Rhody Native: Propagation for Sustainable Landscapes
The Rhody Native™ Propagation Workshop Series is designed to encourage local growers to diversify their offerings to include locally-sourced, ecotypic native plants through learner-centric propagation training. Rhody Native™ coordinators include a University of Rhode Island cooperative extension educator, a University horticulture professor, and the botanist for the Rhode Island Natural History Survey. The coordinators developed the training program with the guidance of four local growers and the executive director of the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association. The program was designed as a seasonal series of five workshops that mirror the timing of the growing process. Per the suggestion of the growers, the program was modeled after the International Plant Propagators Society meetings, structured as growers’ round tables to share best practices of native plant propagation by incorporating growers as instructors.
About 20 growers attended the first three workshops, which included a series of case studies from local green industry professionals (two growers and a landscape designer), a field session on native plant ID and seed collection, and a hands-on workshop on seed cleaning and seed bed preparation held at a local nursery. Instructors included three local growers, a botanist, a URI professor of horticulture, a seed company manager, an extension educator and a landscape designer. The program successfully engaged over 50 stakeholders; all of whom are crucial to the development of a local native plant industry.
Program participants received binders with propagation information and access to an online website for continued self-guided research. Two final workshops are scheduled for January 2012, which will include a growers’ round table on indoor seed production and a panel discussion on native plant marketing and sources of demand among industry experts. To date, 5 local nurseries are scheduled to receive donations of Rhode Island ecotype native seed for propagation.
Performance Target: Over the course of three years, 20 nurseries (nursery professionals) will diversify their products available to consumers by growing 2,500 plants, native to Rhode Island. All plants will have been collected from Rhode Island seed or stem cuttings and propagated locally. A total of 50 native plant species will be available to the consumer, including trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials. The average net increase in sales at each nursery will be $25,000.00.
Milestone 1. 400 nursery professionals will be notified of an upcoming seasonal training seminar on growing native plants. 400 nursery professionals were notified of a five-part training seminar series through listings in the RINLA newsletter, targeted networking and mailings, achieved in August and September 2011.
Milestone 2. Growers and garden center professionals will receive donations of Rhody Native plants that have been contract grown in 2011 for sale in their garden centers. They will be given promotional displays and informational brochures for consumer education purposes, and asked to track sales in 2011 to inform future training programs and growers. All growers receiving donations will be informed of the upcoming training program and invited to attend. Achieved August 2011.
Milestone 3. Notice of a seasonal, October & December 2011/February 2012 training seminar will be sent to 100 interested growers, with registration details and seminar outline. 400 Nursery and green industry professionals were notified in August and September via RINLA and URI Outreach Center and RINHS and CT and MA Northeast Organic Farming Association email lists, social networking and direct mailing through the RI Department of Environmental Management.
Milestone 4. 20 growers will attend part one of the educational seminar offered in the fall of 2011. Growers will learn the economic and environmental benefits of growing native plants. They will learn native plant identification and seed collection techniques in a field session. A Fall training will teach seed cleaning, seed dormancy (stratification and scarification) and storage techniques. Each grower will receive a training manual and access to an online database and will generate a collection of native plant specimens for identification purposes. Growers will be notified of their need to track native plant sales for later reporting. Achieved October 2011 with small alterations to course schedule, see accomplishments/milestones section for details. No collection of specimens was generated due to the late timing of the course, which wouldn’t allow for adequate specimen preservation.
Milestone 5. The 10-20 trained growers who indicate a willingness to grow Rhody Native plants will receive site visits from program coordinators, assisting them in selecting native plants for cultivation, and evaluating farm conditions for the growth of different species during the fall/winter of 2011. Four nurseries, employing 6 participating growers received consultation from program coordinators to assist them in selecting the plant species for propagation in 2012. All growers received information on the stratification status of the seed they will be receiving. Requirements for each species’ propagation will be delivered with the seed material in January of 2012. A fifth grower has agreed to grow out seedlings beginning in spring of 2012. Achieved December 2011-ongoing.
