Monarch butterfly nectaring on a milkweed flower.

Emergency Pollinator Funds in the Pipeline: Native Plants Needed!

“There are now more Starbucks in California than monarch butterflies.” This simple statement from the Center for Biological Diversity sums up a dark forecast for this iconic pollinator.

Monarchs depend on milkweed flowers.

Western monarchs have declined by over 99.9% since the 1980s, with just under 2,000 migrating individuals found at the most recent count in late 2020. Other pollinators, too, are threatened: The Western Bumble Bee has declined 90% in the past two decades, and butterflies like the Mardon Skipper and the Oregon Branded Skipper are known to only exist in isolated and shrinking populations, according to the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center.

Federal lawmakers are stepping in to address this issue by making funds available for habitat improvement and conservation projects across the West, and specifically places like the Klamath-Siskiyous, where species endemism is high.

Two major pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress which, if passed, could provide a major influx of cash to support habitat restoration in our region. One is the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act (MONARCH Act) of 2021, which would authorize $62.5 million for western monarch conservation projects, and another $62.5 million to implement the Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan, paid out over the next five years.

This plan, developed by US Fish & Wildlife, calls for habitat restoration with a focus on native plants that provide food and habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.

The second piece of legislation is the Monarchs & Pollinators Highway Act. This act would earmark $35 million in funding to go toward pollinator-friendly projects on roadsides and highway rights-of-way. The Oregon Department of Transportation and local Native American tribes would be eligible to apply for these grants. (ODOT as well as several tribal groups already participate in the Rogue Native Plant Partnership.)

Both the MONARCH and the Monarchs & Pollinators Highway Act are seeing solid support by legislators, and our local offices of the US Fish & Wildlife Service are encouraging partners to develop “shovel-ready” projects that can be implemented if or when these funds become available, which could be as early as fall 2021. Altogether about $55 million per year in funding could be released if the bills go through.

What’s a “shovel-ready” project? One that puts native plants in the ground now so that pollinators can access them this time next year. The underlying message here is that we need more native plants. Restoration practitioners will be looking for containerized plants for their projects, as well as native grass and wildflower seeds that can be direct sown. To meet the potential demand for native plant materials in the coming years, local growers will need to scale up their production. Seeds will need to be increased in grow-out operations over multiple acres, and many hours of work will go into turning those seeds into habitat.

For the monarchs and other fascinating, beautiful and ecologically critical pollinators, we think it will be worth the effort.

Want to get involved?

  • The Southwestern Oregon Pollinator Collaborative brings together agencies like the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Transportation, pollinator advocacy groups and restoration practitioners to discuss solutions, share resources and prioritize action in Southwest Oregon.
  • Through The Understory Initiative, private landowners can receive financial and technical assistance to grow native seed crops or create pollinator habitat.
  • The Rogue Native Plant Partnership’s native seed collection efforts play a critical role in making native seeds available to growers and for direct seeding in habitat restoration. All are welcome to volunteer with us – check out our summer 2021 events here.
  • Learn more about how to support pollinators in RNPP’s Resource Library.

Fiddleneck Going Gangbusters? Here’s what to do with it…

Common Fiddleneck (Amsinkia menziesii) is a fun yellow flower with a long, gradually unfurling bloom that resembles the top of a fiddle. Although it is native all across the western US and is good at colonizing dry, disturbed areas, we don’t see it too often here in the Rogue Valley! That’s too bad because it’s classified as a valuable resource for pollinators by the Xerces Society, and it’s a self-seeder and easy to grow.

Photo by Tracy Bandy: https://www.inaturalist.org/people/tracybandy

2021 seems to have been an extra-great year for Amsinkia. RNPP member Michelle wrote us this spring to say “The bloom is off the charts this year!”

Do you have Amsinkia growing nearby that you’d like to harvest? The seeds of this wildflower are abundant and easy to collect. Just as the blooming flowers progress up the stem (starting at the bottom), so do the ripening seeds. At this point in the year, the seeds from the bottom will have already dropped off, ensuring regeneration of this annual plant next year. Now’s the time to come by and collect the rest of the seeds for sowing elsewhere!

