118 Years and still improving our growing operations

The sustainable approach used by McKay Nursery Company adds value to our commercial and residential landscapes while continuing to provide many benefits to the surrounding environment. Nursery production has a simple focus-reduce environmental impact by growing high quality long-lived nursery material. How do we reach this goal? Our production approach incorporates several programs including: Best Management Practices, Integrated Pest Management, and Integrated Crop Management. McKay believes in spending significant time in research and development to improve production. However, our main focus is to develop and maintain a strong, conscientious employee culture. This is the most valuable input for growing high quality nursery stock and helps us develop the innovative technology to achieve our production goals. 

McKay continues to strive for consistent improvement in our growing operation. Farming land for over a 100 years can be a challenge. These challenges prompted us to look for new solutions to cushion the land using a non-traditional cover crop. Tillage radishes are currently being used in agronomic settings to reduce soil compaction, hold nutrients, reduce runoff and reduce herbicide applications. Their ability to aerate the soil well below para plow depth levels has intrigued farmers and opened the avenue for uses in other industry including the nursery setting. 

We are starting to see extraordinary results after 2 seasons of planting and growing the experimental radish/clover mix.

Radish and red clover mix

Above: Radish and Red Clover mix seed.

Seeding rates were trialed to determine proper calibration. The tillage radish/clover mix was planted using a Land Pride seed drill in mid-late August.

Tillage Radish roots grow vigorously when planted after July 10 in the Northern Hemisphere. By planting them late the plant produces a root that reaches from 12-36” into the soil. The meaty part of the root can range from 6-18”, whereas the smaller taproot normally stretches another 10-20” deep into the soil. They establish well with few inputs. Pictured above is a row of radish/clover mix growing in Honeylocust tree rows.


The canopy of radishes mat after a couple of hard freezes. When winter subsides, some remnants of the radish can be seen. We also start to see some signs of clover appear which will act as the secondary cover.

Erosion is a major land concern facing many types of agriculture. In a nursery setting, the soil will typically wash out after a significant rainfall moving herbicides to unwanted places. The pictures above are control rows where the tillage radish/ clover mix was not planted. This clean row cultivation has been a nursery practice since the beginning of time. Solutions are warranted to reduce chemical usage (herbicides) and eliminate erosion problems. 

The second year the clover plants take over in the absence of the winter killed radishes. The clover forms a nice mat reducing other weed pressure. There is also noticeably less erosion taking place in the cover crop rows.

Another research block of tillage radish/clover mix in an oak planting. Cover crop was not planted in the picture on the right. The control area became infested by weeds.


Tillage Radish/Clover mix in Spruce Rows (year one). The Clover grew well in the year two Spruce Rows.


Control area in Spruce Rows. This area became infested with volunteer wheat and weeds.


Tillage radish/clover mix sown in spaced evergreen rows in August 2014. The heavy matting choked out weed pressure in this newly planted field. 

A tillage radish mat forms after several hard freezes. Vegetative matter creates a nice barrier to prevent winter weed seeds from germinating and taking hold.