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Landscape tree prices heading toward new highs

Containers waiting to be planted with baby trees at Cherry Lake Tree Farm
Containers waiting to be planted with baby trees at Cherry Lake Tree Farm (Teresa Burney)

In the depths of the recession, when almost nobody needed new trees because home construction and commercial construction had all but stalled, Cherry Lake Tree Farm in Groveland planted them anyway.

Today the family-owned business is reaping the benefits. As development has ramped up in Central Florida neighborhoods, commercial corridors, the theme parks, and, soon, the I-4 Ultimate re-construction, so has the demand for landscaping trees and, predictably, the price.

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The 1,100-acre Cherry Lake Tree Farm in Groveland has nearly a million trees growing, 450,000 planted on Lake County's rolling hills, and another half-million baby trees growing in its nursery greenhouses, awaiting new more permanent homes. And even that might not be enough to meet all the demand because many nurseries did not plant during the downturn.

"If you didn't plant in 2010, you can't sell it in 2015," said Chloe Gentry, Cherry Lake Tree Farm's director of marketing.

Cherry Lake Tree Farm had capital to invest in the downturn because it had diversified into citrus, which was performing well then. Now, with citrus greening and other ailments, the landscape tree business is doing better.

Not only is Cherry Lake Tree Farm benefiting from its investment in the downturn, so is its installation arm,  LegacyScapes, which has 10 recently completed projects, 16 under construction, and six more under contract, according to its website.

LegacyScapes has been working at Disney Springs for two years and a number of large live oaks are growing in a grove on its hill are awaiting eventual installation there.  It is also landscaping Florida Hospital's new campuses as well as ORMC's improvements.

"The market is heating up," said Timothee Sallin, LegacyScapes' president and Chloe Gentry's brother. "Even for the largest tree farm in the Southeast it's difficult to get trees," he said.

Cherry Lake Tree Farm produces a landscape tree market outlook that predicts there will be a shortage of landscape trees until 2018. As a result, prices have already gone up and are likely to continue to rise to record levels, it says.

The price of nursery grown landscape trees peaked in 2007 at $93.08 for a tree in a 30-gallon container, a standard tree used for landscaping, Cherry Lake's report says.  Then it fell 49 percent to $47.19 in 2011, and is on track to rise to record highs over $100 in the next year to 18 months for a 30-gallon tree. Currently an average 30-gallon container tree from Cherry Lake is $95, with live oaks fetching more because they are in the most demand and are slow growing, Sallin said.

The Michel and Veronique Sallin family moved from France 30 years ago with three small children and bought a 35-acre citrus grove in Lake County. After the trees were killed to the ground during the 80s freezes, the family decided to plant freeze-hardy landscape trees instead, starting their investment by planting seeds from their magnolia tree.

"They started on a shoestring," said Sallin, who was a young child at the time with his two sisters. The parents are ceding more of the business to the three siblings, who all seem to have the same love of farming their parents brought with them from France.

"You have to have patience and optimism about the future to be a farmer," said Chloe. "We believe in Florida and the future of the state. We have a large land position.  People are going to want to live here."

tburney@growthspotter.com or 407-420 6261

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