Building Your Own Urban Tree Farm: All You Need to Know

tree farm

Depending on the planting area, you can start to grow a wide range of trees, as well, besides vegetables and other varieties of leafy greens. Do not pass the chance of building your own urban tree farm, especially if you benefit from a few acres. Also, becoming a tree farmer is not as hard as most people imagine. You just have to take several factors into account upon planting and then let nature follow its course.

urban tree farm

Growing an urban tree farm makes for an earth-friendly hobby and can even turn into a profitable family business if you play your cards right. Especially if you go for high-value trees. One important piece of advice is to shift from commodity trees to planting and caring for some “niche” trees that produce substantial income over short periods of time. Discover in this article the best choices and some useful tips when it comes to building your own urban tree farm.

pine sprout, urban tree farm

How to Plant an Urban Tree Farm: Step by Step

The obvious first step is to dig a hole and bury the roots in the ground, right? However, few people know that in order to keep the tree alive, let alone healthy, you need to pay attention to some details:

  • Dig the sides of the hole deeper than the center – this encourages drainage and root growth
  • Dig the hole not as deep as the soil in the plant container and twice as wide – for breathability purposes

Once the tree roots are in the ground:

  • Make sure that the top of the root ball is slightly above ground level
  • Do not, under any circumstance, put any dirt or mulch around the shrub. If you bury the crown, you will end up killing the tree.

If you live in an area where rain falls often and in large quantities, slightly elevate your tree. This practice will increase drainage away from the roots, especially if the soil has poor draining qualities. Moreover, use only 30% foreign soil or compost and mix it with 70% of the existing native soil. Pay close attention to the foreign-native soil ratio, as you can burn the roots if you only use compost for the backfill. Furthermore, the root ball will have a hard time adjusting to the surrounding poor soil, once it grows beyond the original hole.

Additional Planting Tips

A rookie mistake is to break the root ball upon planting the tree shrub. If the plant is truly root bound, you can use a strong stream of water to uncoil and loosen the roots. Or, score the sides by using either a sharp knife or a pair of shears.

Another useful piece of advice is to double stake the young tree shrubs, using round stakes with rubber straps. Make sure to place the tree ties just below the point where branching begins. It is best to use your own stakes, as most nursery poles that come with the tree are not strong enough to support it.

When it comes to watering, keep the root zone moist but not saturated. Be sure to pour the water directly on the root ball and do not plant anything in the hole that could prevent water from draining away. You can check if the shrub is getting too much or too little water by digging a small hole near the root ball. Pick up some soil and check the moisture levels. Do this before every watering to make sure you do not drown the roots and ultimately killing the plant. Hence, if water spouts out when you squeeze the soil sample, decrease water levels or add more if the soil appears too dry.

What to Look for When Planting an Urban Tree Farm

Planting commodity trees involve years of hard work and too little pay for all your efforts, especially if you want to build a business around your urban tree farm. Here are some types of trees that you would want to keep an eye out for:

  • Easy to grow – choose some shrubs that you can plant with low up-front, maintenance and harvest costs. In most cases, this means that you should go for species of native trees that naturally grow in your region.
  • Fast growing tree sprouts – as opposed to Douglas fir, for example, that takes roughly 50 years to reach maturity and grow to timber harvest size, go for Christmas trees instead. This is a stand of the same species that is ready for harvest in just seven to eight years and brings you ten times more profit per acre.
  • High-value products – some types of trees can produce an abundance of common everyday items that most big corporate tree farmers overlook. Hence, small urban tree farm owners grow some types of plants that give out decorative wood items, craft fibers, ornaments, or live plants. Hence, an urban tree farm will bring a substantial income to those who have the proper market knowledge and time to plant, grow, maintain and ultimately harvest these trees.

Building an Urban Tree Farm for Profit

Like we mentioned before, there are a lot of trees that can bring in some substantial profit, as long as you know what to make of your urban tree farm.

