SER-UW Native Plant Nursery - Future Growth

Executive Summary:


Since 2013, the Society for Ecological Restoration-UW Native Plant Nursery has provided a local and sustainable source of plant material for student ecological restoration projects in Union Bay Natural Area and Yesler Swamp, as well as many restoration sites on the University of Washington campus and throughout the Seattle community. Located at the Center for Urban Horticulture, it has been a much-needed hub for student involvement in the applications of horticulture and restoration beyond coursework. With the support of the CSF, we have been able improve our production practices and educational curriculum over the past few years. We aim to keep this momentum in both areas while focusing on our growth and financial sustainability.

The Nursery is committed to the goal of providing 100% of plants to students for coursework, as well as graduate student and other on-campus restoration projects. We provide plants for two classes: Restoration of North American Ecosystems (ESRM 473) and Senior Restoration Capstone (ESRM 462-464), and over the past two years we have strengthened our relationship with both. In 2016 we provided only 32% of species for ESRM 473, but were able to provide 100% in 2017 and 2018, and while in 2017 we were able to provide only 39% of plants to Capstone, in 2018 we provided 78%. Although we have made improvements, a significant number of species still need to be outsourced to other nurseries in the region, as Capstone requests comprise the majority of our orders.

In order to provide a greater percentage of plant material for student projects, the Nursery will implement production systems for two groups of species that are in high demand but require specific infrastructure for their growth: a fern propagation unit, and rhizome beds. Production systems for both of these groups will allow us to provide more genetically appropriate plants for restoration, increase biodiversity of student projects, and offset the carbon emissions associated with outsourcing plants. As there is high demand for these species, both from students and at past public plant sales, these production systems will increase our revenue and help us move toward greater financial sustainability.

Student interest in the Nursery has also grown substantially over the past few years in terms of both volunteer involvement and interest in internship opportunities. Implementing these production systems will greatly increase the scope of educational opportunities available through the Nursery. In tandem with this, we will increase our outreach efforts to the UW student body.

A graduate RA position will guide the infrastructure projects over the course of one year while continuing to manage the day-to-day production tasks at the Nursery. Assistance will be provided by an hourly part-time student position. Interns have contributed greatly to the growth of the nursery over the past few years, and their involvement will continue to be integral to the success of this project. Support will also be provided by a faculty advisor and UWBG staff.

Stakeholders: UW Botanic Gardens, Capstone, ESRM students, Carlson Center volunteers.

Estimated Total Cost: $64,340.70

Student Involvement:

From its beginning, the SER-UW Nursery has provided valuable leadership experience for graduate students pursuing careers in the fields of environmental horticulture and restoration. The Nursery continues to be an entirely student-run project, providing graduate students with the opportunity to gain skills in project management, volunteer coordination, and team leadership. Along with guiding specific projects to advance the Nursery, the RA also manages weekly operations such as administrative tasks, coordinating volunteer work parties, directing and educating interns and guiding their projects, and planning and implementing plant production schedules. A student assistant position will support the RA with administrative tasks, group work with interns, and weekly work parties.

The intern education curriculum has been built and strengthened through the support of past CSF grants and continues to provide a valuable experience for many undergraduate students. Since 2015, the Nursery has involved 26 interns from majors across many schools and departments, including Environmental Engineering, Biology, Communications, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM). Interns are interviewed by the RA each quarter and two candidates selected based on their potential to succeed in daily nursery tasks as well as their fit for quarterly projects that will benefit both the Nursery and their individual interests.

Along with the option to gain internship credit through ESRM 399 or their school’s option, the quarter provides them with the chance to not only develop knowledge of nursery management and plant production, but also valuable skills in teamwork, communication, and responsibility. Interns are expected to coordinate with the RA and each other to complete plant care tasks and there are many chances for active leadership roles in plant sale events and weekly work parties.

Our goal is to have a further eight (two per quarter and two in summer) undergraduate interns over the course of the next year who will be directly involved with fulfilling the goals of this project while gaining valuable experience related to their fields of study. We will host Communications interns whose focus will be the further development of our outreach program. Interns in the Plant Biology and ESRM programs can gain experience in research and data collection related to propagation protocols needed for fern and rhizomatous species and their success.

