Tribune-Courier General Manager
Tucked away down a dusty gravel road, just off a seldom-traveled path near the Marshall County Sheriff’s Ranch in Gilbertsville is a vast Kentucky resource few know is there. And while the workers at the John P. Rhody Tree Nursery don’t get many visitors, those who do find the 100-acre tree farm are often amazed at what’s been taking place at one of Marshall County’s best kept secrets since the 1950’s.
The tree farm is one of only two in the state operated by The Kentucky Division of Forestry for the purpose of planting on public and privately-owned land. The other is in Morgan County near West Liberty in eastern Kentucky.
Planted on the farm are 50 species of tree seedlings including conifers, flowering and fruit producers, nut producers and legumes. The seedlings include the popular flowering dogwood, five varieties of pines, over 20 species of oaks and the state tree, the yellow poplar. Chances are if you’ve ever received a free tree seedling on Arbor or Earth Day, it came from the John P. Rhody Nursery.
Darren Morris, program specialist with the forestry division, said most of the trees are sold to landowners and farmers for the purpose of improving wildlife habitat, wetland conservation and reforestation efforts. He said last week a contractor for a Kentucky landowner placed an order for 80,000 seedlings from the farm for soil conservation.
The Kentucky Division of Forestry estimates there are more than 1 million acres of land in the state that could benefit from tree planting.
These areas could not only be planted to produce future timber crops, but also be planted to improve wildlife habitat and protect the soil from erosion by wind or water. In urban areas, planting may be done to improve the environment by reducing the effects of heat, wind, dust and noise, providing privacy screens or just beautifying the urban landscape.
Joanna Davidson, nursery supervisor, said the farm currently has about a half million plantings. She said peak season is November through April during dormant growing season when the seedlings are lifted from the ground, inspected and packaged for shipping. Davidson and Morris are two of only four full-time employees who operate the farm. Inmates from the West Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia also help on the farm.
Davidson said the public may order the bare rooted and bagged tree seedlings September through April by accessing an order form at www.forestry.ky.gov. Orders are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. The minimum order is one tree for $5 or $6, depending on species. A cooler sale will be held at the nursery the second week of May for leftover supplies after all orders have been filled.