Rhody Native: Propagation for Sustainable Landscapes

2012 Annual Report for LNE11-311

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $122,333.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
Vanessa Venturini
URI Outreach Center

Rhody Native: Propagation for Sustainable Landscapes


The Rhody Native™ Propagation Workshop Series encouraged growers to diversify their offerings to include local genotypes of genetically diverse native plants, through a learner-centric native plant propagation training program. The coordinators developed the 2011 pilot program as a series of five workshops scheduled to mirror the growing process. This series employed local horticultural experts as sources of information on best practices in native plant production. Two workshops, held as a part of the 2011 pilot program occurred in January 2012, including a growers’ round table on indoor seed production and a panel discussion on native plant marketing and demand. Following review of participant evaluation of the 2011 pilot workshop series, the training program was offered again in 2012. The second series included four courses on native plant design, identification, propagation methods and marketing given by local growers, landscape designers/architects, horticulturists, a university professor and a botanist. 26 growers attended the pilot workshop series, with 31 growers attending the 2012 series.

Participants of both workshop series received binders with propagation information and access to an online website for continued self-guided research. Program coordinators have also established a website of archived presentations for future viewing. To date, 13 local nursery growers and garden centers have received donations of plants, seed and cut stem material for propagation. Additionally, 3 non-profit organizations have received native plants and/or seed for propagation. In 2012/2013 6 growers are schedule to receive donations of Rhode Island genotypic native plant seed and cut stem material for propagation. The 13 nurseries and garden centers that received donations of plant and plant propagation materials for the pilot sales program made over $10,000 in plant sales. As a result of this program, there are approximately 36 species of Rhode Island native plants of local genotypes available for sale in southern New England nurseries and garden centers

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.

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 January 2012 with small alterations to course schedule, see accomplishments/milestones section for details.

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 December 2012.

The theme of the January, 2012 RINLA Winter Meeting will be native plants in the green industry. Rhody Native coordinators will present a one-hour seminar to 30 – 60 growers, on the Rhody Native program and the benefits of growing native plants. Achieved January 2012.

100 growers from Rhode Island and the surrounding communities receive notice in May of 2012, regarding the 2nd training seminar offered in August 2012, with registration details and seminar outline. Nursery and green industry professionals were notified of the 2012 Rhody Native Propagation Workshop Series in August and September 2012. Notices were sent via the RI Nursery and Landscaping Association, URI Outreach Center and RI Natural History Survey listservs, Northeast Organic Farming Association and Ecological Landscape Association email lists, social networking and direct mailing through the RI Department of Environmental Management Nursery Certification Program.

15 separate growers will attend the August, 2012 educational seminar. Program contents are updated based on grower comments. 31 growers attended the October/November 2012 program, which was scheduled in the fall to accommodate growers’ schedules.

10 trained growers who indicate a willingness to grow Rhody Native plants will receive site visits from program coordinators in the fall of 2012, with similar assistance provided to that listed above. 5 commercial growers and 1 non-profit native plant organization received seed donations in early 2012. Each grower has received consultation with the botanist and received species-specific information on propagation techniques. Outreach to growers continues regarding the availability of seed donations for propagation. Achieved December 2012-ongoing.

The 10 growers from the original training will fill out a survey in October 2012 describing the effect of the program on net farm income over the first year of growing. Surveys were conducted in the fall of 2012 to garner feedback on net farm income over the first year of growing along with qualitative feedback on the propagation process and perceived market for native plants.

10 growers will begin propagating and cultivating 2,500 locally collected native plants in the fall of 2012 – winter 2013. Six commercial growers and 3 non-profit organizations are scheduled to receive seed and cut stem donations in early 2013 selected from over 100 native plant species from which seed and cut stems were collected in 2012. Two growers will continue to experiment with the seeds and stem cuttings received last year. To date, growers have selected 36 species from over 100 species of native herbaceous, grass, shrub and tree species that were collected in 2012. Seed collections range from 500 to 2000 seeds per species. Grower preferences for propagation goals differ depending on the size of the operation and what each grower determines their sales and storage capacity to be. Goals for final plant numbers range from 25 to 500 plants per species.