Here are more tips for harvesting Fiddleneck seeds:

  • Amsinkia produces 4 nutlets per flower (see photo).
  • Harvest the nutlets when they are ripe – brown in color and not easily dented with a thumbnail.
  • Be sure to leave some seeds on the plant to ensure that the patch will regenerate next year!
  • To harvest the most possible seed from individual plants, cut or snap the plants off at the base when about half of the nutlets are ripe. (Remember to leave the majority of plants where you find them so that they can do their thing!)
  • Lay the plants out on a tarp in the sun for a few days to let the rest of the seeds ripen.
  • Once the plants are pretty dry, grab a handful of stems (with gloves to avoid the sharp hairs) and bang the bundle against the inside of a large rubber storage tub to break loose the seeds.

Native Plant of the Month: Fawn Lilies

Fawn lilies (Erythronium genus) are a sure sign that spring has arrived in Pacific Northwest, and we have a couple of special local species that only occur here in the Klamath Siskiyous: Erythronium klamathenses and howellii.

On the shady forest floor, fawn lilies might not grow taller than your hiking boot, but coming across a large patch of them in late March to early May is a delightful surprise. You might need to get your chin to the earth to appreciate the delicate beauty of these downward-facing blossoms!

Erythronium grow from bulbs, a source of sugar that allows them to bloom earlier in the year than other wildflowers. Although they can produce additional bulbs to grow their numbers, the primary way in which they spread is by seed. So, it’s extra important not to pick these lovely forest friends, so that they can come back with reinforcements next year!

Native Pollinator Plants for Southern Oregon

Author: Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates Date: 2016

This excellent guide discusses basic botanical concepts and the importance of pollinators in the ecosystem. It then describes 18 plants that are native to Southern Oregon, sorted by early, mid- and late-blooming species, with beautiful photographs. Each plant is listed with information about the types of pollinators that may use it for nectar, or as a “host plant”.

Download: Native Pollinator Plants of Southern Oregon (pdf; 4 Mb)

How to Find Native Plants in 2021

Rogue Native Plant Partnership seeks to bring together native plant (and seed) growers with people who need native plant materials for landscaping and habitat restoration. One way we typically do this is through a native plant sale in the spring, but this year, the growers we normally work with simply did not have enough plants on hand to justify holding a sale!

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any native plants available in the Rogue Basin. We put together this list so that those seeking plants this spring (or any time of year) can hopefully find what they’re looking for.

1. Go to a pop-up sale

These events are typically hosted by non-profit groups or small farms with roadside stands. Two RNPP members hold pop-up sales every year: Pollinator Project Rogue Valley and Jackson County Master Gardeners.

Pollinator Project Rogue Valley  Sale April 25!

This educational nonprofit holds outdoor plant sales in the spring and fall. With a focus on native pollinators, plants are from local growers or grown on site from seed from their demonstration garden.

This April 25th, they are hosting their second annual Native Plants for the Pollinators sale April 25th. Suzie Savoie of Klamath Siskiyou Native Seeds is the featured vendor, with additional plants available from PPRV.
A preliminary list of plants that will be available at the sale will be posted on the Facebook Event page by April 5th.
COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place, including timed shopping. Go to the Eventbrite to register for the hour that you plan to shop.

Location: 312 N. Main St, Phoenix, OR – Enter off 4th St.

Online: www.pollinatorprojectroguevalley.org

Jackson County Master Gardener Association

Native plants grown by Master Gardeners, what could be better than that?! Several pop-up sales are held annually at the OSU Extension gardens. Check the Jackson County MGA Facebook page to learn about upcoming sales, or contact Lynn Kunstman to make an appointment.

Location: OSU Extension, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point, Oregon

Online: www.jacksoncountymga.org

2. Spend an afternoon at a nursery  

Nurseries typically offer a wide selection of non-native and native plants, with staff members available to answer your questions about where, when and why to plant your purchases. Southern Oregon is home to some truly outstanding nurseries, including:

Shooting Star Nursery      

Offering a variety of native trees, shrubs and perennials, as well as some grasses and ferns. Find a list of the native plants they offer here: https://roguevalleynursery.com/plantlists/other-plant-lists/natives 

Hours: Monday – Friday 9-4 and Saturday 11-4 (Winter hours)

Location: 3223 Taylor Rd., Central Point, OR
Online: www.roguevalleynursery.com

Contact: 541.840.6453          info@roguevalleynursery.com

Plant Oregon      

This popular nursery has a large selection of native trees, shrubs and perennials, all root-pruned and locally propagated.

Hours: Monday -Friday 9-1; Saturday 9-4

Location: 8677 Wagner Creek Road, Talent, OR
Online: www.plantoregon.com

Contact: 541.535.3531         dan@plantoregon.com 

Photo by Plant Oregon

Goodwin Creek Gardens              

Grows and sells edible/medicinal herbs, perennial flowers and pollinator plants. Visit the website to order online.