Milestone 6. 10 growers total will begin propagating and cultivating 2,500 locally sourced native plants each, in the fall of 2011 through 2012. While the milestone states, 10, in actuality 5 local nurseries, which employ 6 growers participating in the program will begin growing over 30 species of locally sourced native plants in January of 2012. Growers have selected from 10 – 12 species of native herbaceous, grass, shrub and tree species. Seed collections range from 500 to 2000 seeds per species, with an anticipated result of approximately 5,000 native plants each.
- Growers learn seed cleaning and dormancy considerations from Dr. Brian Maynard at Hoogendorn Nursery.
- Rhody Native plants for sale at one of eight pilot garden centers.
The pilot sales program for Rhody Native™ plants (indicating they are sourced from wild collected seed of Rhode Island genotypes, and grown locally) was launched in August of 2011 with eight nurseries and garden centers located around Rhode Island. Many of the participating garden centers planned to over-winter the plants for the busier 2012 spring sales season. The partnership with Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association proved valuable in engaging nurseries. Garden center response was low from contact made through mail and newsletter postings. At the suggestion of the RINLA executive director, follow-up contacts were made in person. As a result, garden centers were willing to participate, indicating a preference for a more informal approach, achieved by visiting them in-person and offering to deliver plants directly to the nurseries. The data collected on plant sales will provide valuable information on the potential success of the Rhody Native product and assist in developing point of sale marketing materials.
The training program was publicized through a variety of venues including the main project partners’ listservs and social networking sites and through the RI Department of Environmental Management, Division of Agriculture’s direct mailing to all licensed nurseries. The Massachusetts and Connecticut NOFA groups also assisted in publicizing the event to their members.
Over the course of developing the training seminar, with input from growers and landscape designers, the training program evolved into a five-workshop series which mirrored the propagation practices for a typical growing season. All workshops were held in the afternoons and evenings to accommodate the growers’ schedules, with publicity continuing throughout the program. The first workshop, held in October of 2011 on the URI campus, engaged growers and a number of other green industry and environmental stakeholders interested in native plants, bringing the total number of participants to 35. The opening session of the seminar series began with an overview of the Rhody Native™ initiative and the workshop series presented by the URI extension educator. The introduction was followed by a local landscape designer who shared her experience working with clients and designing with native plants, and discussed which native species she would like to see available in the nursery trade. Next, a local grower spoke on behalf of the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association’s role in the Rhody Native initiative. Finally, a second grower from Rhode Island told the story of her native plant nursery as a case study. Many participants of the training seminar indicated that they assumed multiple roles in their businesses, including grower, landscape designer and environmental professional, and thus were interested in learning from a diversity of professional standpoints.
About 20 growers, green industry and environmental professionals attended the Field ID and Seed Collection workshop held at the Nettie Marie Jones Preserve on the URI Alton Jones campus. The RI Natural History Survey Botanist and Rhody Native™ initiative Coordinator explained the legal and logistical considerations for seed collection and taught participants about native plant identification methods and resources. The participants toured the preserve, which features a diversity of native species in multiple habitats, and also provides important lessons on the effect of invasive species and invasive species control methods in a natural system. Each participant practiced native plant collection methods, as many species were ready for harvest.
About 30 green industry professionals attended the Indoor Seed Propagation workshop held at Hoogendorn Nursery. The workshop was taught by a seed company manager, who explained his methods for seed cleaning. A URI Horticulture Professor taught about different types of seed dormancy and methods for treating seed accordingly, and gave hands-on demonstrations of seed cleaning techniques. The grower at Hoogendorn Nursery spoke about his experience propagating native plants in outdoor seed beds and also provided a model of his seed bed methods. Each attendee received a binder with materials relating to each step of seed propagation and access to an online website with more propagation resources, including species-specific growing information. A number of new participants were attracted to this workshop with the assistance of the RINLA Executive Director. Participants responded positively to the informal atmosphere.
