Grower tailors tree business around housing trends
By MITCH LIES
NEWBERG, Ore. -- Taking 15 years to grow a conifer to 5 feet might not seem like the best business model for a nursery.
For Dave Leckey of Oregon Small Trees, however, it's a model for success.
"Most growers don't want to sit on a tree for 14 to 16 years," Leckey said. "But we're small enough, we can do it."
Leckey operates one of the few nurseries in the Northwest that specializes in small trees. Most of his trees are conifers.
He opened his nursery in 1996 and still has some of his original trees.
"I can do this because I own the land, so I don't have a land cost. And I don't have a bunch of labor. It's just me and my daughter, who works here two days a week," he said.
"You take land and labor out of the equation, and all of a sudden it doesn't cost that much to run a nursery like this," he said.
Leckey said he decided to specialize in small conifers after noticing that houses in Portland were getting bigger and lot sizes smaller.
"That was sort of the 'aha moment,'" he said.
The conifers he produces allow landscapers to use conifers in small settings. Landscapers are fond of conifers in part because they provide year-round color.
"People think of conifers as huge, big trees or shrubs. They need to learn that conifer means a lot more than that," Leckey said. "Now they have different colors and textures. Some grow up, some grow out. Some put on a lot of growth. Some are fairly sparse.
"Even if you have a small city lot, you can fit a tree like this in," he said.
Leckey, 62, ventured into the nursery industry after 25 years in wood products.
"I felt I needed to grow something that people don't see other places," he said when asked why he chose to specialize in small conifers.
"I love it when people come out and get excited because they haven't seen trees like this before," he said.
Leckey often will sell trees 5- and 6-feet tall for upwards of $200.
"You're buying time," Leckey said, when explaining the price. "In the long run, you're money ahead paying a little more and getting the right tree.
"Plus, if you come out here, you'll get a tree nobody else has.
"And if somebody wants one of these types of trees, there are not many places to go," Leckey said.