Hours: Visit the nursery by appointment only

Location: 970 Cedar Flat Rd., Williams, OR
Online: www.goodwincreekgardens.com

Contact: 541.846.7357     goodwincreekgardens@gmail.com

Forest Farm           

In addition to many native and non-native plants, this retail nursery sells a selection of western trees and shrubs. 

Hours: Mon-Fri 8-3, or order online

Location: 14643 Water Gap Rd, Williams, OR
Online: www.forestfarm.com

Contact: 541.846.7269     plants@forestfarm.com

White Oak Farm & Education Center

A diverse fruit and vegetable farm with a native plant nursery. Primarily focused on wholesale tree and shrub production for riparian restoration projects. Send an email or visit the website to learn about upcoming retail plant sales or schedule an appointment.

Location: Williams, OR
Online: www.whiteoakfarmcsa.org 

Contact: info@whiteoakfarmcsa.org

3. Plan ahead with wholesale ordering

Do you have a large area to plant? The best pricing can be obtained by working with a grower to produce the quantity and variety of plants you need, starting a year or two ahead of when you need them in the ground.

Photo by Althouse Nursery

Althouse Nursery

This wholesale nursery propagates large quantities of native trees and shrubs for restoration projects and forestry. Minimum order size 200. 

Location: Rogue River, OR
Online: www.althousenursery.com

Contact: 541.592.2395      plants@althousenursery.com

Silver Springs Nursery

A wholesale propagation nursery producing a full line of container-grown native species for restoration projects, riparian and pollinator habitat enhancement.

Location: Jacksonville, OR

Contact: 541.899.1065     silversprings@q.com

White Oak Farm & Education Center

A diverse fruit and vegetable farm with a native plant nursery. Primarily focused on wholesale tree and shrub production for riparian restoration projects.

Location: Williams, OR

Location: Williams, OR
Online: www.whiteoakfarmcsa.org 

Contact: info@whiteoakfarmcsa.org

4. Contact the BLM for surplus trees

The Bureau of Land Management produces large quantities of native trees to plant on public lands. Occasionally, they have a surplus and offer trees to the general public. Call to find out availability. 

Location: 3040 Biddle Rd, Medford, OR 

Contact: 541.618.2333        lmeredit@blm.gov

Restoring Riparian Habitats in Southern Oregon and Northern California: A guide for private landowners

Author: Klamath Bird Observatory & Lomakatsi Restoration Project Date: 2020

This guide was created for streamside landowners interested in implementing restoration projects to improve wildlife habitat and stream health. It includes information on birds and wildlife that use riparian habitats, detailed restoration guidelines, and who to contact for technical or financial help when initiating a project. It also covers how to identify common riparian birds and use them to monitor restoration progress, and a visual guide to common native and non- native riparian plant species.

Download: Restoring Riparian Habitats in Southern Oregon and Northern California: A guide for private landowners (pdf; 8 MB)

Native Plant of the Month: Pink Flowering Currant

As thousands of homes were lost in the Almeda fire, thousands of hummingbird feeders along Bear Creek were vaporized along with them. We wondered, “What native plants could take their place?”

Ribes sanguineum, aka Pink Flowering Currant,is a prime candidate.

Honey bee hives decrease wild bee abundance, species richness, and fruit count on farms regardless of wildfower strips

Author: Scientific Reports Date: 2021

This study examines the interaction of the wild bee communities and honey bees kept in hives around wildflower strips and pollinator-dependent crops. The study took place across 21 farms in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. The real beauty of this publication is the extensive literature cited section with links to the cited publications, many of which focus on honey bee/native bee competition and effects on species richness and abundance. 

Download:  Honey bee hives decrease wild bee abundance, species richness, and fruit count on farms regardless of wildflower strips (pdf; 3 Mb)

January Native Plant of the Month: Lemmon’s needlegrass

Winter is when native bunchgrasses shine. After other understory plants lose their leaves and flowers, perennial bunchgrasses such as Lemmon’s needlegrass flare out from the earth while extending their root systems deep underground.