Through each academic quarter since 2015, the Nursery has hosted weekly work parties that provide a unique opportunity for students across many departments and disciplines to be involved in the process of native plant production and horticulture. In addition, these volunteers are an intrinsic part of our workforce, and the Nursery would be unable to function without their involvement. Our weekly volunteer work parties have continued to be highly successful. In 2016 the Nursery hosted students for a total of 750 volunteer hours, while in 2017, students contributed 900 volunteer hours. Looking forward, our goal is to reach and maintain a minimum of 1,000 volunteer hours over the next five years. Many of these students are fulfilling volunteer credit for classes such as ESRM 100, ENVIR 240, and ESRM 412, and it is more valuable for them to have plant production-related experience versus simple labor tasks such as weeding and pot washing. Having these production systems in place would provide volunteers with a much greater variety of production-related skills to learn, and allow us to keep up with growing interest in volunteering by providing new opportunities.

The Nursery has also continued to develop a relationship with the UW Carlson Center, an organization which provides opportunities for students to be involved with on-campus and community partners and to integrate academic coursework with volunteer activity. Multiple service learning positions are available each quarter through the nursery, with each position contributing 20 hours per quarter. Besides providing the structure for students to volunteer on a recurring basis, service learners are also able to help guide other students at work parties and are often trusted with more detail-oriented production tasks. Past service learners have also applied and been accepted as interns after realizing a continued interest in native plant production through their volunteer work. The Nursery will continue to partner with the Carlson Center and is committed to providing 15 service learning positions through the academic year. 

Education & Outreach:

Over the past three years, the nursery has hosted six bi-annual public plant sales open to the UW and broader Seattle community. Since the first public sale, interest in the event has grown substantially, with attendance increasing and definite interest from the broader Seattle community in supporting a student-run organization and purchasing student-grown plants. We will continue to host bi-annual public plant sales in the Spring and the Fall of each year and continue to develop our advertising in order to reach an even broader audience throughout the Seattle area. Our goal is to host two Communications interns who will focus on the further development of this programming. Under the guidance of the RA, two interns, one in Spring and one in Fall, will help to coordinate the public plant sales and refine our promotional materials by creating reusable templates for events, updating contact lists, and creating signage for use on the day of the event.

Although we have built a strong undergraduate and graduate student community invested in the Nursery, we deal with a challenging situation in terms of student involvement. As we are located at the Center for Urban Horticulture, a 20-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride from campus, we are not as visible to much of the student body outside of the departments and programs we are regularly in touch with. As we increase our offerings of volunteer activities by implementing this project, we will also increase our visibility on campus, encouraging a wider group of student participants. Our weekly volunteer work parties not only help students to be engaged through volunteering and learning skills, they are also social activities that allow students from diverse backgrounds and majors to come together and share ideas, and we hope to continue to expand this circle.

Along with involvement in the plant sales, Communications internships will also help to facilitate this outreach to the greater student body. Interns will be involved in the creation of permanent fliers to hang in UW facilities, as well as contributing to the development of the Nursery’s social media presence. All materials created for both the plant sales and student outreach will include the CSF logo.

As has been our commitment in the past, research conducted during the design and implementation of this project will be made available to the Greater Seattle horticultural community. Over the past few years, the Nursery has cultivated a relationship with Oxbow Farms and Conservation Center in Carnation, WA. The Nursery has modeled its production practices after those of Oxbow’s Native Plant Nursery, and we continue to use their technical advice and expertise. Both a fern propagation unit and rhizome beds are established infrastructure at Oxbow, and we will rely on their guidance to continue to set reasonable goals and refine these production systems in our nursery. As we continue to expand our own production records and protocols, we are committed to reciprocating this exchange of information with the horticulture and restoration community of our region.

As we think about our outreach within the UW community and beyond, there is potential for collaboration with other organizations that share our goals and values. The Olympic Natural Resource Center is developing an Ethnoforestry project that will encourage a stronger connection between the main UW campus and the ONRC’s home base on the Olympic Peninsula. This unique project would be focused on the development of an internship program to help bridge this gap, and there is an opportunity for the Nursery to act as a host for their interns on a part-time basis. This partnership, facilitated by the two project RAs, would provide ONRC interns with a stronger understanding of native plant production and nursery work, and allow Nursery interns to learn more about tribal uses of native plants, an important and often underrepresented aspect of horticulture in our region.

