SER-UW Native Plant Nursery Improvements

Executive Summary:


The SER-UW Native Plant Nursery is a student-run project with a mission of providing native plants and horticulturally focused educational opportunities to the UW community.  We have grown substantially in depth, breadth, and impact over the last academic year due to the hard work of four nursery managers, six interns, a dedicated group of volunteers, faculty and staff support, and the generous CSF grant that we received in 2015. The infrastructure required to support the Nursery is in place; we have laid the groundwork for a thriving university resource.  We now seek to create a sustainable management plan for the SER-UW Native Plant Nursery as well as increase and improve our outreach efforts to UW students and the surrounding community by providing support for two Research Assistantship positions.  We plan to reach a wider network of students from across campus through engaging and interactive workshops and by developing a cohesive nursery management plan to increase our success in growing native species. The Nursery is only beginning to show its potential.  Dedicating the 2016-17 academic year to nursery planning and curriculum development will establish the intellectual infrastructure required for future nursery managers to continue this important work. 

Project Goals

  • Conduct plant production comparisons to identify how to successfully grow more native plant species to be used in on-campus and student based restoration projects
  • Research and develop a management plan that outlines proper and sustainable fertilizer use, plant development protocols and timelines, and sustainable irrigation practices.
  • Develop a curriculum for volunteer events and reach out to a more diverse group of UW students.
  • Write, plan, and host classes every other month, open to students and the public on topics related to native plant production and care.

The Need

The SER-UW Native Plant Nursery fills a unique niche on campus, providing native plants for student-run restoration projects as well as hands-on, horticulture learning opportunities.

Growing native plants is different than growing fruits or vegetables in a farm setting; the knowledge base for the hundreds of native species is not as well known or refined. The Plant Production RA would research and develop a detailed plan for the Nursery, including details on species to grow and proper growing techniques. Synergistically, the Education RA would create and lead classes on native plant topics. Most plant nurseries do not have the time to run experiments to determine the best method of growing each of their native species, nor do they have the same imperative to share their research the way an educational and research institute such as UW does. We have the unique opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the horticulture community at the University of Washington and beyond by testing the effectiveness of our growing methods. The knowledge gained would benefit UW by allowing additional plants to be installed on campus, as well as extending to the greater horticulture community of Puget Sound.

Key Stakeholders

UW Botanic Gardens, UW Grounds Management, ESRM classes, Capstone, Carlson Center Volunteers

Estimated Total Cost


Student Involvement:

The SER-UW Nursery is an entirely student led project with 2 graduate students serving as Nursery Managers and two undergraduate interns per quarter. Graduate students manage and provide leadership to this nursery while interns build skills and experience in the environmental field. This core team works together to host weekly work parties that engage interested students in horticulture-based activities ranging from sowing seeds to salvaging native plants.

We rely heavily on the volunteers who attend our work parties to help us complete many of our propagation tasks.  Many of those volunteers show up to our work parties to fulfill a class requirement, such as ESRM 100 and ESRM 412; the Native Plant Nursery is an on-campus organization where those students can volunteer with to fulfill their class requirement.  Volunteers also come to work parties simply out of their own interest when they see our announcements through our email lists or our Facebook page.

Every task associated with growing plants at the Nursery is done by a student.  In the past year, we went from about 20 individual volunteers per quarter to 50, with each volunteer working about 3.5 hours on average.  From Fall quarter 2015 through Winter 2016, we had 24 work parties that culminated in about 900 volunteer hours.  One of our biggest  partnerships was working with the Construction Management honors society, Sigma Lamda Chi, who lead our volunteers in the construction of our hoop house at five separate events.

We have also recently partnered with the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center, hosting service-learning students in Winter and Spring quarters of 2016, providing volunteer opportunities at the Nursery for a wide variety of students.

Throughout this school year, the Nursery has supported six interns, two per quarter. Every quarter, we determine what our needs will be for the next few months and advertise for interns with skills to complement those tasks.  Interns go through an application and interview process, and they are able to receive class credit for ESRM 399 for their work at the Nursery if they are accepted.  During the internship, interns build knowledge of nursery management, plant propagation, communications, teamwork, and leadership.  We rely on our interns to take an active role in care for the plants, including regular watering of the plants, leading volunteer work parties, helping to manage large projects like plant sales, and a myriad of tasks that help the Nursery run smoothly.

In the next year, we want to further expand our ability to provide opportunities for student leadership and involvement by diversifying the students we reach.  We have primarily worked with students in the ESRM major or related majors, as they are the students who have a natural interest in native plant production and care. We would like to improve our relationship with the Carlson Center by increasing the number of volunteers we can take on per quarter, as those students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests.  We believe we can provide a unique experience for volunteers, as we have a hands-on learning component to our work parties that feeds into ecological awareness of native plant production and care.

