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

2010 Annual Report for FNC09-763

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

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


[Editor's Note: To see the final report with charts, please see attached file.]

? Local travel and research
o Throughout the summer, I forayed through Iowa, Dane, Lafayette, and Green County in search for populations of uncommon highly conservative plants for woodlands and savannas. Searches were conducted on private lands and roadsides off of main highways. In order to satisfy my sampling criteria, populations had to have at least 50 individuals, and have adequate seed set to take 2000 seeds.
o I researched which local nurseries in the area hire/contract seed collectors in order to understand the local sampling pressure on existing populations. During the course of the summer, I approached 3 landowners with quality habitat who were already allowing seed collecting on their property by a commercial company.

? Within our gardens
o In spring 2010, we tested the efficiency of growing plants in starter trays on a heat table or directly into raised beds within unheated hoop greenhouses made of hog panels. Our greenhouse design is similar to that used by Jennifer Grabner of Wintergreen Farm, Missouri.
? In greenhouse 1, all flats are placed on a low table with a portable heater underneath the table. Plastic is placed around the heat table to keep in warmth.

? In greenhouse 2, the raised beds are layered in the following manner: 6 – 8 inches of manure, 6 - 8 inches of wood chips, two feet of soil, mixed of bagged organic potting soil, pro-mix, and mulch are the growing medium. Heat coils were sunk 8 inches down into the soil. In both instances plant growth florescent lights were used as a supplemental light source on gray days and to extend the light length as necessary.
? We tested both vegetable and wildflowers for germination and survival.
? We noted watering and electricity usage for both systems.

o We established an additional 300 square feet of gardening space. These beds were 2.5 ft. by 20 ft long. They were raised beds comprised of seasoned wood chips mixed 60:40 with native soil. These beds were used in 2010.

o Throughout the summer, I monitored plant growth and survival for all plants planted out into the garden.

o We established an additional 100 square feet of gardening space that will be ready in 2011. These raised beds are all a testing ground for waste resources. One raised bed is comprised of layers of decomposed leaves and aspen chips. One raised bed is composed of (from bottom to top) a layer of manure from the adjacent farm, sawdust from the sawmill, leaves mixed with aged grass clippings (bags from a yard in town), all covered with wood chips.

o We established two yard waste sites in spring 2010, to compare rates of decomposition and final use potential. At the first site, wood chips from springtime work containing box elder, oak, honeysuckle, prickly ash, and pine were layered with cow manure on the adjacent farm of Gene Hendrickson, retired dairy farmer. At least 30 tons of material was amassed. Eight tons of that were separated out and dumped onto our farm in fall 2010. This compost pine will be turned twice in 2011 to encourage decomposition. At the second site, we separated out into piles local dirt, wood mulch, and a common pile for green and brown compost material both from the home and the garden. These piles are being left to sit for a year before mixing. The three piles will be mixed in the spring 2011 and used in fall 2011 or spring 2012.

? On the property
o In Fall 2010, we established patches of golden seal and ginseng on the property. The seeds and bare root plants were purchased from Tony Pillow, who also participated in identifying the appropriate habitat for the planting.
o In Fall 2010, we finished clearing out five areas on the property that are put aside for plantings from the garden.

? Educational Experience
o On September 19, I attended a Native Plant Conference held by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. The conference discussed appropriate native plants for various habitats (e.g., prairie, savanna, and woodland,), woodland garden establishment and maintenance, and provided an overview of common plant-pollinator associations.
o I have spent many hours utilizing our local library, the internet, and my extensive collection of botanical texts to identify plants appropriate for dry and dry-mesic savanna, woodland, and prairie habitats that are also important nectar and/or pollen sources for honey bees and native bees.
o Rich Henderson, prairie and savanna specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, has assisted in identifying the savanna and woodland plants uncommon in the nursery trade and sources for seed on public lands.

? Local plant sources - availability and opportunity
o From early June through September, I have searched within a 50 mile radius of our nursery for populations of native plants that fit the following requirements:
? A population size of minimum 50 plants.
? A native population or planted established population, e.g., not planted within the last 10 years
? A population with enough seed set to allow a taking of 2000 seeds without taking more than one-third of the seeds ready at that time.
? My search yielded extremely discouraging results. Initially, I was targeting private landowners. Working with a non-profit organization that connects private landowners with conservation and stewardship education, I felt I would have a large pool of potential properties to select from. However, those parcels of land with appropriate sized populations were ALREADY known by local seed collectors, and being targeted for seed. Most lands that I visited are so degraded that I could not ask for seed – the landowners needed it more for their own efforts at restoration. After these discoveries, I began looking to roadsides of rural roads, hoping for better results. Along these linear corridors are remnants of prairie and savanna that do contain a selection of quality native plants. However, for only those listed below was I able to locate significantly sized populations of plants for dry and dry-mesic savanna and prairie habitat.
? A difficulty with collecting along roadsides is the lose of a potential collection to road-side mowing practices. This occurred on two instances this summer, and four instances last year.
? Collections have been made or attempted for the following species. The population sizes satisfied the requirements suggested to ensure genetic diversity.

