Ways to get free or low cost native plants We  of course would like you to buy plants from our spring and fall sales but there are also ways you can get low cost or free plants with a little bit of your time and effort.  If you have big projects this can really reduce costs. Bare Root Sales (low cost) The best low cost source is your county Conservation District bare root sales.  These sales usually start in December or January with plants generally available in early March.  The advantage of bare roots is that they are inexpensive  and easy to transport.  This is especially helpful if you are planting on hillsides.  You don’t have to haul pots up or down hillsides.  The disadvantage is they need to be planted as soon as possible.  Also the bare root plants are frequently sold in bundles.  Roots dry out very quickly. According to Lawyer Nursery Inc. in Olympia, the bare roots should be soaked a minimum or 4-6 hours before planting.  If possible continue to soak the roots while planting.  Plant should be transplanted within 24 to 48 hours or receiving them.  The most difficult to successfully transplant are broadleaf evergreen (Arctostaphylos, Mahonia, Gaultheria, long needle pines and others).  Lawyer Nursery recommends clipping off most leaves prior to planting to reduce desiccation for broadleaf evergreens. (See http://www.lawyernursery.com/bareroot_nursery_stock_handling_guide.asp for the whole guide.) County Salvages (free) Several counties have native plant salvage programs where the county receives permission to salvage an area with volunteers before the area is cleared for building.  In King County one salvages for the county from 9-12 in the morning and then, if you salvaged in the morning, you can salvage for yourself from 12-2.  They may also offer special days to those who have salvaged for the county to come and just salvage for them selves.  These plants are completely free except for your effort.  There are usually some knowledgeable people around who can help you with what native plants to salvage.  Again it is very important to not let the roots dry out and to pot them up or replant them as soon as possible.  Taking some native soil and adding it to the planting soil adds native microrrhyzae which improves transplant survival. Ferns are exceedingly easy to salvage.  When you salvage ferns there are frequently more than one crown in a larger fern.  The ferns can be divided by cutting (sawing) them apart between the crowns to get even more plants.  Salvaged ferns may not look very good until their second year in the ground but usually have many more roots and therefore bigger than purchased ferns. If you have large ferns on your own property, you can divide them as described above to create more ferns too. Conservation District Nurseries (free) If your county has a Conservation District Nursery you may be able to volunteer and receive credits which then can be traded for plants.  King Conservation District gives $10.00 worth of plant material for each hour you volunteer in the nursery.  The selected native species are usually available in the early spring. Plant Survival It is also very important to plant correctly and in the right conditions for the plant (sun/shade, wet/dry, according to the plant’s needs).  OK, we all have tried to push the envelope but we usually end up with dead plants. The original soil stem/root boundary should be maintained (roots should not be above the level of the soil nor the stem/trunk any deeper than it was originally growing).  Also the roots should be spread out in the planting spot not curved back up on themselves.  It is better to prune a few roots than plant incorrectly.  After planting, the plants should be mulched with 4”- 6” of wood chips.  Keep the mulch about 3”away from woody stems.  The best mulch is free.  You can request arborists to deliver wood chips to you.  The minimum is usually about 5 cubic yards.  The chips keep weeds from growing and retain the soil moisture.  They also help water to permeate the soil rather than running off and keep soil pores open. It is important to water for the first summer or two or plant mortality can be high.  Most years you do not need to start watering until after the rains stop.  Watering deeply is better than shallow watering.  Check the moisture in the soil before you water. If the plants have been planted in the right conditions, they will probably not need additional watering in after the second summer.  In general remember the first year planted they sleep, the second year they creep  and the third year they leap.


About WNPS

Washington Native Plant Society, Central Puget Sound
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