  • Craft fiber – is a type of wood that basket weavers and other fiber artists use as raw material for their works. For example, a small tree can produce as much as $500 worth of product from splints made from delaminated layers of the tree log. Willow shoots and catkins, in particular, are in high demand from floral wholesalers and florists each year. Also, some crafters use the rods to weave baskets and other fiber arts and may come knocking at your door, as well.
  • Ornamentals – these are trees that grow back right after cutting and extremely popular with floral designers. Some notable representatives are forsythia, corkscrew willow, and lilac. Since they are all perennial, once you set them in place, they require close to no maintenance.
  • Fruits and nuts – walnut trees, for example, produce nuts while growing to harvesting timber size. Ginseng makes for another high-value crop and you can easily grow these roots under a canopy of trees. In recent years, ginseng has been estimated to sell for as high as $300 per pound of mature roots.
  • Decorative wood – colored wood, burls and figured wood are just some three types of decorative woods that are always in demand for musical instruments, cabinetry, arts and crafts, and furniture making. Even better, these have no expiration date and if something, once you harvest a log you can keep it in your shed for years on end. Chances are the value will only increase with each year that passes. Timber experts value an acre of big leaf maple trained to produce figure wood at roughly $500,000 once the logs reach maturity.

Best Top 5 Tree Choices for an Urban Tree Farm

You can sell high-value trees at retail prices to landscapers, homeowners, and hobbyists that use the wood or tree shoots for various crafts. Also, there is always an option to plant some types of trees for their fruits and nuts, as well. Here are the best choices of trees which are also easy to grow and will bring in some substantial income, too.

  • Heritage fruit trees – Esopus Spitzenberg and Calville Blanc d’Hiver are two famous apple varieties that farmers grew along the ages. Other popular choices include Blue Permain, Winter Banana, Winesap, and Baldwin. You can grow these for fruit as well as for homeowners with small yards looking for dwarf trees all the same.
  • Black walnut – experienced growers call it a “legacy tree”. Even though it takes up to 30 years before it reaches full maturity, generations to come can sell one log for up to $5000 each.
  • Bonsai trees – the thing that makes growing bonsai trees great, especially for the city dwellers, is that you don’t need to benefit from a planting space, at all. You can plant and grow them in your house and sell them for hundreds of dollars to serious bonsai collectors.
  • Christmas trees – a freshly-cut tree can sell for about $42 dollars. Even though it may not seem too much, keep in mind that an acre can hold about 1,800 trees at a time.
  • Flowering dogwood – is one ever landscaper’s list. This provides both lovely spring blooms as well as colorful fall foliage. The most popular is the Kousa dogwood which can produce a crop of sweet berries, as well.

Benefits of Urban Tree Farm

From the Hanging Gardens of Ancient Babylon to the central parks of today’s most populated American cities, trees and agriculture have always found their way into the urban environment. Although the concept of the urban tree farm is still fairly new to our culture, it is a close descendant of urban forestry.

Urban forestry was first established in Toronto in 1965, to create more awareness and funding for the management of all areas affected by urban populations. A few of these areas include city parks, greenbelts, and watersheds. Similarly to urban forestry, the urban tree farm offers a multitude of benefits to cities and the surrounding areas that could lead to a healthier natural environment, a stronger local economy, and more sustainable use of energy resources.

6 Ways Cities Can Benefits from Urban Tree Farms

If you could choose to look outside your window and see a run-down building in a state of collapse, or a green acre, abundant with a variety of trees, plants, and wildlife, which would you prefer?

Trees bring more beauty to the landscape.

In cities that are full of vacant lots, trees can be planted to provide a more natural atmosphere, adding beautiful colors, shapes, and textures to balance the harshness of brick, metal, and cement.

It has been proven in multiple studies that the sight of trees and plants creates a sense of well-being, lowering the level of stress and promoting relaxation. A beautiful city means a healthier, happier you. The beauty of trees also promotes a better local economy, but we will get into that a bit later.

urban tree farm

Trees provide urban areas with cleaner, healthier air.

Urban areas have higher concentrations of CO2 and other dangerous pollutants. Many of these pollutants in the air are greenhouse gasses that come from the burning of fossil fuels and automobile exhaust, landfills, and even household appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators.