Lemmon’s needlegrass resprouting in the Agate Desert (Rogue Valley) after a prescribed burn. Photo credit: Teresa Fernandez

Lemmon’s needlegrass (Achnatherum lemmonii), bears long, needle-like awns extending from either side of the seed, a feature which can make this plant unpalatable to livestock. However, birds and small mammals have no problem plucking the nutritious seed from between the awns. Deer and elk also browse on Lemmon’s needlegrass, while moths and butterflies nest at the base, making this a key species for wildlife.

This attractive bunchgrass is popular as both a landscaping plant and in habitat restoration. It needs little maintenance once established and stays green late into the summer. It is an essential component of oak savannah and prairie habitat and, as shown in the photo, resprouts readily after a burn. There is even a local subspecies, Achnatherum lemmonii subsp. pubescens, that is adapted to serpentine soils.

Rogue Native Plant Partnership: 2020 Was No Match

Between moving to a dedicated seed storage facility, adapting to COVID and an unprecedented wildfire season, and stepping back to plan for the next five years, it’s been an eventful year for the Rogue Native Plant Partnership! Despite the challenges of the year, our partners have remained committed to the cause and the support from the community has been terrific. Read on for some highlights and photos from the past 12 months!

Volunteers collecting native grass seed at the Rogue River Preserve in July 2020

Big Year for Volunteers – Thank You!

In masks and with mobile hand washing stations, volunteers showed up in force this year to collect seed and put native plant plugs in the ground. RNPP held a number of successful events, including:

  • Two seed collection events, or “seed blitzes”. The first was held in June at BLM’s French Flat site near Cave Junction. Volunteers collected wildflower seeds like selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) and California oatgrass (Danothonia californica) that are uniquely adapted to grow on the serpentine soils at this site. 
  • A July seed blitz at Rogue River Preserve, where volunteers gathered seeds from the delightful wooly-headed clover (Trifolium eriocephalum) as well as four other native forbs and grasses.
  • Two planting days held in partnership with the BLM at Upper Table Rocks – one in early spring and one just a few weeks ago in December. With several volunteers and a handful of BLM botanists leading small teams, we hiked out to sites where burn piles from brush thinning had left lovely ash piles (with gorgeous views of Mt. McLaughlin). Between the two events, over 150 native grass and forb plugs were put in the ground to enhance the native oak savannah habitat. 
  • Several milkweed pod collection events at J. Herbert Stone nursery this late summer and fall. Braving the smoke and heat, intrepid volunteers collected hundreds of pounds of pods, which will be tumbled and cleaned to separate the milkweed seeds from fluff, and used for plantings that will support our migratory monarchs and other pollinator species. 

Woody Species for Fire Response

In 2019, an RNPP subcommittee was formed to create a short list of “most wanted” woody plant species (shrubs and trees), which are highly desirable for restoration projects but difficult to source locally. It was decided that contracting with an expert botanical collector would be the best way to obtain these seeds, and in fall of 2020 we had our first delivery of seeds from Siskiyou Biosurvey. 

Prunus virginiana seed
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) was one of the species collected through this initiative, and is currently being grown out so that this fast-growing riparian tree may be used in restoration work.

Acting quickly, we were able get these seeds cleaned and turned around and sold to growers, so that they can be grown out over the winter and spring to become viable plants that will be used for restoration. After the fires that ripped through the Rogue Valley in September, growers and nurseries are expecting an unprecedented demand for shrub and tree plugs.

Plant and Seed Sales

A big part of the Partnership mission is to get native plants in the hands of restoration practitioners, and this year we were able to sell seeds, plugs and containerized native plant starts. 

Organizing plants for distribution to buyers throughout the Rogue Basin.
  • Our annual native plant sale happened in spring, with online ordering and drive-through pickup in Ashland and Cave Junction. With 33 different species available from a variety of local growers, it was quite the coordination effort, but in the end the right plants ended up in the right hands! We had assistance with the sale from Vesper Meadow Education Program and Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, so a huge thanks to them for helping make it a success.
  • After several years of wild collecting seeds, we were finally able to offer a sufficient quantity and diversity of native seeds to hold a sale! It was held in fall in the same format as the plant sale. In order to ensure that these precious seeds would be put to good use, we asked for a restoration plan from all our buyers. Many pounds of seeds were distributed through the sale to a variety of buyers, from government agencies to individual landowners. The Freshwater Trust and others were able to immediately plant seeds in burned zones this fall, one silver lining of the devastating fires. Overall, we judged our first seed sale a success, and its proceeds will be used to coordinate future seed collection events and to pay for the required seed cleaning and testing.
Bags of hand-harvested native seed are labeled, inventoried and stored in dedicated freezers at the Selberg Institute facility.

