Woodburn`s nursery stock division is consistently rated as one of the top ornamental nurseries in the United States. Fifteen years ago the Fessler family foresaw the change in customer demand from field grown plant material, known as B&B for ball and burlap, to container grown product. Today Woodburn has 185 acres of pot-in-pot production and plans to add more. Today finished nursery stock is shipped throughout United States and Canada.
Located 35 minutes south of Portland in Woodburn, Ore., Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas is situated on 415 acres. The nursery consists of 4 million square feet of covered production facilities, 185 acres dedicated to pot-in-pot production, 110 acres for container production and 70 acres for field grown grafted conifers.
Woodburn has been at the forefront of pot-in-pot production. The technique involves placing a “socket” container in the ground. A second pot containing the plant and irrigation tubes is placed into the socket. Drain tile under the in-ground pots collects any unused water.
Tom Fessler manages Woodburn’s nursery operations. “Our goal is to be recognized as a top-quality producer, and that means growing and selling the highest quality plants possible.” That philosophy has driven rapid growth for the company.
“When one of our largest customers asked for rhododendrons in pots, we looked at how to implement pot-in-pot production,” says Fessler. “We realize the benefits of growing in the ground, including maintaining heat on cold nights, but now we can get those benefits without the digging costs of traditional in ground planting”.
Woodburn is also the country’s largest growers of Florist Quality azaleas with more than 65 acres of greenhouse space dedicated to azalea production. Their azaleas, sold in two- to eight- inch pots, along with 3 sizes of braided azalea trees and several topiary items such as hoops and hearts are shipped weekly across the United States and Canada.
Diversity is a hallmark of the family’s operations. More than four decades ago, Tom’s parents, Bob and Jean Fessler, began raising berries and mink. In 1967, they shifted their focus to growing azaleas and other flowering plants, such as geraniums and poinsettias.
By the mid 1970’s, the Fessler family established itself as a leader by producing dormant azaleas. Loaded with tightly closed buds, the plants could be shipped longer distances, arriving at their destinations ready to explode into color. In 1981, Woodburn expanded into nursery stock.
Most work at the nursery is done by hand, so much of the company’s success depends on the 200 employees who provide day-to-day labor, says Fessler. The long-term relationship between workers and Woodburn is unique in such a labor-intensive industry. Several employees have been with the company for more than 20 years.
We’ve really surrounded ourselves with capable, talented people,” says Fessler. “We encourage them to think beyond what they do to how we can make the operation better.”