My Native Plant Spring Project

img 1326 My Native Plant Spring Project

I’ve been a little antsy for warm weather to start for some time, and this year I’ve converted a baker’s rack in my office at work into a greenhouse nursery for native plants to help me get a jump start on some habitat restoration goals I set for myself! This spring and summer I’m growing five varieties of Maryland native wildflowers from seed to begin a new wave of improvements in naturalized spots that I safeguard – many of which are in desperate need of beneficial plants, and a few aesthetic points!

The two Maryland counties that I work in require all developing properties under construction to set aside a fraction of their land as either virgin woodland, or designated  Reforestation Area.  Most of these Reforestation Areas in the suburbs happen around the borders of communities, or around sewer water retention ponds, and walking paths. At the initial time of construction, landscape architects develop these areas and fill them with native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses, and after a few years of healthy growth many of them take on a rather scruffy natural patina that many people enjoy as a contrast to the manicured lawns and gardens nearby. Like other areas after construction, Reforestation Areas are sometimes stripped of topsoil in the building and creation phases of a neighborhood, and little other than grasses end up surviving in the fill-dirt left behind. I’ve been working on and around several pockets of protected reforestation land for several years, and trying to strike a balance the desires of homeowners who want to visually improve the areas with their own garden plants, and the state law, which requires zero human interference here, and it can be a difficult balance to strike.

After a few years of watching the cycle of native tree die-off, and the empty space being filled with weeds or invasive plants, this year I am planning a proactive approach to renovating the reforestation areas one at a time.

img 1321 300x225 My Native Plant Spring Project

The last several summers, I’ve tried sowing native seeds along the woodland borders, and although a few of the tougher species pulled through, by and large most of the young plants died during the hot dry summers in the poor soil.  The county allows for the removal of any dead material in protected space, but prohibits the tilling or disruption of the soil here which would allow the soil to be ammended, and give newly planted trees and flowers a better chance of survival.

Since the law protecting natural green space in new communities is an important part of retaining local ecology, I fully support the spirit of the law, and did my homework with the USDA, and Maryland Capital Parks and Planning to find specifically beneficial native plants that would grow normally in my county. I found a native nursery in the midwest that sells pure seed, plants, and plugs of natives online, and ordered a few ounces of five different plants. Since the approved method of adding to the forest areas is seeding, which seems to do little in the long run, I’m going to establish patches of seedlings in this location and see if they survive any better. All of the plants I chose are flowering, and provide for local wildlife while they grow and self seed throughout this location.  Swamp Milkweed, Spicebush, Maryland Senna, Smooth Blue Aster, and Black Eyed Susan’s were my initial choices in seeds to fill my greenhouse nurseries with, and should thrive in tough soil, or around drainage areas.

The initial area I chose to work in first with my seedling (as they emerge) is this area pictured below, an area initially planted with trees, and then redone by the county to consist of a simple drainage spillway leading down into the mature forest. The water source will help the seedlings survive after transplanting, even in bad soil.

img 1329 My Native Plant Spring Project

img 1328 My Native Plant Spring Project

There are a few Asters germinating already in the greenhouse, but I’m still waiting on the others to take off. Hopefully most of the 216 seed trays will sprout soon, so I can begin transplanting while the weather is still cool and moist. My long term goal for the future is that the seedlings will become established, and fill in the open areas that have been vulnerable to invasives, while simultaneously making the forest border more beautiful to boot.

I’ll keep you all up to date with my progress!

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  1. Fascinating. I can’t wait to see your progress. I googled the plants you mentioned, and if it works, it’s going to be beautiful!

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