Coordinating Seed Production

Our achievements this year also comprise a handful of small “wins” that will streamline the process of collecting, cleaning and redistributing native seeds for years to come. 

Gary Kliewer of Long Shadow Fields shows off the Agoseris grandiflora (a type of native dandelion) seed he produced at his farm.
  • Completion of our comprehensive regional Species Priority list, which will guide the work to be done in seed collection and plug production going forward.
  • Moving all our seed cleaning and storage equipment to the space at the Selberg Institute, south of Ashland. It has worked wonders to have a dedicated, secure space to use year-round to organize, store and clean seeds.
  • Training partners on the use of the seed cleaning equipment, including local seed growers and members of the Yurok tribe.
  • Documenting our seed cleaning methods so that others can learn from our hard-won lessons! (Did you know that elderberries should be fermented to separate the seeds from the berries?)
  • Expanding our online resource library and blog to make access to the latest research and literature on ecological restoration accessible to all. 
  • Assisting Oregon Department of Transportation with organizing their seed inventory, so that the right seeds can be used in the right locations (and excess seeds can be directed to post-fire restoration).
  • Completion of our Five Year Strategic Plan, providing direction and goals for 2021-26. We’ll recap this plan in an upcoming blog post. 
Members of the Yurok tribe learning to use the Clipper to clean native seeds that they collected.

Facilitating Conversations about Native Plant Restoration

This year, we held two general Partnership meetings, and both were conducted remotely, with 25-30 people attending each meeting. 

  • In March, we heard from Joshua Chenowith, whose role with the Yurok tribe puts him in the position of procuring native plant materials for use in restoration of the Klamath dam site.
  • At our December meeting, our guest speaker was Chris Adlam, Regional Fire Specialist at OSU Extension. His talk about the role of native plants in fire behavior sparked some great discussion. Read our recap here. 
  • Notes from both of the 2020 General Meetings can be found here.

In addition to the General Meetings, we also held various subcommittee meetings to work on a riparian seed mix for post-fire restoration, plan for the future of RNPP, and continue to refine our priorities. 

Showy milkweed (Asclepia speciosa) and its sticky, fluffy, slowly-exploding pods.

We look forward to another year of working together to bring more native plants to our wonderful Rogue Basin. Stay in touch and all the best in 2021!

Native Plants Under Fire: RNPP December 2020 General Meeting Recap, Part 1

Blame it on 2020 – our attempt to record the General Meeting on December 8th was not successful. Fortunately, we were able to take good written notes, so in this blog post we’ll summarize the fascinating and important presentation by Chris Adlam on what happened in the Almeda fire, and his ideas for improving community fire resilience using native plants. We also have thrown in a few slides from the presentation, and a link to all the slides at the end of the post.

Keep an eye out for the next RNPP blog post, where we will catch you up with the Rogue Native Plant Partnership updates, and our achievements in 2020.

Urban Fire in the Rogue Valley: Are Native Plants the Solution? 

Christopher Adlam may be new to the Rogue Valley, but having lived and studied in northern California, he may understand our fire future better than most! Chris recently joined the OSU Extension team as Southwest Oregon’s Regional Fire Specialist, and he holds his PhD in Ecology from UC Davis. He has studied the effects of fire on plant and animal diversity, as well as community fire resilience. So who better to bring in for Rogue Native Plant Partnership’s guest speaker for our late-fall General Meeting? 

As he launched his slideshow, Chris wisely noted that this is a difficult subject for many, and we echo the sentiment that it’s not easy to talk about the science behind something that affected this community in such deep and diverse ways. However, we feel it is necessary to take a step back, and use our best methods of analysis to look at what happened. Like detectives, we can trace the path of the fire and see what it tells us about how to protect our communities the next time around. Though many homes and businesses were lost, the Almeda Fire could have been much, much worse. There are no simple explanations as to why the fire spread or failed to spread to certain areas of the valley, but we do know that vegetation – both native and invasive plants – played a role in both. 

The Almeda fire started in Ashland on September 8th, 2020, and driven by strong winds, swept into the Bear Creek Greenway, where it burned through riparian zones, grassland, oak savannah and pear orchards before moving on to become an urban fire around Talent. When the fire left the greenway, and we saw houses burning other houses in a chain reaction.

