would like the result to be. The objectives that you set must be formulated in such a way that all factors that may have an influence on the outcome, be covered or else one may experience some unexpected setbacks. Some of the factors for example to take into consideration are local and national legislation, funding, water availability, weather conditions, position and topography of the land, to name a few.

Acquiring land:

Once one has decided on the type of nursery that you want to develop, i.e. seedlings, large plants or trees, the size of the land required can be determined. One should also take into consideration to have enough land available for future expansion. Purchasing vs lease of land is also of importance. The risks of leasing land versus being the owner of that land, are quite high. Investing money and then running into problems with a landlord, can be quite problematic.

Position and topography of the land:

The position of a business is a very important factor.  It is preferred that one be as close as possible to a potential market. At the end of the day, the bottom line will determine whether the business survives or not. 

A nursery must be positioned in a place where proper drainage of excess water is possible. Most nurseries are wet under normal conditions, which becomes worse during the rainy season. A slight slope is preferred to allow water to run off. The wet and clay conditions can result in large additional costs to install drainage afterwards.

Availability of water:

In a drought prone country like ours, water is the most important commodity for the nurseryman. It is therefore important to ensure that there is more than one source of good quality water available. Should one source of water become unavailable, it is of vital importance to have a backup source such as a borehole, dam, fountain or external water supply.   The volume of water available will in the end determine the size of nursery. This is a limiting factor which needs some serious consideration in the planning phase.


Before any plants can be grown, the infrastructure needs to be constructed. It includes building roads and buildings, installing an irrigation- and fertigation system, electricity supply, drainage, sewerage system, drinking water, etc.

  1. Blocks

The product that will be grown, will determine the layout and size of the blocks. The smaller the plants, the smaller the blocks can be. Due to the size of plant bags, many more plants can be grown per square meter than is the case for large trees. Small plants can be packed closely together while large trees need to be spaced out quite widely to allow for crown width.


  1. Roads

The road dimensions and the level of compaction will be determined by the traffic and type of vehicles which will use it.  In small plant nurseries, very few large and heavy vehicles will use the roads, while in a large tree nursery for example, trucks with heavy loads are used daily. Turning space will also influence the width of the roads. Properly constructed and compacted roads is of utmost importance where trucks are often used. Where for example large interlinks will be used, wide turning circles need to be incorporated in the construction phase.  Maintaining these roads later, will be so much easier if the surfaces were well constructed and shaped in the first place.

3. Irrigation

Many kinds of irrigation are used in nurseries.  This may range from micro-, sprinkler- to drip-irrigation. The type of irrigation will influence the flow-rate in the nursery, which may in turn influence block-, pipe- and pump sizes.  An automated irrigation system is of great importance in any nursery today.  The level of sophistication will be determined by the amount of money the developer deems necessary for the type of nursery. This varies from radio- and computer-controlled systems with variable speed drives that regulates pump speed according to flow-rates to basic battery-operated controllers.  Special fertigation systems versus hand fertilizing is also a consideration.


The water source will influence the supply method.  In some cases, water may be pressurized in which case no pumps will be required. On the other hand, specialized pumps will be necessary if boreholes or pumping out of a dam or stream is used.  The quality of the water will also influence the level of filtration required.

4. Drainage

Due to wet conditions in nurseries, which often becomes much worse during excessive rain, it is very important to install proper drainage during the construction phase.  It is very difficult to achieve this once a nursery is in production.  It includes trenches, concealed drainage- and concrete pipes.  In order to maintain the roads, it is important to drain any excess water as quickly as possible off the roads and drain it away.

5. Buildings

Buildings may range from fixed- to moveable structures such as containers. Fixed structures may be buildings such as offices, houses, stores and pump-house. All of these may be subjected to municipal permission. Electricity and water supply to these structures is also of importance. Security issues need to be well considered because theft of equipment have escalated over the years and can cause havoc for the nurseryman when it happens unexpectedly.

6. Other infrastructure

Due to the location of the new nursery, aspects like the installation of a sewerage system and drinking water supply, had to be undertaken as well. And then lastly, consider giving your nursery a name and putting up a sign board as a final touch to your well-earned feat!


Trees SA has gone through the process of establishing a brand-new large tree nursery. After acquiring 25,0 hectares of previously farmed land with no infrastructure on it, planning and development started with great urgency. From when the first pegs were knocked into the ground, until the first trees arrived on the site, all took place in an astonishing short period of only 5 months. By this stage most of the roads were already constructed and a large portion of the irrigation installed. Planning and construction of the office and store buildings came into effect 2 years later and personnel moved in after the infrastructure was complete.

Because Trees SA was previously located on another site some 20 kilometers away, all the trees had to be moved across to the new nursery by truck. Due to the great number of trees, which varied in size between 250- and 4500 liters, this process took nearly five years to complete. 

Now just after two years on the new farm, clients can view thousands of mature trees on the same site in a matter of a few hours. A real moveable forest of trees is available at your leisure, thanks to the design and implementation of a well-planned nursery.


Come and visit us on our tree farm, located just outside Stellenbosch.



Visit one of our tree nurseries and choose from our wide range of trees. We’ll deliver. We’ll plant. You’ll transform your landscape almost overnight.

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