Two more workshops are scheduled for January 2012, engaging a number of local and national experts to inform the participants. Workshop 5 will cover Indoor Seed Bed Propagation, and will feature a growers’ roundtable consisting of a horticulture professor from URI, a local grower who propagated Rhody Natives™ last year, and the propagator for New England Wild Flower Society’s Nasami Farm. Experienced growers will discuss their lessons learned in native plant propagation, with hands-on demos of seed flat production and winter cutting propagation of woody plants. A final workshop will be in the form of a panel discussion on Sources of Demand and Marketing of Native Plants. The panel will consist of a number of stakeholders including a landscape designer, a government agency responsible for funding habitat restoration, a nonprofit involved in habitat restoration, a nursery grower with significant experience in the native plant industry and another grower/speaker who was involved in a national branding campaign for native plants. This final speaker will teach about native plant marketing techniques, followed by a discussion among all panel members. There are hopes that these final workshops will build more of the growers’ confidence to take advantage of seed donations through the Rhody Native™ program, engage more stakeholders who could create a demand for Rhody Natives in the future and start the conversation about building demand through local legislation. They will also afford the chance to gain more targeted feedback from all participants through written surveys collected during the workshops.
The growers who received donations of locally-sourced seed for propagation worked directly with the Botanist and Rhody Native™ initiative Coordinator to determine which species they would propagate. We were slightly under-target for the number of growers adopting the practice, in part due to a demonstrated lack of familiarity with seed propagation and the wish to due further research, however growers selected more species than anticipated, resulting in a predicted higher number of plants being propagated through the effort. A critical factor at play was impact of the economic downturn on Rhode Island’s nursery industry. At least four local nurseries who may have been involved in the program closed or significantly reduced their businesses in 2011. The economic climate has reduced the willingness of many growers to devote space to untested species in general, relying on staples that consumers are familiar with and are proven to sell (Conversations with Dr. Brian Maynard, URI and Kyle Stewart of Stewart Nursery). Commercial growers are particularly reluctant to take on the commitment of trees and shrubs, which will require 3 to 5 years of investment before they reach a marketable size. However, a non-profit initiative (Trees 2020), led by Groundwork Providence and the City of Providence, that is dedicated to increasing Providence’s tree cover to 30% by the year 2020 has agreed to grow a minimum of 300 Rhody Native™ trees and shrubs beginning in spring of 2012. This effort has the potential to increase demand for locally sourced and locally grown native trees and shrubs, and provide nursery owners with the data on potential sales which they are seeking prior to committing valuable land to growing native species.
- Growers learning native plant identification and seed collection from RINHS Botanist, Hope Leeson
- Hands-on seed bed preparation workshop at Hoogendorn Nursery.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The online survey received a limited amount of feedback from the growers. The 7 participants surveyed rated each workshop with an average of a 2 (helpful) or 3 (parts were helpful) for each of three workshops. 57% of participants found the resource binder and website helpful, while the others hadn’t examined them yet. January workshops will employ written evaluations given at the time of the workshops to increase feedback from participants, including an evaluation of the program as a whole. A total of 5 growers, employing at least 6 individuals participating in the workshop series will grow approximately 5,000 Rhody Native™ plants each in 2012.
The program successfully engaged over 50 stakeholders crucial to the development of a local native plant industry in the future. Green industry professionals included nursery and garden center employees, landscape designers and architects, landscape contracting firms and nonprofits involved in native plant propagation. Other end-users of ecotypic native plants included government agencies, private consulting and engineering firms and nonprofits involved in habitat restoration as well as planners, and horticulturists managing public and private gardens. The large number of instructors participating in the workshops provides a solid basis of expertise that can be tapped in the future as growers adopt new practices. This early buy-in with the project by a variety of stakeholders will hopefully be instrumental in developing a market for Rhody Native™ plants grown by the participating growers.
One of the unanticipated results of this project came in the formation of a “Growers’ Committee” Under the RI Nursery and Landscape Association. This committee will function as a means of communication among major players in the local growing community to address such topics as the Rhody Native™ initiative. The committee will allow the growers who participated in the workshop to share techniques and the intent of the program with the growers who were not present. This type of facilitated cooperation amongst the industry will be critical in the adoption of new practices and the potential success of Rhody Native™.
Professor of Horticulture
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