The final two workshops of the Rhody Native™ pilot program were held in January 2012, engaging a number of local and regional experts involved in plant propagation and the end use of native plants as instructors. Workshop 4 covered Indoor Seed Bed Propagation and stem cutting, and featured a growers’ round-table consisting of a horticulture professor from URI, a local grower who propagated seed for Rhody Native™ in 2010/11 and 2011/12, and the propagator for New England Wild Flower Society’s Nasami Farm. Participants learned through case studies and hands-on demonstrations of seed flat production and winter cutting propagation of woody plants in a nursery setting on the URI campus. The final workshop in the pilot series was in the format of a panel discussion entitled: “Sources of Demand and Marketing of Native Plants.” The panel consisted of a number of stakeholders including a landscape designer, a government representative responsible for funding habitat restoration, a nonprofit organization 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 specifically addressed native plant marketing techniques. All presentations were followed by a discussion among panel members with questions from the audience. In addition to generating enthusiasm about native plants, these workshops afforded the chance to gain more targeted feedback from all participants through written surveys collected during the workshops.

The pilot sales program for Rhody Native™ plants (propagated in 2010/11 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 over-wintered the plants for the busier 2012 spring and fall sales seasons. Garden centers had varied success in caring for, marketing and selling the plants. See figure for more details. Project coordinators are evaluating the feedback from each nursery and encouraging the niche growers that have exhibited the most interest and effort, and thus success, to continue to propagate and sell Rhody Native™ plants. The coordinators are also pursuing contract-growing opportunities for local habitat restoration projects to generate additional demand for locally sourced native plant material. This outcome of the project has the potential to open discussion pathways between local growers and local landscape designers and engineers for production of plant material in the future, and provide a viable means for growers to enter the native plant production market.

The second Rhody Native™ workshop series was publicized through a variety of venues in late summer/ early fall 2012, 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.

The coordinators designed the 2012 Rhody Native™ Propagation Workshop Series to accommodate the requests from the 2011 pilot program participants. The program built upon and reinforced the pilot in a way that would accommodate both new and returning participants. The program allowed professionals to share best practices in native plant propagation to help increase the supply of native plants, but also delved into the subjects of designing with native plants, and marketing techniques to educate consumers and grow the demand concurrently. In order to accommodate the growers’ schedules, the series ran over a shorter time period in the fall; on weekends and evenings. The workshops were held in a variety of locations, including local nurseries to draw a wider audience.

The “Designing with Natives” workshop drew over 60 growers, homeowners, designers, URI Master Gardeners and landscape professionals. A landscape architect and a landscape designer shared their insights into the local native plant industry, with grower-centric information such as desired species and the potential sources of demand from both the residential design and regulatory/habitat restoration perspectives. The presenters pointed out challenges in the design world and provided scientific and practical reasoning to incorporate native plants in the landscape. They gave case studies utilizing their designs and discussed methods of convincing clients to appreciate a native plant palette. A project partner from the RI Nursery and Landscape Association spoke about the benefits of RINLA membership. A complete recording of this workshop is available online (see link below) to inform industry professionals in the future. http://amms.oshean.org/content/uri/20121018-180039-cbls100/

About 15 growers, green industry and environmental professionals attended the Field ID and Seed Collection workshop held at The Nature Conservancy’s Francis C. Carter Preserve in Charlestown, RI. The RI Natural History Survey Botanist and Rhody Native™ Coordinator explained the legal and logistic 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. Each participant practiced seed collection methods, as many species were ready for harvest.

About 21 growers and 15 green industry professionals attended the Propagation Methods workshop held at Clark Farms in South Kingstown, RI. Growers learned the complete propagation process in a visually appealing format from three growers and two project coordinators. This included seed cleaning, storage, and stratification, stem cuttings, growing mediums, and lessons learned from local nursery growers. A URI Horticulture Professor and the Rhody Native™ Program Coordinator gave hands-on demonstrations of seed cleaning techniques and discussed methods for the preparation of seed for germination such as seed stratification and scarification. A local grower gave a demonstration of stem cutting techniques. The owner of Van Berkum Nurseries, a wholesale nursery in New Hampshire, specializing in native seed propagation, as well as a local grower who had participated in the pilot program and successfully grown Rhody Native™ seed in 2011/12, discussed their techniques for propagation and marketing natives. 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. Participants responded positively to the informal atmosphere. An increased number of growers were attracted to the program over that of the equivalent offered during the pilot series, due to the location and networking opportunities afforded at Clark Farms.