Species, Common Name, Location, Population size (indiv.), Collected-Yr
Phlox divaricota, Woodland phlox, Private property, 50 – 75, Grazed
Galium boreale, Northern bedstraw, Roadside, 50 – 75, Mowed
Taenidea integerrima, Yellow pimpernel, Roadside,50 - 75, Mowed
Apios Americana, Groundnut, Roadside, 200- 500 , Missed
Kuhnia eupatorioides, False boneset, Private Property, greater than 100, 2010
Rosa arkansana, Prairie Rose, Private Property, 50 – 75 , 2010
Triosteum aurentiacum, Wild coffee, Private Property, 50 – 60, 2010
Solidago ptarmicoides, White upland aster, Private property, 100 – 300 , 2010
Helianthus pauciflorus, Showy sunflower, Roadside, 50 - 75, 2010
Helianthus occidentalis, Western sunflower, Private Property, 50 - 75, 2010
Tephrosia virginiana, Goat’s meadow rue, Private property, 100 – 200 , 2010
Monarda punctata, Horse Mint, Private property, 100 – 200 , 2010
Eupatorium altissimum, Upland Boneset, Roadside, greater than 200, 2010

? Plant survival in greenhouse 1 – heat table and greenhouse 2 – raised beds. After storing seeds using the known recommended stratification procedure, 22 wildflowers species were sowed directly into the greenhouse beds or into flats on a table heated during cold periods with a portable heater. All species were planted in early March or early April, depending on the stratification strategy suggested. 5 species did not germinate. 8 species had such poor germination that they were planted out into the garden in the early spring, but not used in this survey. The remaining 8 species were used in the study.
o Greenhouse 1 – heat bed: I selected for this greenhouse wildflower species (11 spp) that tolerated cooler conditions for germination – primarily wetland, forest, and woodland species. The plants in these flats demonstrated great variability in when they germinated and great variability in germination within a flat.
? Lesson: Though this was frustrating, I think it demonstrates that there are some wildflower species that require very specific conditions for germination. The cooler environment may be suitable for numerous species that germinate later in the season, or under cool soil conditions. In the future I will start these seeds later into the late winter season.
o Greenhouse 2 – raised beds: I selected for this greenhouse plants of dry and dry-mesic conditions that require warm soil temperatures and hot/dry conditions for germination. The 11 species planted into the raised beds demonstrated consistency in germination across and within species. Only one species, the Rose Mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus) had a delayed germination – of 2 months! I had given up on the species and actually mixed all of the soil around that had served as my germination beds. Within a week Hibiscus seedlings were everywhere!

? Plant survival in garden
This year, though a dry year throughout the summer and fall months, was a success for all species! Plants were only watered initially after planting and then again only during times of drought. Average time spent watering per month (June – September): 2 hours.

Silene regia (Royal Catchfly) surprised me. I miserably thought I had lost all of my plants, for the bed was taken over by weeds without any sign of the plants (I had left the bed alone due to the fragile nature of the seedlings). I began to fork up the bed and found strong healthy roots with complete success rate! These were immediately transplanted into a more appropriate environment within our garden area. A subset of seedlings were transplanted directly out into our native beds.

Plant survival in pots was a different story. Pots required watering every other day, resulting in an average per WEEK of 45 minutes – 1 hr. Despite watering at least 3 times a week with the pots in partial shade, I lost on average 2 pots per flat (32 pots/flat) each week. Some species experienced root rot; others dried out. Using our own potting soil slowed down the rate of loss, but my husband and I decided to transplant the remaining plants into the raised beds rather than deal with the loss. The plants transplanted in late June and July into the raised beds were watered for a few days to promote establishment, and then only watered during long periods of hot stressful weather.

The results of 2010 plantings are shown below.

Species, Common Name, # planted, 7-20/9-20
Started 2010
Cassia marilandica, Wild Senna, 27, 27
Veronicastrum virginianum, Culver’s Root, 32, 32
Aster patens, Clasping aster, 32, 32/32
Silene regia, Royal catchfly, 85, 74*
Manfreda virginica, False agave, 36, 25/32
Baptisia leucantha, Cream indigo, 15, 15
Liatris cylindracea/squarrosa, Blazing Star, 64, 49
Hibiscus lasiocarpus, Hibiscus, 150, 45/45

Started 2009
Liatris aspera, Rough Blazing Star, 13, 12
Ceanothus americana, New Jersey Tea, 40, 40
Kuhnia eupatorioides, False Boneset, 8, 8
Silpium laciniatum, Compass Plant, 16, 14
Allium cernuum, Nodding Onion, 64, 64
Aster azureus, Sky Blue Aster, 14, 14
Silpium integrifolium, Rosinweed, 18, 18
Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake master, 16, 16
Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, 16, 16
Parthinium integrifolium, Wild Quinine, 16, 16

*this 2010 plant species was planted out of pots into the raised beds during mid-summer.

