On May 15th and May 16th, Wilton High School, a partner of The Ecotype Project of CT NOFA, successfully sold the first batch of ecotype native pollinator plants to one hundred and thirty-nine people.  5,526 plants were distributed and will be planted in the soils throughout ecoregion 59- fortifying our green corridor and pollinator pathways with the right plants in the right place!  The distribution of these special plants was the culmination of two years of coordinated work among botanists, farmers, nursery growers, and conservation groups across Connecticut.  

The plant sale, coordinated by Jim Hunter and Brett Gilman of the Wilton High School Garden Club, consisted of the seven ecotype species grown by Ecotype Project partner Darryl Newman and his team at Planters Choice Nursery.  Customers included farmers, conservation groups, and backyard gardeners coming from Connecticut, New York, and even as far as Plymouth, MA.

 

Each species sold was the offspring of seed wild-collected by expert botanists from our region and represents an ecotype, or the local genetics, of the native plants from our region.  Being truly “from here” means these plants have the best chance of persisting in our environment.  CT NOFA is following in the footsteps of some leading conservation and farming organizations across the country championing “local ecotypes” in nursery crops and is proud to bring this forward-thinking movement to fruition in Connecticut.  The most popular choice was Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) a very important pollinator plant that has a long bloom time and is attractive to many varieties of bees.  By supporting the native plants, we support native pollinators, and by supporting pollinators, we support our farms and food system – an effort being championed from the home landscape to large scale restoration habitats.  

Due to the COVID pandemic, Wilton High School was closed so CT NOFA was able to support its partner by offering The Hickories, an organic farm in neighboring Ridgefield, as a site for the sale.  “The partnership between arboretums, high schools, farms, nurseries, conservation groups, garden clubs, – the list goes on and on – showcases a wide community coming together to support habitat restoration and innovative farming efforts in Connecticut. We at CT NOFA are so proud to see the culmination of the Ecotype Project’s efforts,” said Dina Brewster, Executive Director of CT NOFA.  

“The fact that the Wilton HS Organic Garden Club was able to pull off this impressive fundraiser during a pandemic was remarkable!  The website was organized and easy to follow, and the communication with the club and the Hickories was clear and helpful. My pollinator plugs are settled in their new home and ready to attract pollinators!  Thank you, WHS Organic Garden!” – Jean Brey of Redding, CT

Thank you to all that traveled to support this initiative, even in the face of this pandemic. Your local pollinators will be delighted by the wild-collected, locally grown feast you have just introduced back into your local habitats! 

Where people traveled from to pick up Native Ecotype plugs

 

Stay tuned for the upcoming Ecotype Project Plant Sales! 

 

From Mr. Hunter

 

“It’s amazing. This is the first time any student group has ever done something like this and Wilton High School is leading the way. We need to thank Brett Gilman, the Wilton High School Organic Garden Club. […] Let’s keep supporting Wilton and it’s biodiversity!”

 

Quotes

 

“I had the wonderful experience of buying and picking up some important native plants from the Wilton High plant sale! I was very excited to be able to purchase native plants for my garden, and they were perfect size and condition for planting. I’m very happy with the results, thanks, guys!” – Taylor Lynne Matzke of Millstone Farm in Wilton

 

Funding for The Ecotype Project has been provided by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service, US Dept of Agriculture, awarded and administered by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture

Download this document to use as a reference when establishing Ecotype Project seedlings from one of our nursery and plant sale partners. 

How to Effectively Establish Native Plant Plugs

See below for a more detailed description with links for to further resources.

Special thanks to John Campanelli for creating this document for our farmers, gardeners and conservation partners.

 

How to Effectively Establish Native Plant Plugs

Native herbaceous plants are frequently sold as plugs because their compact size allows for the creation of masses and drifts to better emulate how they grow in nature. Once the plants leave the constraints of the plug tray and their roots can expand more freely in the soil, they rapidly grow taller and wider, filling in the space between plugs. However, achieving dense stands of each species requires planning and preparation. 

Landscaping with Native Plants (A comprehensive guide for landscaping with native plants. However, as part of site preparation, this guide mentions the use of herbicides, which we at NOFA discourage.)

A Guide to Native Plant Gardening – Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

7 Ways to Use Drifts and Masses In Your Garden

WHY LOCAL GENETICS?

 

Site Selection and Assessment

Decide how and where you want to use plugs, whether for new border gardens, massing among shrubs in existing foundation beds, pollinator or other wildlife habitats, or replacing portions of lawn with small meadows.  Assess the space where you will be planting to determine the quality of sunlight, moisture, and soil. Survey existing vegetation to determine what does and does not thrive. In particular, identify the type and number of existing weeds. 

