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How Shrubs are Harvested

Landscape contractor Jenn Nawada visits a fourth-generation nursery to learn how shrubs are planted, how they grow, and how they end up at a garden center near you.

Landscape contractor Jenn Nawada visits Bruce Vanicek at Rhode Island Nurseries, a 4th generation family-owned nursery, to show how shrubs are planted and grown. The nursery was started by Bruce’s grandmother in 1895 and specializes in growing yews, an adaptable and durable evergreen that’s popular for hedges and borders. Bruce takes Jenn on a farm tour, from the greenhouses where cuttings are propagated to the final check-planted stage, where the plants are harvested, balled and burlapped, and shipped to your local nursery.

Where do your plants come from?

Flowers, shrubs, and trees can come from down the street, from across the world, and everywhere in between. But like most things, there are benefits from buying local.

Jenn meets with Bruce Vanicek of Rhode Island Nurseries. The nursery is spread out across 325 acres on an island in the middle of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. The island provides an ideal growing climate for holly, boxwoods, arborvitae, viburnum, and the nursery’s specialty—yews.

Bruce’s grandfather invented a species of yew called the densiformis. In general, yews are green all year, grow almost anywhere, and live up to thirty years.

Yew propagation

Yew cuttings are planted for six months in the greenhouse and then moved to outside garden beds. Jenn removes a yew to examine the roots before Bruce shows her the outside beds. Here the greenhouse-rooted cuttings are planted by a machine pulled by a tractor.

After planting, the beds are covered by an inch of mulch. The beds are then weeded and pruned constantly. Bruce shows Jenn how to prune a yew. These yews remain in the beds for two years before being moved again.

Yew liner phase

Bruce explains that the yews are planted in lines, giving each shrub ample room to grow and mature. The ‘yew liner phase’ lasts for about four years—until they are six years old.

Yew grown-up (or check) phase

Yews are planted in a checker pattern for four more years in the final growing phase. They are ready for sale once they have matured for about ten years.

Yew balled and burlapped

The plant’s root ball is dug up, burlapped, and secured with ties. From there, they are ready to be transplanted to your garden! Yews are easy to maintain and only need to be trimmed once a year. Bruce warns not to over-trim them.


Jenn toured Rhode Island Nurseries in Middletown, RI. The nursery specializes in yews, hollies, and a handful of other evergreen shrubs. They primarily operate as a distribution hub to other New England nurseries rather than sell their plants individually to homeowners.