Filling the Niche and Closing the Loop: Developing a Wildflower Nursery for the Restoration Market Using Forest Biomass By-Products as the Garden Foundation

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $5,429.50
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, forestry
  • Education and Training: display
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, marketing management, farm-to-institution, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Problem: Across the Midwest, the restoration movement has transformed degraded savanna and woodland habitat through the removal of exotic shrubs and weedy trees. As the number of landowners involved in restoration projects increases, so has the need for native local eco-type seed. In Wisconsin, a number of nurseries in the area provide a consistent supply of local showy savanna and woodland plants and seeds. Large scale nurseries, these companies tend to supply seeds of common, easy to propagate, commonly found plant species to stay competitive. Many plant enthusiasts and restoration practitioners are turning to roadsides and public lands in order to gather the native plants not offered by the native seed companies. This type of collecting efforts has two consequences: (1) un-monitored harvesting pressure could weaken these populations over time; and (2) amount of seeds required to ensure that the genetic complexity of the species is retained in the re-location or offspring is not standardized. The Center for Plant Conservation is a national organization of botanical institutions and research scientists and institutions whose mission is to conserve and restore the imperiled native plants of the United States to secure them from extinction. On their website they state: To encourage the protection of existing wild native plants populations and provide guidelines for protecting genetic diversity of the seed collections, the Center for Plant Conservation, in collaboration with national botanical institutions, has designed a set of standardized collecting and propagation protocols for the wild-harvest of native seed. The standards provide a foundation for three aspects of the native plant nursery business that often receives little attention: seed collecting ethics, seed origin, and the propagation of genetically diverse seed and plant stock for sale. Solution: Most wildflower nurseries return to wild populations for replenishing seed supplies. Seeds are wild collected, stratified, grown in starter trays, and used for two purposes: potted plants for the retail market and plugs for row crop style plantings. Row cropped plantings receive fertilizer inputs for maximum production. After 4-5 years, the row crop plantings are plowed under and a new seed crop is planted. My approach uses a system of propagation that maintains a seed stock and live plants for sale without annually harvesting from a remnant wild population or compromising genetic diversity in the re-introduction. This involves a three stage approach to growing plants from seed to maturity: germination in seed trays, development of seedlings in raised garden nursery beds, and transplant into forest garden settings for full development. Wood chip mulch generated from TSI work forms a foundation of our nursery efforts. After resting the mulch in place for a year, we mix it with native sandy soil. This 60:40 mix of seasoned wood mulch and native soil topped with compost serves as our garden soil for the perennial plantings. The mulch lightens up our nutrient-poor sandy soil, the compost eliminates our need for fertilizer. For our potted plants we use a three part mix that includes Pro-Mix®, compost, and our nursery garden soil (e.g., mulch:soil mix). It seems to have increased the survivorship of our potted plants by increasing the water retention and nutrients in the pots. Further, we use wood mulch rows along the contour of the land in our forest garden settings to slowly filter nutrients back into the ground where the presence of dense exotic shrub cover for years has resulted in soil loss and nutrient depletion.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.