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Each cup holds 25 plants, with 300 plants on a tray. The tiny plants live in the small cups until they are big enough for potting in plastic trays. The potting mix is a blend of perlite and peat soil.

Each cup holds 25 plants, with 300 plants on a tray. The tiny plants live in the small cups until they are big enough for potting in plastic trays. The potting mix is a blend of perlite and peat soil.

The family-owned Duarte Nursery boasts that it is the largest permanent crop nursery in the United States, yet their nursery stock never sees the ground until being planted by a grower.

The nursery, based in Modesto, California, began propagating grape stock about 20 years ago and was the first in the grape industry to market potted, bench-grafted grapevines, said Jeff Duarte, director of operations. From grapevines, they have diversified into tree fruit, nuts, citrus, berries, and poinsettias during the holidays. But instead of acres of fields for planting and cold storage rooms for holding, they have about 30 acres under greenhouses. 

A trained grafter chip buds cherry Colt rootstock. Grafting in the greenhouse is faster than in the field. Each grafter can chip bud about 300 plants per hour.

Jess Ortez, in charge of nursery operations, holds a full-grown peach tree ready for planting. It takes about three months to grow a rootstock big enough in diameter for chip budding. After chip budding, another 12 to 14 weeks are needed to grow a finished tree.

Prices for bench-grafted trees are based on quantity ordered, but range from $4.65 to $5.00 per tree (not including royalties) for stone fruit and nuts; cherries cost an additional $1.

California growers can successfully plant trees 12 months of the year, said Steve Scheuber, sales agent for Duarte. "We typically don’t have a problem getting trees to establish in July, but we work with growers who may have concerns. Basically, you’re taking the tree out of the pot and putting it in a larger soil mass, recreating the environment that the tree has in the pot," he said, adding that by watering immediately, growers have new growth within ten days to two weeks. The success rate is high, with usually less than a half percent loss.