As we work on our education efforts, we will reach out to the education department for interns in the Fall quarter of 2016 and Winter quarter of 2017.  Reaching out to students from different departments and creating a diverse network of skills and knowledge will promote a cross-pollination of ideas that will benefit the students involved as well as the Nursery as a whole, strengthening our ability to further reach out and fill the needs of more UW students.  Our weekly work parties are a place where volunteers from all parts of the campus can come and meet each other.  The work parties are not only a place where students put in volunteer hours--they’re also social, allowing people to meet students from other departments and with different interests and backgrounds.  At every work party, students are active, engaged, and learning new skills--we have the opportunity at the Nursery to reach out to a wider community of students to spread awareness of the need for native plants and the importance of growing native species for use in restoration projects.

With our curriculum, we hope to even further spread knowledge and stewardship of native species to a wide set of students with varying backgrounds in ecology and restoration work.

Education & Outreach:

More and more, Seattle residents are becoming aware of the consequences of planting and gardening with non-native or invasive species.  However, there are few opportunities for students or local community members to take classes that teach topics on native plant care, what native species to grow, and what benefit native plants can bring to the ecosystem.

The nursery currently provides informal opportunities for learning during our regular weekly work parties.  Our Education RA’s work would create more formalized, 10-15 minute lessons on native plant production for each of these weekly work parties, where volunteers would participate in a mini-lesson on a pertinent topic before beginning the volunteer work, improving the education quality for students at the work parties.

At weekly work parties, we often simply show the students what we’re doing and how to do it, whether it’s washing pots for later use or sowing seeds for germination.  We do not have a formal plan for how to run these work parties, and part of the Education RA’s job will be to write up 10-15 minute lesson plans on pertinent topics.  At each volunteer work party, we will teach the short lesson and then continue on to the volunteer activity; students volunteering with us will gain valuable knowledge as a part of their volunteer experience, increasing the education potential of these volunteer events.

Possible Weekly Work Party Class Topics for Student Volunteers*

Class Topic Associated Volunteer Activity(ies)
Pathogens & Pests: How they function in a nursery setting Pot Washing
Growth Needs of Plants: Water, Sun, Food, and Space Up-potting  (re-potting plants that are growing too big for their current pots)
Seed Anatomy:  Parts of a seed & how it grows Seed Sowing
Plant Maintenance: What goes into caring for a large number of plants Weeding/Watering

*Classes will be subject to change as we gain feedback from volunteers on what they would like to learn from these experiences.

The Education RA would also write and lead monthly public classes that would be open to both students and members of the public, providing a source of information for any interested individual to learn basic knowledge about native plants, increasing environmental awareness through education. These classes would focus on topics related to native plants and would be held every other month (October-May), providing an opportunity for students and community members to attend a class on a topic related to growing native plants. The topics will be presented in 1.5 hour-long classes open to UW students and the general public, held at the Center for Urban Horticulture and supported by UW Botanic Gardens public education staff. Classes will be held on weekday evenings and will be offered free of charge with a suggested donation. depending on the topic. Curriculum would be written, put into practice, and then modified based on feedback from participants and the RA’s experience. We will be working with the UW Botanic Gardens education staff to create classes that are relevant and unique to native plant care and production.

The goal for these classes is to provide a free source of information for people to use and enjoy. The classes will work to inform students and the public about why the use of native species is important and how we can improve our ecosystem even within the city limits by incorporating native plants into our landscape.

Possible Public Class Topics*

  • Native Plants: Replacing Invasives & Non-Natives
  • Understory species to finish a restoration project
  • Resilient and low-input gardens: Using native plants in the landscape
  • Spring ephemerals and native understory plants
  • Art and Nature: Seedling Development and Watercolors
  • Attracting Native Pollinators and Pollinator Pathways
  • Native Plants with Edible Fruit

*Class subjects subject to change based on feedback from participants and UWBG

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
Project Longevity:

The Nursery is actively seeking funding for its long-term operation and has done extensive research on other sources of funding. We are organizing and participating in a planning retreat with SER-UW (Society for Ecological Restoration, UW chapter) on May 9th to determine future long-term funding options for the SER-UW organization as a whole. We are also working towards finding funding that will support a staff position at the Nursery. In the future, education courses to the public could be used as a source of income to help support the nursery; currently, we wish to offer classes for free or donation to determine interest in the community as well as solicit feedback for the classes. Currently, the Nursery makes some revenue from contract-grown plants and public plant sales, which is then held in the SER-UW RSO account and helps us to partially self-fund supplies for the nursery. We have also had meetings with UW Botanic Gardens and the UW College of the Environment Advancement Department to determine the best approach for future funding. These groups advised us that finding private donors, non-UW based grants, or unallocated departmental funds was unlikely. They advised that the best possible way for funding the Nursery next year would be through on-campus grants, such as the CSF program. The specific goals of this grant proposal--writing a management plan for the Nursery as well as writing curriculum for volunteer work parties and evening classes--will be completed within the 2016-2017 academic year. These projects are meant to be resources for future Nursery managers, and are specifically intended to support the long-term success and impact of the Native Plant Nursery. We are already operating a functioning native plant nursery entirely through student leadership and volunteer work--the new RA positions will only strengthen and improve how we function.

