Conservation group jumps into spring with tree sale

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 15, 2016


OAKLAND COUNTY — The green thumbs of Oakland County can hardly wait to get down and dirty out in their yards.

With that in mind, the Oakland Conservation District has some exciting plans for nature lovers who want to make the most of their own green space.

It all starts with the OCD’s annual tree sale, where customers can order bare-root trees and shrubs at a lower cost than most big-box nurseries.

According to Pat Costello, chair of the OCD’s board of directors, the tree sale is a major fundraiser for the volunteer group, which works with county officials as a local entity of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to promote sound soil and water practices.

“We’re a self-sufficient, totally volunteer-run (organization) helping to bring some education to land and property owners in Oakland County to help them better understand land use practices,” he explained. “Each year, our spring tree sale generates some income to help us to do some of these education programs.”

All the trees available to be ordered come from Michigan nurseries, and many of the tree varieties are Michigan native plants. There are also a few species native to other spaces included for good measure, like the popular blue spruce.

Costello’s especially proud that all the items are bare root, which he said makes a big difference for planters.

“There’s always the discussion of which is better, bare root or potted,” he said. “I’m a strong proponent of bare root. They take hold faster and quicker and settle into the ground, whereas potted is in that pot and confined to that pot, and it will take them a longer period of time to reach out and get the nutrients it needs to get growing.”

Orders for plants are due by Friday, April 8, and can be picked up at the Waterford Oaks greenhouse between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 30. Last year, the fundraiser was successful in collecting the funds the OCD needed to get through 2015, while giving residents the chance to easily find the plants they need to create the yard of their dreams.

“This is a great (opportunity) if you want to do a larger landscape, or create a wind barrier or privacy barrier on your property over time,” Costello said. “Maybe you want color, or a backyard that will attract wildlife and birds. And I think more people are starting to like the idea of things that have been grown here in Michigan. More folks are becoming aware of the issues we have today with conservation and invasive species coming in. Those (people) are more comfortable knowing they’re not going to be getting something that’s going to become a problem and take over their landscape and get out of control.”

But to create such a landscape takes a bit of nature savvy. Jeremy Brown, a director of the OCD, said there’s been a demand for some time now for the district to expand its educational programming on how to create a backyard habitat.

So this year they’ll launch a certification course with all the information homeowners need to transform their backyards into lush, invasive-plant-free spaces that will attract wildlife and pollinators like bees, insects, birds and bats.

“Interest is growing in the certification program,” Brown said. “Residential landscaping isn’t just a green lawn and a few bushes anymore. People want more plants and flowers that will come back each year. Also, having a garden that produces flowers throughout the year is desirable. If you can have plants that are native to the area while attracting and supporting wildlife, I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The program is split into six sessions, each held 7-8 p.m. Wednesdays at the Waterford Oaks Activity Center. Topics to be covered include soil identification, pollinator habitats, wildlife habitats, managing invasive species and habitat landscape planning. It’s all topped off with a certification and inspection of how participants displayed their new skills in their backyards.

“The certification isn’t just a class. We want to go out and take a look and present them with some signage that indicates it’s a certified backyard habitat,” said Costello. “We want to make it something to truly brag about.”

Backyard habitat sessions begin April 6. For more information about that program or the tree sale, visit or call  (248) 922-7822.

Look for Oakland Conservation District the second Saturday of every month at the Oakland County Market in Waterford.