Environmental Impact:
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
Project Longevity:

Please see attached business plan.

Environmental Problem:

Although the Nursery is able to produce much of the plant material needed for student projects, there is still a significant portion that requires outsourcing to nurseries throughout the Puget Sound region. Along with the inconvenience to students, who must coordinate their own transportation or use UCars, there is the environmental cost of carbon emissions associated with plant material pickup or delivery. The majority of native plant nurseries in the region are located outside of the immediate Seattle area and often require a 45 minute or greater drive to reach. Restoration planting projects are often done in multiple phases, and across multiple orders placed by student groups this travel and the associated carbon footprint adds up quickly.

Along with the issue of outsourcing material, there is a concern for genetic diversity as well as the responsible use of resources such as water and media. Unlike a farm or ornamental nursery, producing native plants for conservation and restoration requires the preservation of genetic diversity for many species. Although using salvaged plant material is sustainable from a financial and re-use perspective, it is often not environmentally responsible in terms of preserving this diversity. Along with this, in our past few years of salvaging plant material, we have seen that many of these species have lower survival rates, resulting in wasted resources of media, water, and fertilizer on plants that do not survive to the outplanting stage. Finally, salvaged material is only sporadically available, and even less so now that King County has ended its native plant salvage program.

Currently, the nursery relies completely on salvages for acquiring all fern species. Although we can continue to supplement our stock with salvaged material, a fern production system will provide a continuous source of material that has genetic variation appropriate for restoration projects and will be more responsible in terms of resource usage. In addition, although rhizome bed production relies on vegetative reproduction which can result in a loss of genetic diversity, we will research and implement best practices for re-incorporating new genetic material in rhizome bed production for each species. Propagation protocols will be developed for each species throughout the course of the project to ensure that we are making the most of our resources, and to have documentation that future Nursery Managers can consult and improve on.

Lastly, the provision of a greater variety of species from both the fern unit and rhizome beds will facilitate greater biodiversity in restored ecosystems. Often we are unable to fill requests for these species and are required to substitute greater numbers of fewer species, leading to a less diverse plant palette for student projects. Increasing the diversity of the plants we are able to provide will, in turn, create richer habitat not just in the Union Bay Natural Area and Yesler Swamp, but in student projects across campus.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

In order to measure the environmental impacts of this project, the RA and student assistant will be responsible for the collection of data on numbers of plants produced, which will allow us to measure how well we have met our target production goals. From this information, we will be able to measure the diversity of species supplied to student projects and assess an increase in biodiversity based on plant sale data.

A continued increase in the number of plants provided to student projects and classes will also be a measure of greater carbon offset for each restoration project. More plants produced directly on University grounds equates to a reduction in carbon emissions related to travel or shipping of material from around the state. As we continue to increase our production numbers both with this project and for species we already grow, the number of plants needing to be outsourced will decrease. We will be able to compare the percentage of outsourced plants from previous years with sales for this upcoming year and equate this to a reduction in our carbon footprint.

Although more difficult to quantify, there is also an educational component that is important to consider in terms of our environmental impact. During work parties, student volunteers are actively educated about the environmental costs associated with plant production. We discuss water usage, as well as sustainability problems with using peat as a growing media and the alternatives. They experience first hand that everything is recycled, from plastic containers to growing tags to the liquid fertilizer that we use.

This winter quarter, an intern created a survey designed to assess the educational impacts of work parties and what volunteers learned from the events in terms of plant production and sustainability, as well as areas that could be improved upon. We would like to use this survey regularly at work parties both as a way to improve them and to assess the value of the education we can provide about environmental issues.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $64,340
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Please see attached .csv for budget

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total: $64,340


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Design of rhizome beds and fern unit2 monthsAugust 2018
Construction of rhizome beds and fern unit2 monthsOctober 2018
Promotional materials for plant sales2 monthsNovember 2018 (for Fall plant sale in Mid-Nov.)
Student outreach fliers and social media protocols3 monthsMarch 2019
Draft propagation protocols for species4 monthsDecember 2018
Final propagation protocols for species5 monthsMay 2019