The final workshop was held in November 2012 on Marketing Native Plants. This workshop drew about 15 growers, homeowners and green industry professionals. Lower than expected attendance was likely due to the recent hurricane and inclement weather on the night of the presentation. In addition to presentations by two speakers on the topic of marketing native plants to consumers, presentations were given by representatives from local agriculture support agencies. The Chief of the RI Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture, and a biologist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service described their role in supporting the concept of locally produced native plants in Rhode Island. The first invited speaker presented as a co-owner of a large wholesale nursery that developed its own national native plant branding campaign and the owner of a small garden center. He explained the most successful methods for point of sale marketing, which often includes placing a focus on the environmental benefits of native plants. The second speaker was the executive director of an educational nonprofit/native plant nursery that provided a case study for the intersection of education and marketing that made their business viable. This workshop is available in podcast format on the resource website as a tool for continued learning, (see the link below). http://amms.oshean.org/content/uri/20121108-180745-cbls10/#

The growers who received donations of locally-sourced seed for propagation worked directly with the Botanist and Rhody Native™ Coordinator to determine which species they would propagate. While we exceeded our target number of growers in attendance at the various workshops, we were slightly under-target for the number of growers adopting the practice. This is in part due to a demonstrated lack of familiarity with seed propagation and the wish to conduct further research. However, growers that did propagate Rhody Native™ material, selected more species than anticipated, which resulted in a higher number of plants produced through the effort.

A critical negative impact to the program has been 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. Additionally, the economic climate has reduced the willingness of many growers to devote space to untested species, relying on staples that consumers are familiar with and are proven to sell. One grower also commented that garden centers are reluctant to hold inventory of unproven plants over the winter, due to extra costs incurred through maintenance of the plants and the space they occupy. Another local grower mentioned that, “Too much diversification can be a bad thing. A whole new set of crops takes more time and resources that can be dedicated to doing what you are currently doing better and spreading yourself too thin.” The majority of workshop participants, whether they were growers or Master Gardeners, mentioned the importance of education in driving the demand for natives. When asked about anticipated challenges in diversifying to include natives, one farmer noted, “The challenge will be introducing them to individual species/varieties that they (consumers) don’t know, and then broadening that initial connection by educating about why to choose natives.” A nationwide grower of native plants, located in Connecticut, commented that education at the garden center level is also required, as buyers usually buy what they like, and are familiar with, rather than what they think their customers will buy.

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 is committed to growing native species, and is willing to work with Rhody Native™ to grow and plant local genotypes, beginning in 2013. 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 devoting valuable land to growing native species.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The 13 nurseries and garden centers that received donations of plants and propagation materials for the pilot sales program made over $10,640.45, in plant sales. As a result of this program, there are approximately 36 species of locally sourced native plant genotypes available for purchase in southern New England nurseries and garden centers.

The January 2012 workshops employed written evaluations given at the time of the workshops to increase feedback from participants, including an evaluation of the program as a whole. Participants in the “Indoor Propagation Methods” workshop gave the course an average rating of 1.39 (1=very helpful, 2=helpful) when asked how helpful the workshop would be in allowing them to diversify their offerings to include native plants. One horticulturist said “Always great to share information and hear from professionals – lots of knowledge gained!,” while another industry professional mentioned “Very good course content and informative speakers. Would attend again.”

Participants in the January “Panel Discussion on Sources and Demand and Native Plant Marketing” gave the course an average helpfulness rating of 1.45 using the same scale as above. Qualitative feedback indicated that participants were able to glean a sense of the local demand for native plants from a variety of standpoints. The overall tone of the workshop was hopeful in terms of the local climate relative to the native plant industry. “Great info, gave me a better understanding of how everyone needs to work together.” “The presenters were so informative and I appreciate the variety of approaches represented.” “Good panel, well balanced among professionals, environmental interests, regulators.” One URI Master Gardener gave a coordinator verbal feedback that the program was the most content rich, informative continuing education class they had attended through the University of Rhode Island.

The native plant design workshop received an average helpfulness rating of 1.56 from the audience of primarily URI Master Gardeners, homeowners and landscape designers and architects. Feedback from participants included, “Good workshop – I like that it covered residential and commercial, yet the needs are the same.” “I loved seeing the case studies and the landscape designs. Great photos.” The workshop was successful in generating an interest in native plants among consumers, as evidenced by the following comment, “Loved the presentations and would be interested in having native plants in my yard.”

The plant propagation workshop offered in the second series, drew the largest concentration of our target audience of growers (over 20). It garnered a lot of positive feedback, as reflected in a 1.67 helpfulness rating. This workshop brought together a large group of experienced growers, in part because it was located at a popular nursery, and afforded networking opportunities for many of the participants. One grower mentioned that, “This was incredibly useful – from the array of experts to the documentation.” Another grower reflected that, “This is a great opportunity for farmers to connect with naturalists. It seems like we would be more interwoven given the ideals behind growing organic food and studying/ conserving/ restoring nature, but there is a surprising disconnect between the two communities. I’m a little of both, & see that a lot of good could come from that connection.” This comment holds potential for continued dialogue between stakeholders who share a common goal, but have a long history of thinking that their goals are at odds with each other.

