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Tahoe native plant project will restore ravaged zones

Posted 6/8/2012

Yarrow plant

Yarrow. Photo: Sue Donaldson

Vandalism, invasive weeds disrupt effort

By Robert Mills

For University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) Water Quality Education Specialist Sue Donaldson, controlling invasive weeds means understanding Lake Tahoe’s native plant species. While the need to preserve these plants is almost universally accepted, a challenge lies in the restoration of areas ravaged by wildfires and invading weeds.

"A question we’ve consistently faced has been, ’Where do we get supplies of native plants for use in revegetation efforts?’" Donaldson said.

A recent partnership with Rena Escobedo of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Jamie Greenough, a teacher at South Lake Tahoe High School, may be the solution. Last spring, Escobedo obtained funding to gather and propagate seeds of Tahoe native plants. Soon after, Greenough helped organize a space within the local high school’s greenhouse where the plants could grow to maturity.

"The high-school students began growing several native species, including woolly mule’s ear, broadleaf lupine, yarrow and sulfur buckwheat, in the greenhouse," Donaldson said.

Optimistic, the restoration group moved the healthy young plants into the fresh sun in anticipation of the 2011 summer season. But when attendees gathered for a routine check-up on the vegetation, they were met with heartbreak.

"Vandals destroyed the plants before they could be used in fall restoration projects, so the students had to start all over in the greenhouse," Donaldson said.

Yarrow plant

Lupine. Photo: Wendy Hanson

Deterred but still hopeful, volunteers used the remaining funding to restart new seeds for this season, which include as many as 53 different plant species, from grasses to flowers to shrubs. Once they reach maturity, these native plants will be used in restoration areas throughout the Tahoe Basin.

"Native plants have a lot of benefits," Donaldson said. "Because they are well-adapted to the specific area, they require little maintenance and have fewer pest issues. They consume less water and require less fertilizer and pesticides. Native plant roots often do a better job of holding the soil in place, reducing the amount of erosion into the lake. Some native plants stay greener longer, helping to slow down the spread of wildfires."

Unfortunately, replanting efforts sapped remaining grant funds needed to purchase pots, soil and other materials to sustain the plants during the summer months when school is closed. A project to develop a Master Gardener program in South Lake Tahoe may provide a vehicle for summer maintenance, but supplies are still needed. If you have materials to donate, contact Rena Escobedo at 530-543-2733.

Have a question for a Master Gardener? Contact the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension at mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu or call 775-336-0265. Due to budget constraints, starting June 1, the horticulture department located at 4955 Energy Way, Reno will be open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on Fridays.

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