Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards holds its first fall sapling sale

Hundreds of trees—most of them leftovers from spring planting efforts by the Virginia Department of Forestry—will be available for sale at low prices by the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards at two upcoming city events. Photo: Robin Hanes Hundreds of trees—most of them leftovers from spring planting efforts by the Virginia Department of Forestry—will be available for sale at low prices by the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards at two upcoming city events. Photo: Robin Hanes

The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards have a message for you: Plant trees in the fall.

They also have everything you need to get that done.

The volunteer group, known as CATS, is launching its first-ever autumn tree sales, offering hundreds of hardwoods at rock-bottom prices at the October 12 City Market in the Water Street parking lot and at a city Halloween event at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion on October 26. Besides helping with CATS’ urban reforestation efforts, the sales offer a chance for the group’s volunteers to drive home the often-overlooked tip that young trees planted after the summer’s heat has dissipated have a much better chance of survival.

“Nurseries don’t push trees in the fall, because they don’t look good,” said CATS’ Robin Hanes, who is spearheading the sale events. The bulk of nursery saplings make their way into the ground in the spring, when their fresh green leaves appeal to winter-weary gardeners.

But the first summer in the ground can be harsh on tender trees. It’s a far better bet to let them establish roots through the fall, winter, and spring, Hanes said, so they’ll be more prepared for heat and drought.

As it happened, Hanes found a ready source of trees needing good homes: The Virginia Department of Forestry, which sprouts oaks, maples, and other natives en masse for a number of projects, from riparian buffers to farmland-to-forest conversions.

“The Department of Forestry comes up with the kinds of trees and tells people what they should use,” Hanes said. “These are the leftovers from their season.” The bare-root saplings she took off VDF’s hands in May were carefully potted in a massive volunteer effort in June, and along with a donation of another 130 donated trees from local contractor Conservation Services, were cared for throughout the summer by the group.

Now the locally grown seedlings are ready for primetime—even if the turning season has left them bare.

“We’re a trustworthy vendor, and we’ve taken really good care of them,” said Hanes. “People will have to trust us that when they stick them in the ground, next spring when they get their fresh, new leaves, they’ll look the way they’re supposed to look.”

All told, there will be nearly 500 trees of 22 varieties. Some, like pin and red oaks, sugar maples, lindens, will grow very large eventually, while others are smaller specimen trees like redbuds and viburnum.

And they’re cheap. Most of the three-to-four-foot trees, sold in three-gallon pots, will only set purchasers back $5. Buyers will also have access to a wealth of knowledge from volunteers, who offer demonstrations on how to avoid common planting pitfalls and how to use tree tubes—which will also be on sale—to protect from damage by deer, rodents, and mowers.

CATS is hopeful that people will take to the tips and the trees, and help establish an October tradition.

“We’d like to make this an annual fall Arbor Day event,” Hanes said.

Where and when: 

– City Market, Water Street parking lot, 7am-noon Saturdays October 12, 19, and 26

– Charlottesville Downtown Safe Halloween event, nTelos Wireless Pavilion, 2-4:30pm Saturday*, October 26

Did you know?

Native plants—including some of the flowering trees that will be on sale at the CATS events—attract five times as many pollinating insects as non-native plants. More insects means more pollinators, which helps increase the harvests from local gardens and farms. Insects are also a major player in the food chain, so more bugs means more wildlife. Learn more about going native at


*The print version of this story incorrectly states that the event is on Thursday.

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