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May 4, 2018

Wholesale nursery growing rapidly near Calverton

With the bag method, we can plant more than 2,000 trees per acre. We can produce trees faster and with no runoff of fertilizer.
— Mike LaPorte
Owl Run Nursery
• What: Wholesale container nursery growing trees, bushes, grasses and perennials

• Owner: Mike and Anthea LaPorte

• Where: 10318 Bristersburg Road, Catlett

• Customers: Landscape companies, developers, garden centers and retail nurseries.

• Opened: 2013

• Acres: About 16

• Employees: 16

• Website: Click here.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Tight rows of maple, cherry, oak and cedar saplings stretch across nine acres near Calverton.

The compound of about 20,000 trees, along with thousands of shrubs and perennials right down the street, represents a big part of Owl Run Nursery, a wholesale plant growing business in Southern Fauquier.

With more than 30 years of landscaping experience, Michael LaPorte decided to start his own plant growing business in 2013 to supplement his Bristow-based landscape company, Commercial Scapes Inc.

“Back in 2010-11, plant material and shipping had gotten so expensive,” for his landscaping business, Mr. LaPorte, 52, explained. “We figured we would cut our costs and start growing.”

Mr. LaPorte sells his products at wholesale prices directly to landscaping businesses, developers and retail nurseries.

For example, Owl Run sells a 2-inch (caliper) tree for about $100, while it would cost $215 to $250 at a garden center, according to Mr. LaPorte.

“We are not only growing our business, but helping local landscapers be more competitive and profitable, too,” he said. “We’re filling a need.”

Focusing on native plants, Owl Run Nursery grows about 50 types of trees, 200 types of shrubs and 500 types of perennial plants.

Originally purchasing seven acres in Southern Fauquier for $70,000, Mr. LaPorte started with six greenhouses. He has since expanded to 55 greenhouses.

He and his wife Anthea hope to soon move from Gainesville to Catlett soon.

They chose the agriculturally-zoned land close to Route 28 because of proximity to their landscaping business.

“It’s a pretty central location. From a shipping standpoint we can get to Richmond, D.C., Fredericksburg,” Mr. LaPorte said.

“Land was more affordable out here,” Mrs. LaPorte added.

In 2015, they spent about $85,000 for nine acres across the street, where thousands of saplings grow.

“I love measuring the trees, watching them grow,” Mr. LaPorte said. “I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I got into the (landscaping) business.”

His passion for plants started at age 15, working at the Merrifield Garden Center near Falls Church. He started his own business at 23.

“I started throwing mulch bags in people’s trucks, and never knew I’d end up here,” Mr. LaPorte said.

He invested more than $1.5 million in start-up costs, including a drip irrigation system, grading, greenhouses, plants and equipment.

Mostly self-taught, Mr. LaPorte watched YouTube videos to learn better methods of growing trees and shrubs for his business.

Owl Run Nursery differs from its competition, according to Mr. LaPorte, because it grows trees in “root pouch” fabric containers instead of in the ground.

The in-ground method produces about 640 trees per acre, he said.

“With the bag method, we can plant more than 2,000 trees per acre,” Mr. LaPorte explained. “We can produce trees faster and with no runoff of fertilizer.”

Trees grow two to three years before they get sold. Bushes grow about four months and other plants about 10 to 12 months.

The nursery has about 300 customers, mostly small to mid-size landscaping businesses.

Recently, Owl Run supplied plants for the">Audi Field soccer stadium project in Washington, D.C.

Thomas Brennan, who runs a residential landscaping business in Prince William and Fauquier, buys primarily from Owl Run Nursery.

“It helps me as a commercial company with pricing,” Mr. Brennan said. “Otherwise, as a small company, we can’t compete with huge businesses around here.

“I’d rather be putting money into another local business than a big business like Merrifield,” he added. “They’re great. Their plants are healthy, strong. I think in the four years (as a customer), I don’t think I’ve had to replace anything.”

Lee Highway Nursery near Warrenton occasionally purchases plants from Owl Run.

“When I buy from them, it is often times a matter of convenience, because they are a local grower,” Lee Highway Operations and Procurement Manager Seana Ankers said. “Owl Run nursery is a rapidly growing, and they are trying to implement strategies to continue to improve their plant quality and availability.”

Mr. LaPorte also owns a topsoil company, M&J Organics in Bristow.

He and his wife hope to expand their business by purchasing 50 to 100 more acres for plant production in Fauquier.

Owl Run also has about 250 acres of inventory in North Carolina.

“We would like to be one of the leaders in the Mid-Atlantic region in growing,” Mr. LaPorte said.
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