Local Massachusetts district’s fruit tree sale supports pollinators

Worcester County Conservation District (WCCD) sells a variety of fruit-bearing trees and other flowering plants to educate the public on the importance of having fruit-bearing trees in their landscaping.

This year, WCCD offers the Northern Spy Apple, which blooms in late spring, and the Reliance Peach, which is an August fruit-bearer.

Joe Smith, chairman of the WCCD Board and President of the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts, said they focus on pollinators throughout the sale.

“We educate people on the value of having flower and fruiting trees,” said Smith. “Not all of them attract bees, but we highlight which ones do. The more variety you have in your yard, the more habitat and food sources there are for the pollinators. It’s critical and the basis of the food chain.”

WCCD has been selling fruit trees for almost 20 years, basing their varieties on what the nurseries have and sometimes suggestions from customers. They typically sell out with customers purchasing multiple trees, some as many as a half dozen.

According to Smith, it takes a few years for the trees to establish their root systems enough to bear fruit, but in the meantime, customers continue to return for more, not just for the fruit, but also for the beauty.

“We’ve had a big push on rain gardens, pollinators and native plants, and we offer a lot of edibles,” Smith said. “I think there’s a strong desire to grow your own and use your land to your advantage. And I think it’s neat and interesting, and it’s educational for the kids.”

Fruit-bearing trees require a lot of sunlight, and soil plays a big role. For the past four years, WCCD has offered property owners a simple commercial soil test for purchase during the seedling sale and expects to expand those efforts this spring.

WCCD secured a $42,000 grant from the state Office of Environmental Affairs for district operations and to implement a soil health program in Worcester County. A portion of those funds will be used to purchase 50 prepaid soil test kits from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which will be offered to property owners for $25. The cost will include the kit as well as a visit from WCCD staff to assist in collection, preparation of the sample and sending it to the lab.

To learn more about the WCCD seedling sale, visit http://worcesterconservation.org/buy-seedlings.

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