20 Aug 2021

Plant nurseries rush to save seedlings on eve of lockdown

1:36 pm on 20 August 2021

Lockdown has come at one of the worst possible times for nurseries, amid the late winter planting season for native plants and forestry.

17968702 - young plants growing in a very large plant nursery in the france

Photo: 123RF

Nurseries are allowed to carry out some maintenance but it is far from business as usual.

For Ngā Uri o Hau nursery in Mangawhai it was a scramble to save the trees on the eve of lockdown.

Six thousand native plants sat on pellets in a loading bay ready to go out to clients but they had no irrigation, and wouldn't be going anywhere at alert level 4.

So the plants had to be quickly returned to their growing sites in the nursery before lockdown set in.

Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust business development manager Sesha Perkinson (Ngāti Whatua, Te Uri o Hau, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine) told RNZ the production manager and staff worked into the night.

"They were there to around 10.30pm... The first time she's ever had to move stock in the dark. So [I am] glad the new tractor has lights, she was quite wrapped with that."

Staff at Ngā Uri o Hau nursery.

Staff at Ngā Uri o Hau nursery. Photo: Supplied/Ngā Uri o Hau

The nursery has one million plants in production each year and was on target to sell most of them to forest restoration, conservation and landscaping projects, but, only 180,000 have been sent out to date.

"People's projects have only literally started to ramp up in the last two weeks," Perkinson said.

The nursery now has government approval documents to allow staff back on site today to tend to plants and keep them healthy, so they can eventually get in the ground.

Hundreds of individuals and organisations have bought from the nursery since the business started five years agoo, but Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust chief executive Jonathan Rishworth said lockdowns put plant sales in jeopardy.

"It becomes really tough because people prefer to have the plants at a small size, they have a higher survival rate. And so it has a massive implication - possibly - on how well our nursery will do this season."

New Zealand Plant Producers has more than 300 members across the country, facing a similar dilemma.

Chief executive Matt Dolan said: "There are about 50 million native plants in nurseries right now and they need to be kept alive."

Most forestry activities can't operate at level 4, grinding many parts of the supply chain to a halt.

Forestry Industry Contractors Association chief executive Prue Younger told RNZ: "That's been a clear mandate from MPI [the Ministry for Primary Industries]."

"We totally understand that. From last time we knew we're not an essential service."

There are some forestry exceptions for the likes of wood processors producing paper and packaging.