Site Preparation

Successful establishment requires that the plugs not get outcompeted by existing weeds and their seed banks. We suggest keeping any soil tilling to a minimum since doing so results in the germination of previously dormant weed seeds. However, if choosing a site overrun by weeds and invasive plants, plan appropriate site preparation weeks – if not months – before planting, especially when using organic methods for killing existing vegetation. 

Sheet Mulching: How to Smother Weeds, Build Soil & Conserve Water the Easy Way

Map the Area to Be Planted

Outline the area to be planted whether with rope, hose, or stakes. Since most planting spaces have round, irregular edges, measure the length and width as best you can to determine the rough square footage. While each species spreads at different rates, an easy rule of thumb for estimating the number of plugs needed to achieve dense stands within a year is one plug per square foot. 

Native Plant Garden Designs For Small Spaces

Estimating Irregularly Shaped Areas 

Calculate the size of your garden bed

Preparing to Plant

Plugs require planting a greater number of plants than most landscaping projects. Therefore, it’s important to develop an easy, uniform, and effective planting method. 

  • Keep plugs moist before planting

Because their compact roots leave them susceptible to drying out, it’s important that plug trays be kept well-watered and out of direct sun from the moment they’re brought home up until they’re planted. Make sure to thoroughly water them two to three hours before planting. This makes it easier to remove them from their trays and loosen their roots before putting them in the ground.  In addition, by deeply watering the plugs just before planting, they can be removed from their trays and laid in the spots they will be planted without drying out, thus saving time. 

  • Recommended tools, starting with those we deem most convenient to use, include:
  1. ProPlugger 5-IN-1 Lawn Tool and Garden Tool, Bulb Planter, Weeder, Sod Plugger, Annual Planter, Soil Test (available through Amazon)
  2. 3″ bulb & bedding plant auger drill attachment 
  3. Bulb planter tool
  4. Small spade
  5. Hand trowel

Planting Plugs: Putting Tools to the Test

ProPlugger 5-IN-1 Lawn Tool and Garden Tool, Bulb Planter, Weeder, Sod Plugger, Annual Planter, Soil Test (ProPlugger demonstration video)

Power Planter 100% USA Made 3″x7″ Bulb & Bedding Plant Auger

  • Determining spacing and groupings

Taking time before planting to determine the spacing of the plugs will ensure uniform density and that your supply of plugs cover the desired area. When planting larger areas, use a grid pattern with plants 12” off center from each other.

If you’re creating smaller groups of a variety of species, be aware of the differences in mature heights when arranging each group. If planting against a structure, make sure the tallest species are in the back along the structure to ensure shorter species receive proper light. 

Planting in the Ground

Plant plugs to a depth that allows the plant’s crown to lie at soil level. Backfill soil between the plug and the hole.   

Water in plugs immediately after installation to fill soil air holes around root systems. During the first three weeks, water plantings for about 60 minutes every four days on mild spring days or every three days on hot summer days. A one-hour watering will soak more deeply than 15-minute ones.

Mulch helps conserve soil moisture and reduces weed pressure. We recommend immediately after planting 2-4” of mulch. Preferred mulches include weed-free wheat straw, dried grass clippings, cocoa bean hulls, or dried shredded leaves. Avoid cocoa bean hulls on heavy or wet soils or in dense shade to prevent fungus build-up. Avoid using bark mulch, especially large pieces.

Sweet Peet Mulch

WeedGuardPlus Organic Paper Mulch 

      Proactive Weed Prevention

Vigilant weed control the first year will ensure effective establishment over the long term. By preventing weeds from outcompeting herbaceous native plants, the plugs will fill in the spaces between plants, resulting in dense stands and few weeds the following years. 

Taking care of natives in your home garden

 

Funding has been provided by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service, US Department of Agriculture, awarded and administered by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.

NOFA MASS brings us this timely 2 part Online learning opportunity featuring pollinators:

Do you want to create a garden that is inviting, and nourishing, for people, and pollinators alike?  In this workshop with Dan Jaffe, co-author of Native Plants for New England Gardens and longtime ecological horticulturist, we will focus on successful methods for creating habitats for pollinators and beneficial insects in the landscapes where we live and work. Join us at Pingree School to learn more about: why designing for pollinator health builds resiliency in our local ecosystem, design components that should be considered in every garden, which flower shapes and colors attract insects and other features that provide a variety of habitats for beneficial insect.  Join us on May 14th and 16th from 6:00pm to 7:30 for this two-part, interactive online event.

Click here to read Dina’s article.

