Recommendation #11 of Arlington County’s Natural Resource Management Plan is to “promote the use of native plant species in County-sponsored plantings and enhance the ability to procure local ecotype plant stock.” In order to address this recommendation, the Parks and Natural Resource Division established a new native plant nursery. The nursery is located at 4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive, behind the George Washington University baseball diamond. Construction on the nursery began in fall of 2014, with help of several Arlington Regional Master Naturalist volunteers. In addition to the nursery, there is also a greenhouse that can be used for propagation during winter months.
According to DPR’s 2013 Planting Policy, the use of regionally propagated plant material and local ecotype plant stock provide the greatest opportunity for long-term plant survival, provide the highest ecological value, and are genetically matched to the local growing environment. To be considered “locally native,” plant stock must originate from a location less than 150 miles from Arlington. In general, Arlington County uses locally native plants for restoration and recovery of natural lands. Unfortunately, local ecotype native species, propagated from locally collected seed, have very limited commercial availability.
Planning, design, and construction
The first step in the development of the new nursery was to learn from other native plant nurseries in our area, including Earth Sangha Native Plant Nursery and Pope Farm Nursery. Both of these nurseries grow locally native plants for use in restoration activities in Fairfax, Montgomery, and other local counties. They provided information about construction materials and raised bed design, as well as which species were easiest to propagate.
Seed collection and propagation
Since spring of 2015, Arlington County staff and Arlington Master Naturalist volunteers have been collecting seeds for and propagating several native plants in DPR’s new nursery. Seeds were collected in Arlington and Fairfax counties, at several park locations. Timing for these expeditions must be just right, so collecting locations must be monitored closely to determine when the seeds are ripe. Once the seeds are collected, they have to be cleaned and stored until the appropriate planting time.
Species planted include herbaceous plants such as common milkweed and creeping bushclover, and shrub species American strawberry bush and possumhaw viburnum.
In 2015, we will expand the number of species propagated in the native plant nursery, as well as strengthen our methods for recording data on seed collection locations and propagation methods. Hopefully, we will be able to work with our regional partners to develop a manual on native plant propagation that can be used as a platform to share information and best practices.
We will continue to build partnerships with volunteer groups such as Arlington Regional Master Naturalists, Northern Virginia TreeStewards, and the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to manage the day-to-day tasks at the nursery, as well as seed collection and cleaning. For more information about how to get involved please contact Sarah Archer as firstname.lastname@example.org.