Did the Greenway’s plants and trees, dry after a long, hot summer, cause homes to burn? Chris asks us to back up a minute before answering this question. When people think about the relationship between vegetation and structures, they either fall into the “liability model” camp or the “green solutions” camp. The “liability model” says that the real risk of wildfire is in wildlands, and that plants are setting homes on fire, making plants a liability. Under this model, people move into the wildland urban interface and cut down all the trees around their home in the name of fire safety. 

The “green solutions” perspective, on the other hand, embraces the ability of healthy natural areas and vegetation to actually moderate the risk of fire. For example, plants can moderate fires by slowing their spread, slowing down wind speeds, and catching embers that would otherwise end up on someone’s roof. 

Structures catch fire in three ways: Radiant heat, direct flame contact and embers. In the case of the Almeda fire, few structures had enough vegetation nearby to generate the amount of radiant heat or direct flame contact necessary to ignite a home. So, we can rule out the first two causes of structure fires in this event, which leaves embers as the sole remaining culprit. In fact, embers are the cause of most home fires that spread from wildlands; they can travel for miles to land on homes, work their way through roofing or siding material, and burn the home from the inside out. After that, radiant heat coming from other homes was the main method of fire spread in the urban Almeda fire. 

Were embers generated by vegetation in the Greenway? Absolutely, and we are looking at one plant in particular that burns explosively, sending tall flames and embers into the air: Blackberry. 

Image of blackberry plant on fire.

Restored Areas Burn Slower

Almost immediately after the Almeda fire swept through our region, we heard from restoration practitioners about the profound differences in the impacts of fire on restored vs. non-restored areas. In areas that were restored with native plants, with no blackberry surrounding and climbing up the trunks of trees, the fire burned as fire naturally would in a riparian zone: low and slow. It top-burned understory grasses and native shrubs, without frying the soil, and without climbing into the canopy of large established trees. As a result, these trees survived the fire, and understory shrubs are already resprouting with new growth. 

Example of how the Almeda fire affected restored areas along Wagner Creek in Talent (low, slow, understory burn).

In areas that weren’t restored (most of the 300+ acres of the Bear Creek Greenway), where thickets of blackberry formed a thick blanket over the riparian zone, we saw high intensity fire that destroyed all understory vegetation (except for the hardy blackberry roots) and most of the large trees as well.

Yes, Chris agreed, removing blackberry and replacing it with native shrubs will definitely reduce fire risk. But there’s more that native vegetation can do to improve fire resiliency in our community, and it doesn’t need to be limited to the riparian zone.

Trees to the rescue?

Next, the discussion turned to potential strategies for putting native plants to work to improve our community’s fire resilience. Many native plants in our ecoregion are fire-adapted, meaning that they can resprout quickly after a burn, and thrive from the nutrients created by burned dead material. Some plants even need fire to reproduce, while others grow more fire resistant with age. For example, Ponderosa pine trees, though highly flammable when young, are fire-resistant when mature, with thick bark that deflects heat and embers. 

One aspect of the behavior of the Almeda fire that we found interesting was the effect of “shelterbelts” of trees that were able to shield homes from fire. Deciduous trees like cottonwoods, or even mature conifers, when planted together, formed a “curtain” of vegetation that may have caught embers and let them fall to the ground, where they can extinguish themselves. This effect has been documented in Australia, where shelterbelts are commonly planted as windbreaks. Looking at images of these landscapes after a fire, homes behind shelterbelts were spared. Chris emphasized that this effect has only been observed anecdotally, but it deserves further study. 

Expanding on the shelterbelt concept to shield homes, to shield entire communities from strong winds like we saw the day of the Almeda fire, is another possibility. Traditionally, the hillsides surrounding Ashland up to Medford have been populated by oaks and madrones; could these trees function as valley-wide shelterbelts to slow down windspeeds and capture embers traveling from afar?

Who’s burning who?

After the slideshow, Chris fielded many questions from the audience, but we’d like to circle back to a question about the fears some members of the community have about vegetation in the wake of the fire. Falling back into the “liability model” of structure-vegetation interactions, some (not in this audience, but members of the community at large) are suggesting or considering clearing all trees and shrubs from properties to improve fire resistance. 