Our partners at edible Nutmeg are holding off on physical distribution due to the pandemic  –  but they have released our article electronically.  Get to know the story behind the Ecotype Project and then answer the call to action – we can transform landscapes on farms and in residential and community lands into beneficial insect habitat and secure the future of our food system.

Many thanks to Dana Jackson, editor of edible Nutmeg for his support.  This article originally appeared in edible Nutmeg #44, Spring 2020

Thanks as well to Mary Clay Fields for photography.

 

The Wilton High School Organic Garden is proud to offer a selection of native wildflower species for sale by preorder in partnership with Planter’s Choice Nursery of Newtown. Plants will be available for pickup at the WHS Organic Garden’s Annual Spring Plant Sale.

Cost per plant: $2.50 with $1 going directly to support WHS Organic Garden’s programs and initiatives.

Due dates:
Orders must be submitted by May 1, 2020 at 11:59pm.

Pickup will be Saturday, May 16, 2020 between 9am and 3pm at The Hickories Organic Farm in Ridgefield.

Payment is due in full at the time of placing your order. Payment must be mailed to…

Wilton High School
ATTN: Jim Hunter
395 Danbury Road
Wilton, CT. 06897

 

Order Here

 

Sefra Alexandra, from CT NOFA’s Ecotype Project, taught the basics of seed exploration/seed hunting with the February kids camp at Wakeman Town Farm. After discovering seeds in our everyday foods, the group went on a walk through the pollinator garden, discussing the importance of native plants to bugs and how to save/ clean/ broadcast seed in the wild.

The Ecotype Project visited the NYC Greenbelt Native Plant Nursery this week in Staten Island. This special nursery is also home to the Midatlantic Regional Seed Bank, an extraordinary collection of the seed of native plants growing from Virginia to New York.  Nothing like this exists in the Northeast… yet…

These folks are the true heroes of the seed sovereignty movement – with dirt under their fingernails to prove it.  Sefra Alexandra, CT NOFA’s Ecotype Project technical consultant, had a notebook full of questions answered and we left armed with knowledge and, perhaps most important, inspiration.

While currently we at The Ecotype Project are focused on developing a pipeline of  plants that gird our agrarian ecosystem, our visit reminded us that the plants needed to restore habitat at scale on coastal ecosystems, for example, may prove equally vital.  Seagrass to brace our coastal dunes for storm surges.  The baby ferns (photo below) will provide erosion control to areas of damp shade damaged in forest.  Farmers working to scale up local ecotype production for habitat restoration: a story we can all be proud of.

 Pollinator Health & Habitat under Threat
The news of the “insect apocalypse” has made it into main-stream media, and an article in the New York Times last November shook many of its readers. We all can recognize when we look out at our farms and gardens that our successes, indeed for some of us our livelihoods, are intertwined with the work of these tiny partners. Scientists like Doug Tallamy refer to insects as “the little things that run the world.” Thus enthroned, the good bugs (pollinators, beneficials, etc.) have taken center stage at CT NOFA this year.
We have launched several programs to support our farmers, gardeners, and landscapers in increasing the number of native plants in our state: thus restoring habitat and protecting our food supply. Taking on an ecological challenge of apocalyptic proportions is no small task – and so we can’t do it alone. We have turned to our partners at The CT Agricultural Experiment Station, the CT Department of Agriculture, Pollinator Pathway, Xerces Society and many others to shape a plan for the long-term ecological health of our crops.

Habitat restoration

Plants are food and shelter. If they are not being eaten or nested in by someone then they are not serving their true purpose. Using the native plant nursery produced by John Campanelli, a doctoral researcher at the University of Connecticut, CT NOFA and the Pollinator Pathway have teamed up to build out 30 (so far) native plant habitat projects in public gardens and on community farms. The ecological services of these habitats support fruit and vegetable crop growers throughout the region. Follow our work on instagam and facebook to see these initial habitats taking flight.

Local ecotypes

Locally adapted species have a better chance of success: it’s all part of our “right plant in the right place” philosophy. For increased climate change resilience, Connecticut’s own wild varieties need to be captured and cultivated for service in Connecticut’s habitat restoration. We are working with conservationists and wild seed foragers to find and protect Connecticut ecotypes of native plants.

Living Seed Bank

We have launched the a Living Seed Bank project as a way of developing reliable farmer partners in the seed production of native plants. From home gardeners to nursery growers, the collection, protection, and promotion of our local ecotypes will be central to the success of our pollinator habitat restoration projects moving forward.
Let us be the beacons in our communities, in our ecosystems, for safe-haven. Organic farms and gardens employing native plant habitat initiatives can become sanctuaries for the insects upon which we all depend.