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Tree revival gets down to business Nurseries responding to post-storm demand

The tree business is growing.

As homeowners prepare to replace maples, locusts, crab apples and other trees destroyed in October's devastating storm, area garden centers are stocking up on shade trees, boosting varieties of ornamentals and making larger-than-usual trees available to replace mature ones irreparably harmed in the storm.

They also are preparing to help homeowners needing restoration of lawns trampled by tree-removal and utility company trucks, or making the switch to landscaping that can withstand more sunlight without shade from trees.

The good news for homeowners is that prices are expected to be essentially the same as last year's.

"The [number of] phone calls we're getting is pretty overwhelming. People want to know how to prune their trees, how to fix their landscape," said Jeff Dinehart, general manager of Adams Nurseries in the Town of Tonawanda.

Adams' 48 acres of nursery stock in Lancaster incurred considerable damage in the storm, so the nursery bought trees from out of state.

Also, the company has for the first time produced its own premium blends of grass seed geared to this region.

Dinehart said requests for home service visits are constant.

"We are actually getting close to being booked for the year. It doesn't usually happen this early," he said.

Other nurseries also are planning for sales to bloom as planting season gets under way.

"We are probably ordering 50 percent more trees this year," said Gary Sokolowski, third-generation owner of Menne Nursery in Amherst. That is likely the largest single-year tree increase in the company's 68-year history, he said.

"Probably the biggest changes we're having this year is we're getting larger-size calibration trees in, because we know people want big trees to replace what they had," Sokolowski said, noting an unusually high number of special orders.

But Sokolowski said the storm also damaged his nursery.

"There is no silver lining to that storm for us. We got clobbered in October and November," Sokolowski said. "We totally lost all of our sales for two months. No one was coming in here and buying mums or bulbs, and they were spending their money removing trees."

Still, he said, prices should hold steady with last year's.

"If it was $100 last year for a tree, it will be $105 this year, with normal inflation," Sokolowski said.

Peter Schmit, garden center manager of Elbers Landscape Service, also said his business was holding the line on what it will charge customers. "I'm not going to use this as an opportunity to raise our prices," he said.

While typical purchases of "containerized" trees that are about 6 feet tall and have a calibration of 1 1/2 to 2 inches won't seem different at the cash register, the cost of larger replacement trees is substantial.

A 20- to 25-foot-tall tree costs $700 to $950, said Carolyn Stanko, marketing manager at Adams Nurseries. Professional installation requiring specialized equipment, along with transport charges that include rising fuel costs, can be more expensive than the tree itself, she said.

There is also some uncertainty about how much money Western New Yorkers will have to spend on trees this year.

"There is not a lot of disposable income in this area, where people can just replace a tree that was [close to] the size they had before," Dinehart said.

That's particularly the case when factoring in the costs of tree removal, said Michael Petroci, part owner of Bison Nursery in Clarence Center.

"I think the cost of taking out the [damaged] tree, and the cost of having [a new one] planted, is limiting some people whose income will not [allow] them to do it," Petroci said.

There's also an unexpected benefit for other homeowners, for whom the loss of shade trees has meant new landscaping possibilities that can take advantage of the sun.

"Some customers have said that with their shady trees gone, they are switching to sunny perennials," Schmit said.

Rebecca Doel, garden shop manager at the family-owned Lincoln Park Nursery in Amherst, said she has had customers who want to replace their shade trees with ornamental trees such as pears and Canadian select cherries.

As homeowners decide what to do about tree replacement, Sokolowski cautions to first exercise patience when in doubt about a tree's health.

"Prune your tree back, fertilize it, and keep your fingers crossed," he said. "It may surprise you and come back and be fine, especially if you have a little patience. It may take a year or two before it rejuvenates."

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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