Says Chris, “Your neighbor’s house has a higher likelihood of burning down your house than your vegetation does.” Yes, he says, if leaves and needles from nearby trees are covering the roof and filling the gutters, that would be a factor in setting a house on fire. But generally, the advice is to keep all vegetation cut back 5’ from homes, and to thin vegetation within 100’ of the home. (Read more about thinning recommendations from the NFPA.) This should be enough to prevent flames from a vegetative fire from spreading to a home. In fact, it’s possible to see situations where the house initially caught fire from an ember, and downwind trees were burned or scorched, but upwind trees suffered no damage. In other words, it’s not the trees lighting the houses on fire, but the other way around. The solution is to construct more fire resilient homes, which is already possible and not more expensive that traditional construction methods.

Revisioning the Greenway

Some audience questions focused on the actions we can take next to improve fire resilience in our community while promoting the use of native plants in restoration efforts. 

To that end, Rogue Native Plant Partnership has formed a working group to develop a native seed mix appropriate for reseeding riparian zones. Although the initial seeding of the Bear Creek Greenway has already taken place, it could be possible to include native grasses and wildflowers in future re-seedings. These species will provide benefits to wildlife while staying green later into the summer, reducing the flammability of these areas. 

Meanwhile, we support all efforts to suppress blackberry re-growth until native plants can be established. Agencies and local governments are seeking funding for restoration work, and there’s some talk of a community visioning process to begin next year, to receive public input into how to manage the Greenway going forward. Participation of native plant enthusiasts and restoration practitioners will be vital, to identify and question “liability model” thinking. We don’t need to, nor should we eliminate all vegetation in fire-prone areas, but focus on evidenced-based solutions that work.

Access the RNPP Resource Library for:

How To Find Your Soil Type

An important component of any habitat restoration plan is the soil type. Knowing what types of soil are present on the property will help you decide which plants will do best in each location. When it comes to healthy plants, having the right soil conditions is about as important as siting the plant correctly for optimal sunlight (shade or full sun?) and water (dry or moist?).

Fortunately, the USDA’s Web Soil Survey exists to impart data already collected by the USDA to members of the public. It’s as easy as going to the website and entering your address (plus a couple extra steps). Let’s walk through it together:

How to Get Your USDA Soil Report

  1. Navigate to https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm
  2. In the drop-down Address field on the left, enter your address.
  3. Use the AOI button in the “Area of Interest (AOI)” tab to select the area for which you would like the soil information.
The Area of Interest is selected
  1. Once you’ve selected your Area of Interest, click the yellow Soil Map tab. Click “Printable version” in the upper-right corner to save or print this map.
Soil map of the Area of Interest
  1. Now, click the “Soil data Explorer” tab, then click the “Soil Reports” tab in the ribbon below. On the left-hand menu, click the drop-down arrows for “AOI Inventory”, then “Component Text Descriptions”. Then click “View Soil Report”. A description of each of your soil components will appear below the map.

Seeding Your Site: Methods, Rates and More!

So far in our Restoration Best Practices blog post series, we’ve covered Developing an Ecological Restoration Plan and Site Preparation, which is particularly important if you’re planning to use native seeds to restore your site. Whether it’s a prairie, wetland, forest or another type of ecosystem, the survival and success of your native seeds is entirely dependent on having low competition from non-native plants and nice, loose soil in which to put down roots. We encourage you to go back and read those two posts if you haven’t yet. (Remember, a Restoration Plan is required if you are buying seeds from RNPP this fall!)

In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of the reasons for using native seeds vs starts and how to choose seeds for your site. Then we’ll move into some of the technical details of creating a seed mix and introduce our calculator tool for figuring out how much seed to buy. 

Why Seeds?

Growing plants from seed is more work than buying plants already established in containers. So why do it? Here are a few reasons:

  • Diversity. Here in the Rogue Valley, growing from seed gives you a much wider array of species to choose from. Not all plants are going to be available in containers.
  • Success. Some plants don’t survive transplanting very well, and plants actually have the remarkable ability to adapt to a site as they grow. So, the moment a plant puts down roots in your soil, it is learning about the local conditions and setting itself up for faster, stronger, healthier growth.
  • $avings. It’s much cheaper to grow a thousand plants yourself from seed, than buy all those plants in containers!
  • Fun. You’ll learn much more about the native plant life cycle by watching them grow from seed. There’s nothing like seeding a site in fall, then coming back in the spring and seeing the brown earth covered in green!

Selecting Your Seeds

In restoration work, it can often be difficult to decide what kind of plant community to establish, especially in sites long dominated by non-native species. It’s important not only to look toward the past, understanding what plants might have grown in your site (perhaps prior to the disturbance that caused non-natives to move in), but also toward the future. How might conditions change, and what plants are best suited to adapt to those changes – be it drought, flood or fire? 

