Inside Tucson Business

With new land acquired off of Old Nogales Highway, south of West Lumber Road, Civano Nursery plans to increase production and become one of the largest tree nurseries in the state.

Since last August, Civano Nursery, which is headquartered at 5301 S. Houghton Road, has leased 71 acres from Cabot Sedgwick, a cattle rancher who splits his time between Tucson and his Nogales ranch.

According to Les Shipley, owner of Civano Nursery, the 89-year-old Sedgwick had a fear about the land being bought by a developer and becoming another "wildcat" development (land divided in a way that makes it exempt from basic building requirements). Sedgwick was a longtime director of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior.

Shipley will operate the new wholesale enterprise as Civano Nursery Sahuarita Farm, which planted its first tree last Tuesday.

Divided in half, 35 acres on the south half will be used to grow trees, producing about 53,000 trees annually starting next season. By September, 13,200 15-gallon nursery trees will be available for sale.

Once the nursery is completely up and running, Shipley anticipates having about a half million plants on hand at the nursery, most of which will be native, drought-resistant varieties.

During the past six months, plans were developed and 13,200 pots for the trees were placed in the soil on six of the 35 acres for what Shipley referred to as "pot-in-pot" or "socket" planting. By placing potted trees in already existing pots, you give the tree a greater chance to survive while conserving resources, he said.

"It saves about one-third the water because (the plant root) is not subject to the intense heat from the sun," Shipley said. He added that when a tree is in a black pot not in the ground, the temperature on the black plastic can reach about 180 degrees. "But because the pot dropped in the ground, the soil acts as an insulator. It keeps the soil in the (second) pot much cooler, and that's what it's all about." Once the temperature gets about 90 degrees, the plant shuts down and ceases to grow, he explained.

Shipley said he couldn't be more pleased with the parcel he is leasing, with an option to buy.

He said the soil is among the best in Pima County. "It holds water very well. You have nine feet of top soil. Good drainage, it's completely flat and level … 70 acres of flat, deep soil is rare to find."

Another feature of the Civano Nursery Sahuarita Farm will be greenhouses with retractable roofs and walls that will be operational in the fall on nine acres on the north half of the acreage.

"The structure will have a roof and perimeter side-walls that can be incrementally opened and closed to control light levels, temperature and humidity," Shipley said. "On a typical early summer day, the roof would be about 90 percent closed."

The greenhouses and their sophisticated monitoring are designed to substitute the desert climate with a climate more akin to California by lowering the temperature and increasing the humidity, thereby increasing the growing time by a few months and creating an earlier blooming time (roses, for example, could bloom three to four weeks earlier than usual).

The capital investment, which included such initial things as well and water pump renovation and installation of underground irrigation pipes, will be approximately $3 million by the completion of the project in about 2