Prairie economy keeps things growing at Creston Valley’s VP Nursery

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VP Nursery owner Andrew Stolz (right) and employee Trevor Marzke at work on the Wynndel tree farm.

VP Nursery owner Andrew Stolz (right) and employee Trevor Marzke at work on the Wynndel tree farm.

For at least one Creston Valley business, the potash, uranium, oil and gas industries on the Prairies have created a huge demand for product — with new subdivisions springing up around many Prairie cities, trees are a hot commodity.

“They’re growing like crazy,” said VP Nursery owner Andrew Stolz. “It’s a huge opportunity for Creston, which doesn’t have any of that, to tap into it.”

And with about 50 different kinds of trees grown on Stolz’s farms, one by Duck Lake and one on the flats, he has something to suit every need: Cities want trees to create a leafy canopy over boulevards and homeowners want a privacy barrier that doesn’t take up too much space.

“Even though there’s a broad expanse of prairie, people have small yards,” said Stolz. “They want trees that are columnar or dwarfing.”

Among the tree he grows are linden, ash, elm and apple, many of them Prairie-hardy varieties that thrive in Creston’s warmer climate — some, such as the flowering cherry, can grow nine feet in a year after they take root.

It took some trial and error in the early days to figure that out, though. In the case of the flowering cherry, Stolz picked fruit from the trees and grew seedlings, which didn’t work well, with each seedling growing into its own unique, and unsellable, shape; what is typically seen as a large tree is naturally a shrub. He wound up throwing out about 80 per cent of what he grew, but discovered that rooting softwood cuttings would produce trees identical to the parent.

“Genetic-wise, I know each of them will have a nice form,” Stolz said.

Of course, he also uses the tried and true technique of grafting, and he’s currently experimenting with an apple tree that has five kinds on it.

“I’ve always had a real fascination with nature,” he said. “It’s a business, but it’s environmental, and it’s such a good thing.”

The passion Stolz has for his profession is something he comes by honestly. His father, a geophysicist with a hobby farm, grew trees in the basement when Stolz was young.

“He always fancied a tree farm,” Stolz said.

When he was 17, they bought 10 acres in Wynndel, land that was mostly dedicated to growing spruce. He wasn’t too serious about the business for the first several years, but moved to Creston 18 years ago to work at the farm full-time.

“I slowly learned how to do it and slowly converted into deciduous trees,” said Stolz.

Beyond growing trees, the learning curve also involved operating a tree spade, loader and excavator.

“I was a city kid — I didn’t know how to drive an excavator,” he said.

But he figured it out, and that 10 acres eventually expanded to 30, now used mainly for propagation, and he later bought 100 acres on the flat, an area he uses mainly for growing bigger trees to a salable size.

While most customers only focus on a short growing season, any grower is quick to point out it’s pretty much a year-round job — pruning in the winter, and March through August is time for propagation. A lot of propagation: Stolz estimates about 20,000 trees have been started this year.

Once they’re sold, the trees wind up all over Canada and the U.S.

“There are trees from Creston growing in Ottawa, New Mexico and Alaska, and lots in between, too,” he said.

And that offers an added bonus when Stolz visits his hometown in Saskatchewan.

“It’s so cool to go into new subdivisions in Regina and see my trees,” he said. “It’s like I know them all as individuals.”