? Mulch in gardens
Wood chip mulch has been an interesting medium to work with; with many capabilities, but also interesting challenges. Some of the findings that we’ve had are noted below:
o Use: To kill existing vegetation in preparation for a new garden area, mulch works wonders. It must be piled at least 2 ft. high, and best layered with other degradable waste, such as grass.
o Within a demonstration garden including dry and dry-mesic plants, the wood chips are too rich to be used as a mulch cover. This applies to most other mulch alternatives too, however. The wood chips seem to promote the growth of wild sorrel. Sorrel can effectively choke out small plantings, with its extensive root mat.
o Where mulch has been used to prepare for a new garden area that will house dry and dry-mesic native plants, I have been removing the mulch prior to planting, using it instead for my paths throughout the garden. This seems to lessen my weed problem in new plantings, much to my surprise.
o In woodlands, our wood chip piles resulting from restoration work have served as experiments for using wood chips to increase biomass and organic matter in the woodlands and savannas. We’ve been surprised at the increase in Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) distribution and abundance in association with the wood chips. This is not good news – Sheep sorrel is an aggressive noxious species in our region. It grows on the pile and around the edges, living off of the decaying chips. I am not sure which comes first – the seeds or the environment. We were considering using wood chips in our native garden plots; we feel now this is not a good idea and could have negative consequences. Sheep sorrel is not a species that we want to introduce into the savanna/woodland.


Winter 2011
? Begin stratification on the year’s 15 new species. Prepare greenhouse for planting by removing over-wintered greens and stirring up soil.
? Attend and share information about the “wood loop” at two conferences, The Prairie Enthusiasts Annual Conference (Feb 26, 2011) and the Tri-state Forest Stewardship Conference (March 12, 2011).

Early Spring
? Plant into greenhouse plants for dry and dry-mesic savannas and prairie. Finish preparation of habitat gardens.
? Visit Bluestem Farm in Baraboo, WI

? Monitor and nurture greenhouse plants.
? Transplant seedlings from greenhouse into raised beds. Record numbers planted and location. Take pH reading for each location.
? For each of the 5 habitat garden areas selected, record information on site characteristics, including soil texture, soil color, pH, sunlight, and aspect. Describe vegetation structure and species in each area selected.
? Before transplanting, take pH reading of each raised bed location the plants are taken from.
? Transplant plants from raised beds into habitat gardens. Flag each plant to track survivorship. These will be compared to 1 and 2 year old plants transplanted in fall 2010 from pots (also flagged).
? Prepare soil for pots (e.g., stir up BIG piles either by hand or with backhoe).

Early Summer
? Water plants in habitat gardens and raised beds as necessary to promote establishment.
? Continue search for savanna and prairie plants along roadsides and on private lands without current collector pressure.

? Monitor for survival and health in habitat gardens. Monitor for survival and health in raised beds. Re-measure pH for raised beds and habitat gardens.
? Water when necessary in raised beds and habitat gardens.
? Continue search for savanna and prairie plants along roadsides and on private lands without current collector pressure.

? Continue search for savanna and prairie plants along roadsides and on private lands without current collector pressure.

? Attend Center for Plant Conservation Intensive Plant or Pollinator Workshop (not offered in 2010)

My husband and I run a small land stewardship service, primarily working with landowners of small parcels of wooded property. We are often employed in exotic species removal and timber stand improvement (TSI). With all of our contacts, we have been discussing the importance of recycling woodland waste products and encouraging people to chip up their “waste wood” and compost it rather than burn it up in large burn piles. In this one-on-one matter, during 2010 we reached out to 8 different landowners.

Our greatest success comes from our stewardship work with Don and Donna Justin, owners of a 220 acre bed and breakfast resort called Justin Trails Bed and Breakfast ( Our work on their property puts us in contact with volunteer work crews 8 weekends a year. During these work weekends, guests receive discounted rates on their stay for providing the resort 4 hours of work each day. We have worked with anywhere from 4 to 15 people in one weekend. During that time, Charles and I are working and educating, sharing what we know about nature, land management, and the struggles of land stewardship and “wood waste”.

Don and Donna Justin are so interested in the concept of “wood chips not brush piles” that they are employing one variation of our idea on their own property. Wood chips from our TSI work is being used in their extensive manicured gardens around the home-scape, incorporated into the compost pile for food waste, spread along the trails in the woods, and is being used on two test fields to filter organic matter back into the soil. Their interest and participation in the project concepts are likely our biggest success this year.

Objectives/Performance Targets


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes