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Moon Valley Nurseries: Showcasing Root Control Grow Bags to the World

Ever-changing Horizons

With 2,000 acres of growing area and 26 retail outlets in four states, Moon Valley Nurseries is the largest retail-integrated nursery in the United States. Currently, the company produces approximately 500,000 trees per year. Moon Valley is just the latest stop in Operations Manager, Russ Kelly’s, long and storied career After studying Ornamental Horticulture at Cal Poly in the early 1970’s, Russ began looking for innovative ways of growing trees in Southern California. That’s when he discovered a revolutionary method of tree planting.


A Growing Epiphany

In the early 1980’s, Russ stumbled across grow bags developed by High Caliper Growing. Known as Root Control Bags, Russ found them so advantageous he became the largest user of High Caliper grow bags in California. “I’ve experimented with numerous methods of growing in my 40-plus-year career. Bags are the absolute best,” he commented. Root Control Bags gave Russ the ability to harvest up to 500 trees per day. “Root Control Bags create major savings in the industry’s largest cost center — labor.”


To the Moon and Beyond

In 2013, Russ’s company was acquired by Moon Valley Nurseries, who retained him to build their business. Russ quickly realized that his new, vastly expanded customer base wasn’t ready for High Caliper Growing’s innovative grow bags. Despite their .01% mortality rate and harvest-ability in 108-degree temperatures, the market was not prepared for a paradigm shift. That got Russ thinking. Who exactly was forward-thinking enough to purchase bag-grown trees? That’s when he discovered a niche market — selling indoor trees to high-end properties and venues. That single insight led him to create relationships with some of the world’s most recognizable brands.


How Do You Like Them Apples?

Russ’s customers now include some of the highest-profile brands in the world. Apple is installing bag-grown trees throughout its $5-billion headquarters in Cupertino, California. Apple houses Russ’s trees in custom concrete pots that have leather seating installed on top of them. And Apple stores around the world are catching on, too. From San Francisco to Missouri to Dubai, Apple stores around the globe are buying trees grown in Root Control Bags. For Russ, selling grow bags into this highly specialized market is the culmination of a long and winding career. Reflecting on his experiences, he mused: “I started with a one-acre plot and became the largest user of Root Control Bags in California.”

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Advantages of Using Fabric Grow Bags

John Deere fabricates top of the line machinery in modern factories. And Ford cranks out behemoth trucks on high-speed assembly lines. So, what’s the deal with tree farms these days? While nurseries have seen their share of progress, there’s astonishing room for improved efficiency. Let’s take a look at the eye-popping advantages of in-ground fabric grow bags.

By eliminating tree spades and labor-intensive ball-and-burlap planting, in-ground Root Control Bags (RCBs) have become indispensable. They allow twice as many trees per acre, and they’re extremely easy to dig.

In-ground RCB tree bags are a great production tool. Whenever a tree is stepped up to the next arena — whether it’s above-ground or a container box — the vast root system that developed in the Root Control Bag facilitates an explosion of growth. Faster-growing trees can become salable a year or more faster than their ball-and-burlap counterparts. Now that’s an advantage you can measure.

The Need for Speed
With the proper equipment and a strong three-to-four-man crew, in-ground fabric grow bags can be planted or harvested in under 75 seconds. In just one day, 400-800 trees can be planted. And harvesting is just as rapid. Using a small fork attached to a three-point hitch, Jim Barborinas of Urban Forest Nursery in Mt. Vernon, Washington, can harvest a two-and-a-half to three-inch-caliper tree in just over a minute. What kind profitability could you achieve at that level of productivity?

Jim’s rows are just wide enough to get his equipment where he needs it, and he can dig a tree anywhere in the row without removing excess soil from his field. Using fabric grow bags, he’s able to preserve up to 80% or more of the root ball at harvest.

With speed and efficiency that explosive, it’s surprising that tree planting bags aren’t more widely used. With just a tractor, an augur, and in-ground tree bags, hundreds  of trees can be planted in a single day. They can be planted a year ahead of time, and they can be planted up with liners at any time.

Air Pruning
One misconception about fabric grow bags is that they completely retain the root ball. That’s not exactly the case. During the maturation process, it’s quite common for tree roots to penetrate through the tree planting bag and into the soil. This is true whether the bags are grown above-ground or in-ground.

The key, however, is air pruning. When tree roots approach the exterior of fabric grow bags, they branch into a fine, fibrous structure rather than circling the pot. This process, known as “air pruning,” creates a highly effective nutrient delivery system for the tree. Not only does it grow bigger trees faster, it allows tree farmers to retain approximately 80 percent of the root ball at harvest. By retaining such a high percentage of the mature tree’s roots, nursery operators can dramatically reduce mortality and encourage faster recovery times.

Labor Savings
Labor is the largest expense at any tree farm. With minimal labor availability, the single biggest challenge is hiring good help. Using the proper equipment and techniques, tree nurseries can save tens of thousands in labor costs per year — if not more. By eliminating tree spades and labor-intensive ball-and-burlap planting techniques, tree nurseries stand to save major cash.

Chipping away at shipping
Nursery operators negotiate a variety of shipping arrangement with clients. Some build the cost of shipping into sales contracts, while others negotiate per-tree or per-truck contracts. Regardless of contract structure, fabric grow bags reduce the overall cost of shipping while delivering a healthy tree.

Due to their smaller root ball size, in-ground Root Control Bags allow farmers to ship two to three times as many trees per truck. Instead of running multiple truck loads using standard ball-and-burlap, the job can be completed in one trip, delivering a healthy tree at half the cost. 

The bottom line
In-ground fabric tree bags offer major cost savings to tree farm operators. With faster planting and harvesting, reduced labor and shipping costs, lower mortality rates and improved soil preservation, operators are taking notice. As nurseries adopt more efficient techniques, fabric aeration containers may very well become the dominant method of cultivation.

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