Seeds should be selected based on your restoration goals. Are you creating a pollinator meadow or trying to stabilize a streambank? Hopefully, you’ve already laid out these goals in your Restoration Plan. Your seed mix, plus any remaining weed or native seeds that survived the site preparation process, will be what determines the type of plant community that comes up in the spring (or fall if your seeding happens in the spring – see our Site Prep article for a discussion on the best time to plant your seeds). 

Before you purchase seed, be sure to do some research on the plant and the conditions in which it likes to grow. This way, you can avoid planting seeds that will not be successful in your site.

Seeding Methods

Sean & Lilia hand seeding and raking a restoration site after thinning and controlled burning

There are two common ways of actually getting the seed on the ground: broadcasting by hand and drill seeding using a tractor.

  • Broadcasting. Best for smaller sites (half an acre or less). To broadcast seed, simply walk in a regular pattern across your site, throwing by hand and attempting to distribute it as evenly as possible. Or, use a “belly-crank” seeder. In either case, broadcasted seed should be distributed at a higher seeding rate than if using a drill seeder. Because broadcasting doesn’t actually bury the seed in the soil, these seeds have a slightly lower rate of success, and may be eaten by birds and field mice! On smaller scales, this effect can be mitigated by raking, or rolling over the seed to press it in. 
  • Drill seeding. A drill seeder pulled behind a tractor is a fantastic way to distribute seeds evenly and get them in the soil without turning it over (bringing buried weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate). A seed drill doesn’t do any actual drilling; it can be more accurately described as placing the seeds underground, at a rate and a depth specified by the user. 

Belly crank seeders and rollers can usually be rented out by the day from a local farm supply store, home improvement store or equipment rental business. Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District has a drill seeder for rent.

Tractor pulled seed drill

Seeding Rate Calculations

By choosing a specific seeding rate and sticking with it, we can introduce scientific accuracy to the art of restoration. We start with a target seeding rate and work from there. 

What is seeding rate? Simply put, it’s the number of seeds you need to apply to a given area to achieve the desired plant coverage. Most restoration projects use a seeding rate of between 30-60 seeds/square foot. Knowing your seeding rate will help you determine the number of pounds or ounces of seeds to purchase.

What’s the ideal seeding rate for your site? It depends on your goals, seeding method and site conditions:

  • At the lower end of the range (30 seeds/sq. ft.), you’ll be seeding a site that has been well prepared (no weed seeds; flat, smooth soil surface), and has excellent soil. You have a seed drill or some other way of accurately distributing the seed, and you want plant coverage to be somewhat sparse (perhaps for bee nesting habitat). 
  • At the higher end of the range (60 seeds/sq. ft.), you are trying to seed heavily to outcompete weeds that survived your site prep, there’s a slope or other factors that could cause seeds to wash or blow away, and your goal is to have dense plant coverage at the site.

Now let’s talk about your seed mix. You don’t want a monoculture of one seed in your restoration site, but a mix of different species — it goes back to that plant community idea we were discussing earlier. Before you can figure out how much of each seed to buy, you’ll need to decide on what percentage of the total mix that each type of seed will occupy. For example, if your goal is to restore a native grassland meadow, you might shoot for 50% Danthonia californica (California oatgrass). 

Finally, the seeding rate is dependent on the number of seeds per pound, which is different for each species. If you plan to purchase seeds from the RNPP Seed Sale, you can find the number of seeds per pound on the species description page or here in this handy table

How to Use the Calculator

We created this spreadsheet as a quick method of calculating the quantity of seed you need to buy. You’ll need to first input the following data:

  1. Your target seeding rate (# of seeds/square foot)
  2. The number of acres to be seeded
  3. The names and number of seeds per pound of each species you want to include in your seed mix (seeds/lb can be found HERE or on the species description page in the RNPP seed sale).
  4. The percentage of the seed mix that species will occupy 
  5. The cost per pound for each species

Here is what the calculator will give you after you enter the data above:

  1. How many pounds of seed you’ll need for each of the species in your mix
  2. The individual seeding rate for each species in your mix.
  3. The cost per species 
  4. The total cost of your seed mix

Ready to get started? Download the spreadsheet by clicking here and give it a go!

Tuula Rebhahn has spent the summer as Ecological Science Intern with The Understory Initiative. When she’s not out in the field counting plants, she’s a freelance writer and editor. Connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn!