Employees at Webster nursery work long hours tending to seedlings during this hard freeze

Watering DNR's Webster Forest seedlings
DNR’s Webster Forest seedlings are sprayed with water round-the-clock during deep freezes to create a light coatings of protective ice. Photo: DNR.

We wouldn’t advise homeowners to water their gardens during deep freezes, like the recent one hitting much of the Northwest (and the nation), but when you have millions of tree seedlings under your care, creating a few light layers of protective ice is just the practical — and effective — way to save this investment. Since early October, employees at DNR’s 44-acre Webster Forest Nursery have working around the clock during cold periods pumping thousands of gallons of water to protect the young trees (see photo). Many times during the past two months, DNR crews have worked in shifts around the clock tending to sprinkler systems and water lines to keep them from freezing, too. While this produces some eye-catching scenes, it also is a tremendous human effort.

Here’s how it works: By gently showering the tender seedlings with a mist of water and continuously reapplying, several layers of light ice are built up to protect seedlings from the hard freeze, which is unusual in the moderate western Washington climate of Tumwater.

Why so many seedlings? During winter and spring, DNR sends crews out to replant state trust lands where timber has been harvested to earn revenue for public schools and other trust beneficiaries. There are 2.1 million acres of state trust forests statewide, managed sustainably. It takes millions of seedlings to do this big job each year, with several species custom grown for the numerous growing zones across the state. The seedlings are also made available to small forest landowners to help them meet replanting requirements in the state’s Forest Practices Act.

Just part of the job at DNR.