Batson’s trees add beauty to landscape

After growing up in the nursery business, Dan Batson earned two degrees in ornamental horticulture from Mississippi State University and started his career in Louisiana before returning home to make his living among the trees.

Batson of Perkinston, Miss., comes from a family steeped in horticulture. His contribution has been developing the GreenForest Nursery, where he grows ornamental trees, into a model for the industry.

Key Points

• Dan Batson is the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Mississippi winner.

• Batson comes from a family with a long line of nurserymen.

• GreenForest Nursery sets a model for the nursery industry.

For his success in the nursery business, Batson was named 2010 Mississippi winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

The Batson name goes deep and wide in horticulture. Batson’s grandfather had a nursery, his father managed greenhouses at Callaway Gardens, and his uncle was a horticulture professor at Mississippi State University.

Answering the call

So it was not surprising when Batson answered the call of the land that had been in family since the mid-1800s. He essentially went back to the woods in the early 1980s, in search of yaupon holly and wax myrtle trees to grow and sell to generate cash flow.

He discovered a yaupon holly variety that he named after his wife, Kathy Ann. The holly has become a widely used landscape plant in the South. Little Gem magnolia is another big seller, and he hopes a new upright yaupon, Scarlet’s Peak, will be the next big winner.

Batson’s entrance in the nursery business came at a good time, with the booming housing market. The economic downturn has affected his business, but he continues to sell directly to landscapers or re-wholesalers in the Southeast.

It’s on the environmental front that Batson sets the model for the industry. Rather than drill deep wells, he uses the land to capture surface water from a stream. Working closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, he sloped the land on his 140-acre operation to install water-holding areas to retain and recycle irrigation water. “NRCS is also helping us convert beds with overhead irrigation to drip systems,” Batson says. “This will help us cut our water use to 25% of what we used with overhead irrigation.”

The plants at his nursery, close to the Gulf Coast, sometimes face hurricane winds. By placing smaller pots into larger pots buried in the ground, Batson has been able to keep trees from blowing over. He’s also installed above-ground wire baskets to stabilize the pots, used posts and wires, and driven steel bars through containers and in the ground.

He plants small trees into 15-gallon or 30-gallon pots, instead of transplanting them several times into larger containers, like other nurseries do.

He worked with a Florida trailer manufacturer to develop low-deck trailers to make it easy for employees to lift and move large containers and trees more safely. He also uses slow-release fertilizer to minimize leaching. Batson is also working with researchers to develop biodegradable pots for trees.

Active in his community, he teaches Sunday school and serves on the local soil and water conservation district, the Stone County School District and the Bank of Wiggins board. He’s served on the board and as president of the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association, and has received awards for his work in the industry.

His wife handles accounting for the nursery. Their son, Brad, is a student at the University of Mississippi. Brad maintained the nursery’s website in high school.

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Growing ornamentals: Mississippi winner Dan Batson grows ornamental trees for landscape plants.

This article published in the October, 2010 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.