Native Plant Nursery Aids Restoration Projects

Dudek and its native habitat contracting firm, Habitat Restoration Sciences Inc. (HRS), have started a native plant nursery and native seed propagation facility in Carlsbad, California, to help clients’ restoration projects be more successful and cost-effective.

Andy Thomson, a senior Dudek restoration ecologist and nursery co-founder, said the facility provides four advantages for habitat restoration projects.

Nurturing locally sourced plant material. Successful plants contribute significantly to sustainable, long-term restoration. The nursery allows Dudek and HRS to grow plants that are as endemic and locally appropriate as possible to restoration sites. Locally grown plants need less maintenance to thrive, and re-planting is minimized because they adapt better to local conditions.

Tailoring diverse plant palettes for specific sites. A plant palette containing all the core species appropriate for a specific site increases diversity, improves the habitat being restored, and contributes to a more successful project. “Our own nursery allows us to tailor each plant palette to the specific conditions present on a site,” Thomson said. “Relying on commercial nursery inventories can result in undesired species substitutions or omitting key species for a particular location because the plants are unavailable when needed.”

Selecting pots for successful propagation. Natives need to be planted in the appropriately sized pot to develop a strong root system and thrive when planted at the site. Deep-rooted species, for example, need a pot size to accommodate their longer root systems. Commercial nurseries frequently use one standard pot size. “We vary the size of pots to better conform to the growth habit of each species,” Thomson said. ”This increases the health of the plant and increases the success of habitat establishment.”

Leveraging salvaged plants/seeds. The nursery leverages plant species salvaged from sites targeted for restoration in two ways:

  • Plants or seeds salvaged from the site are grown out at the nursery to increase the quantity prior to re-planting at the restoration site. This is a cost-effective way to develop plant materials to support the restoration.
  • It is sometimes prohibited to destroy rare or protected plant species when clearing a project site, and specific mitigation programs are necessary. The nursery’s controlled environment allows storing and propagating salvaged plants to help save the client time and money.

Thomson said the nursery’s unused plots grow local produce, and 2,350 pounds of produce have been donated this year to the community group Fresh Foods for Families.