The 2012 native plant marketing workshop presented the shared perspective of a large scale grower that wholesale grows native species on a national scale, and a small nonprofit native plant grower with a focus on consumer education. Both speakers were passionate about native plants and about using the broader ecological picture that ties gardens and gardeners to the natural world, as a means of educating consumers on the benefits of planting native plants for our local ecosystems. Their enthusiasm and compelling arguments helped to generate demand for native species from the audience. Overall, the workshop received a 1.14 helpfulness rating, with one participant commenting, “I like the ideas of native plants in my garden. It is doable and I can share with my neighbors and friends. It is natural to my environment.” This workshop was also instructive for the development of Rhody Native marketing materials; a task which will be undertaken through the Rhode Island Natural History Survey in 2013 through a Rhode Island Foundation grant.

From 2012-2013, the Rhody Native Propagation Workshop Series successfully engaged over 125 stakeholders crucial to the development of a local native plant industry in the future. While the workshop series was designed for farmers, the fact that many of the workshops were open to the public and green industry professionals was instrumental in helping to educate consumers and build demand for locally sourced, locally grown native plants. Participating green industry professionals included nursery and garden center employees, landscape designers and architects, landscape contracting firms, gardeners and estate managers, and nonprofits involved in native plant propagation. Other end-users of locally sourced native plants included government agencies, planners, private consulting and engineering firms and nonprofits involved in habitat restoration, as well as horticulturists, gardeners and homeowners managing public and private gardens. The large number of instructors participating in the workshops provided 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.

Video and tape recordings of the first and last workshops held in 2012, have the potential to be used as a guide in future efforts, and will reach a much broader audience than those who were present on the day of the events. Social media and web sites are being utilized to promote viewing of the videos.

One of the unanticipated results of this project came in early 2012, through 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 series of workshops to share techniques and the intent of the program with the growers who were not present. This type of facilitated cooperation within the industry will be critical as they collectively diversify their businesses though the adoption of new practices and the potential success of Rhody Native™.

The workshop series also served to solidify relationships between two local non-profit organizations working to promote native plants in home landscapes and urban settings, and a regional non-profit organization dedicated to sourcing and propagating local genotypes of native plants throughout New England. Rhody Native™ provided seed for propagation by the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, which holds two native plant sales annually. In 2011/12 the organization propagated 6 native plant species of Rhode Island genotype; producing 300 plants for their sales events. Unfortunately, sales records were not recorded at these events; however Rhody Native™ plants will be accounted for separately at future events. The Hope Nursery, located on the south side of Providence, and a project of the non-profit organization Trees 2020, has begun growing native trees for planting throughout Providence’s most impoverished neighborhoods. An initial donation of 10 seedling trees was made at the opening ceremony for the nursery in October. Rhody Native™ will continue to work with the organization to propagate local genotypes of native trees suitable for urban plantings. In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of Success Program, the New England Wild Flower Society works to collect and propagate local genotypes of native plant seed throughout New England. Since 2010, Rhody Native™ has worked with NEWFS for the propagation of tree and shrub species. In 2012 Rhody Native™ donated the seed of 10 species in exchange for NEWFS to propagate 4 species, which will then be available to Rhode Island nursery growers to grow on and sell as they mature. Both of the latter relationships are vital to giving a jump-start to the local industry’s ability to produce and sell local genotypes of slower growing trees and shrubs.


Hope Leeson

[email protected]
Rhode Island Natural History Survey
Room 200, Ranger Hall
University of Rhode Islandr
Kingston, RI 02881
Office Phone: 4018745800
Website: http://www.rinhs.org/
Dr. Brian Maynard

[email protected]
Professor of Horticulture
215 Woodward Hall
Kingston, RI 02881
Office Phone: 4018745372
Vanessa Venturini

[email protected]
Extension Educator
3 E. Alumni Ave.
Kingston, RI 02881
Office Phone: 4018747142
Website: http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs013/1102238942925/archive/1107751222565.html
Dr. Marion Gold

[email protected]
3 E. Alumni Ave.
Kingston, RI 02881
Office Phone: 4018745705
Website: cels.uri.edu/outreach