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Ruppert Nurseries’ vision shows it can still see the forest for the trees

By CAROL KINSLEY
Staff Writer

LAYTONSVILLE, Md. (July 11, 2017) — Ruppert Nurseries is one of the premier large-caliper wholesale tree nurseries in the central and eastern United States.
It was incorporated in 1990, but its roots go deeper. Brothers Craig and Chris Ruppert were, at the time, owners of a landscape company when they decided to plant a few acres of nursery stock to help meet the needs of the landscape market.
The next year, they purchased a local nursery — the land, along with its planted inventory and equipment, which included tree spades.
Over the years, more land was purchased, including, in 1996, the land for Fall Creek Farm which has become the company’s primary nursery field.
The nursery now has more than 600 acres planted in more than 100,000 trees.
More than 180 varieties of shade, ornamental, flowering and evergreen trees are offered exclusively to wholesale customers, including contractors, landscapers and companies in the horticulture industry.
Craig is now company CEO; Chris has retired.
General Manager Kelly Lewis, a Certified Professional Horticulturist, oversees the day-to-day operations and long-term planning activities. He started with Ruppert Nurseries in 1994.
Nick Graves, also a CPH, started with the company in 2006.
He is the nursery maintenance manager, responsible for the hands-on care of the trees and their maintenance at the nursery and its satellite farms.
He oversees liner planting, pruning, irrigation, weed control and turf maintenance. His attention to detail has enabled Ruppert Nurseries to become one of the best growers in the nursery industry.
Graves also helped developed the nursery’s specialized pruning program which utilizes European methods to create espalier, archway, pleached trees, pollarded and rooftop specimens. In the latter instance, trees are shaped to create a ceiling effect. Dug separately they are put together in the landscape like a puzzle to create a “living room.”
With a staff of about 35 employees, including two other certified arborists, Ruppert Nurseries focuses on quality. Its trees grace college campuses, office and industrial parks and many residential areas.
Liners are planted in well-marked blocks, labeled with species, date and size when planted. A “holdback” pattern under the guidance of Ashley Miles, inventory manager, allows the nursery to grow a select number of trees to a larger size.
When a block of young trees reaches a given size, Miles will mark every other tree in each row as “available.” When an order is placed, she chooses the trees to be dug.
Holes are immediately filled with soil. At the next stage of growth, every other row of trees is made available. This holdback program gives the remaining trees plenty of room to develop.
Digging large trees is no problem. Ruppert Nurseries has tree spades ranging from 54-inch to 100-inch, which can handle trees of 2.5 to 12-inch caliper.
A team can dig 12 trees a day with a tree spade.
Larger trees are dug by hand, preferably after a period of up to two years during which the tree will be root pruned when dormant and receive special care.
After digging, a generous root ball is then boxed and the tree can be lifted by a crane onto a trailer. It travels horizontally, covered with a tarp. Some loaded trees just barely fit under a 13.5-foot overpass.
Ruppert’s spade division not only transports trees it has grown, but is available to relocate existing trees to a different spot on someone’s property, to accommodate new construction, for example.
Sales Representative Ronda Roemmelt noted, “Not many people have the skill and knowledge to be able to do that.”
Roemmelt handles sales in the Mid-Atlantic area where most of the nursery’s trees are shipped.
Large quantities of product also are being shipped to the Northeast and New England, where the market for large caliper trees has remained consistent even through the recession.
Material is shipped as far north as Maine and as far south as Atlanta, and to Texas and Oklahoma in the West.
As for many homeowners in Montgomery County, deer are a problem for the nursery. Ruppert Nurseries lies within the county’s 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, which was set aside in 1980 to be preserved as farmland.
Deer are plentiful. Some of the nursery is protected by 10-foot high fencing, with cattle grates at the openings.
Dogs patrol about 50 acres and have successfully reduced deer damage in those areas by about 90 percent.
By keeping the deer constantly on the move, dogs keep their browsing time in any one spot to a minimum, spreading impact over a larger area.