We recently obtained almost 2,000 baby plants from the Coeur d’Alene Forest Service nursery (see my co-interns blog about our experience there!), all of them bright and bushy tailed with green leaves and even a few flowers! These native plants are special because their source was known and local to Southeast Idaho. This is an important feature because it greatly increases each individual plants chance of surviving, once placed in their ‘home’ habitat, and reproducing successfully because of local adaptations they contain. Our goal for these kid plants was to establish them down on the Curlew National Grassland as part of a stream bank and habitat restoration initiative. Because all of them are perennials, if we get them into the ground before the first frost they will die back this winter and be ready to roll next spring! In one overcast and windy day, we planted over half of them within and above the floodplain of Deep Creek on the Curlew. Volunteer master naturalists, citizens, and other Forest Service and NRCS employees came out to help. Shovels were flying, compost was distributed, and plugs were pressed into the ground. We were rewarded with a lunch of hot, homemade chili (made by our wonderful mentor) and then wrapped up the day by putting a layer of mulch around each plant, to tuck them in and discourage weeds from popping up.
We still had a handful of plugs after the Curlew planting effort so our mentor took some to local National Forest District offices to establish native plant displays and then we took the rest to a Juniper treatment area (where removal of Juniper trees occur in order to stop their excessive encroachment on meadows and shrub-lands). The piles of branches and twigs had been burned, leaving sooty circles of bare ground. Our mentor was interested in planting some of the native forbs in these bare areas to asses growth and reproduction potential over the years and to help establish pollinator habitat within the meadow itself. Our team of three (myself, my co-intern, and our mentor) quickly got to work digging, composting, and planting in the circles of dark soil and ash; the ‘forb islands’ we created sites of promising green. . At the end of the day we counted the plugs that remained-we had given all but 200 plants a home in the ground!
Our plan is to store the plugs securely over this weekend and then spread them in more areas that need some native plant TLC over the Forest the following week-we may even be able to donate some to a local University in order to help them in their effort to become a pollinator friendly campus!
I have to be honest, before this week, I had never been a part of such an extensive planting initiative. I learned that it is hard work that feels good and rewards you with a lovely visual of fresh green on the landscape and the knowledge that the baby plants are happy and at home, ready to grow and soak up the sun come springtime.