Environmental Problem:

The Native Plant Nursery was founded in 2013 to fill a need: on-campus restoration projects like Kincaid Ravine and Whitman Walk needed a place to grow and care for native plants before they were installed at the restoration sites. Over the past few years, the Nursery has begun to expand to fill the needs for those restoration projects as well as provide native plants for restoration classes like ESRM 473, Restoration Capstone, and UW Grounds Management.  With the support of CSF, the Native Plant Nursery has spent the last year engaging students from across campus, expanding our partnerships, successfully growing 75 species of native plants, and constructing our hoop house.

Without the Nursery, students must buy plants from nurseries all over the state, and the carbon footprint associated with delivery and pickup can be significant.  The financial cost and hassle are also greater for buying plants from multiple nurseries in various locations.  The SER-UW Nursery provides an on-campus source of plants, cuts the carbon footprint associated with pickup and delivery, does not require Ucars for transportation, and is also often the cheaper option for students.

The hoop house project has allowed us to provide a home for our plants so we can successfully grow them to fill the needs of student-run restoration projects--but now we face the challenge of running the nursery as sustainably and efficiently as we can.  Plants require water, fertilizer, growing media, plastic containers, and many other resources when grown in a nursery setting.  The Plant Production RA will work on developing best practice guidelines on fertilizer use, irrigation requirements, and plant care so that we can use water and fertilizer responsibly and locally source as many of our supplies as we can.  The Plant Production RA will compare different fertilizer types, research and compare different irrigation systems, and create plant protocols for 15 new species to determine the best practices for the nursery.   All of our efforts will work towards growing plants that will go into the landscape to restore ecosystem functions.  We believe that it is important to have this source of native plants for student projects on campus, closing the loop of plant production, care, and installation.  On-campus native plant production increases our sustainability as a whole and involves students at every step of the process.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Having a Plant Production Research Assistant position dedicated to designing and implementing comparison experiments to determine what methods of growing, fertilizing, and irrigating are best will drastically improve the quality and quantity of native species produced. By refining our system, we will be able to grow more plants using fewer resources and provide additional plants to student based projects on campus. Instead of classes and students reaching out to nurseries from across the state, they will be able to use our native species that were grown on campus for them, forging the missing link.

We will measure our success in several ways, the main one being how many native plants we are able to source out to student-run projects, UW Botanic Gardens, and UW Grounds Management. So far this school year, the Nursery has provided 800 plants for on-campus and student based restoration projects. The more plants we sell to on-campus projects, the lower the carbon footprint will be for each restoration or planting project as plants would be provided here at the University rather than from nurseries throughout the state. Our success will also be in the management plan itself: the completion of the management plan, with irrigation recommendations, timelines on plant production, and specific plant protocols for at least 15 species will allow future nursery managers to use the plan strategically. We will also work on being able to rely on organic fertilizer rather than conventional fertilizer and incorporate our fertilization methods into the management plan.

Each year, new student managers will become involved with the nursery. These students, although surely highly qualified to perform some aspects of the job, likely won’t have the full set of skills required to successfully manage a nursery. These students will have to teach themselves how to operate the nursery and care for the variety of native species every year. Providing this learning experience fulfills an important part of our mission.  However, as it stands now, the nursery’s productivity, sustainability, and the quality of the plants themselves will be at the mercy of each students’ skills and experience.

A detailed management plan would improve continuity and consistency of knowledge from year to year, allowing us to increase the number of plants produced as well as ensure their health and high quality. A continuous supply of healthy plants will lead to more partnerships with UW students, classes, and groups, increasing the overall sustainability of our campus landscape and community.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $78,051
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
See Attached File "Budget Proposal 2016-17"

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total:


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Create propagation protocols for 15 new species 9 MonthsJune 2017
Conduct experiments on the growth of 10 species using varying soils, fertilizers, and irrigation techniques4 MonthsJanuary 2017
Write management plan4 MonthsJune 2017
Finalization of public class topics2 MonthsJune 2016 (UWBG requires a 3-month advance notice of class topic and plan)
Writing Public Class Curriculum & Volunteer Work Party Curriculum5 MonthsFebruary 2017
Incorporating participant feedback and editing curriculum into a manual for future use by the Nursery and UWBG education staff5 MonthsJune 2017