Luckily for us, trees naturally filter the air through a process called photosynthesis. As the leaves absorb CO2 from the air, the tree uses the carbon, along with sunlight stored in the chlorophyll and water absorbed through the roots, to produce glucose, a food energy. The remaining oxygen is then released into the air.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and releases four tons of oxygen. This supplies enough oxygen for 18 people annually.

Not only is the air more breathable, but trees also affect the temperature in urban areas. The shade that the trees provide produces a cooling effect in the surrounding land. A large tree farm in an urban area can positively impact the climate with cooler temperatures for nearby homes and businesses. This can result in less energy being used to power air conditioning in the summer months, which helps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the air.

Trees keep our soil and water cleaner and healthier.

Planting a tree farm in an urban area that has a lot of problems with stormwater can help reduce the amount of runoff by increasing soil infiltration. As the organic matter that falls from trees decomposes, it creates a softer soil. The ground, along with the roots of the tree, acts like a sponge, absorbing the excess water and harmful pollutants that would otherwise flow into the surrounding streams and rivers.

Large, healthy trees also intercept much of the rainfall through the leaves, branches, and trunk before it even reaches the ground. An area prone to flooding and erosion may see improved conditions over time with the addition of trees.

A tree farm can also be used on plots of urban land to remove harmful chemicals from the soil. Through a process called phytoremediation, trees can absorb trace amounts of metals, fuels, and other contaminants through their roots, transforming the material into nutrients. This is an excellent way to naturally clean up the land after an old building has been leveled.

urban tree farm

Trees provide a local, organic food source.

Imagine walking down the street, and having the ability to pick fresh apples from the orchard, just a block away.

If your city starts an urban tree farm, you won’t have to go far at all for fresh produce. The food that is grown from the trees could go to the local farmer’s market, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organization for distribution in crop shares, or even to a food program that provides meals for homeless shelters or school children.

The availability of more local food will also help to keep more money in the community, rather than putting it in the hands of corporations.

urban tree farm

Trees can positively impact the local economy.

Going back to the idea of a beautiful landscape, an urban area that is alive and thriving with lush patches of green is much more attractive to the tourist, the future homeowner, or a business owner than a barren wasteland of concrete and pavement.

Being closer to nature is one of the reasons why people travel away from urban areas. If we bring nature to the cities by starting urban tree farms, more people will be likely to stay and raise their families there. A large enough tree farm has the potential to become a nice public park, complete with playgrounds and picnic areas for family use and trails for hikers and bicyclists. This would, in turn, attract more tourists and bring in more business for shops and restaurants in the surrounding area.

An urban tree farm may also help residents climb out of poverty by providing more jobs. The city will need people to help with the upkeep of these green spaces, performing tasks such as tree-trimming and food harvesting.

Tree farms provide an enriching educational experience for youth.

The Urban Tree Connection, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, provides a unique learning experience for West Philadelphia’s youth. The organization transforms vacant land into gardens and plots of farmland. They run an educational program for school-age children that teaches them how to become strong leaders and foster a sense of community cohesion as they learn about agriculture and green living.

It is important for urban communities to have programs like this for their children, because not only are the children learning valuable life skills, but they will also be less likely to become involved with criminal activities throughout their adolescence. Organizations like the Urban Tree Connection also provide adults with educational programs, promoting a healthier neighborhood.

We have the power to turn areas of urban decay into little slices of paradise. One way to accomplish this is by starting more urban tree farms in our communities.


Apart from harvesting vegetables and other greens as part of your organic diet, you can start growing your own urban tree farm as well. Take it up as a hobby, at first, and then transform it into a booming family business and get everyone involved! Even if you do not benefit from a large planting area, there are still many varieties you can grow in a limited space or even indoors.

Moreover, an urban tree farm fends for itself and is a valuable and renewable resource that you can benefit from for a long time to come. In some cases, even your grandchildren will someday be able to collect the “fruits” of your labor. Also, growing an urban tree farm for profit can only provide your household with some substantial income, which never hurt anybody. If you want more information on urban farming, we have you covered.

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