PHOTO: Members of the Shasta Chapter CNPS Plant Propagation team – Back row, standing, left to right: Jay Thesken, Kathryn McKnight, Wayne Steffes, Nikki Gallaugher, Susan Gallaugher, Chris Gray. Front row, left to right: Paula Crumpton, Margaret Widdowson, Terri Thesken, Ken Kilborn, Karen Little.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday April 10th, 11th and 12th – the Redding-based Shasta Chapter of the California Native Society will hold their annual spring plant sale open to the public. One of two plant sales a year, the spring sale is the culminating event of a long (sometimes 18 – 24 months long) endeavor to propagate a wide variety of native plants for sale to home gardeners as well as larger landholders, including county, state and federal restoration sites.
An incredible labor of love for a plant propagating crew of more than 20 of the chapter’s members, the plant sale this spring will have 2280 one gallon-sized plants to choose from, representing 105 native plant species appropriate for growing in interior Northern California. The diversity includes trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, grasses and vines.
“Our mission here is to raise awareness and to educate the gardening public about native plants – the wide range of them, the conditions in which they will be successful, and the many many benefits of them – as well as to raise funds for scholarships to be awarded to students entering 4 year college programs in any of the life sciences,” Jay Thesken explained to me.
PHOTO: Terri Thesken (white hat at right) is the leader of the Shasta Chapter CNPS Plant Propagation team’s effort – here she directs the final prep day with the volunteer crew as they clean, weed and organize their plants ready for sale.
Terri Thesken, married to Jay, took over the management of the chapter’s plant sales a little more than 5 years ago and her attention to detail has paid off. Together the two work hours and hours a week, a month, a year to maintain the scope of the plant selection, the quality of the plants grown and ready to sell, and the information that comes with each plant. A retired city planner and an almost-completely retired employee of county and state agricultural departments, Terri and Jay clearly enjoy their involvement in this project and what it stands for.
The Theskens have a dedicated crew of about 20 regular plant propagation helpers who work beside them throughout the year to produce such abundance and quality. Many of these volunteers are retired or are current professionals in horticulture – botanists, wildlife biologists, garden designers. They collect seed, they root cuttings, they pot up rooted divisions, they water, they weed, they inventory – they work very hard. At some points in the cycle, volunteers are coming out to the yard at Shasta College every 3rd day to pouring rain or blasting heat of summer to check on watering and weeding.
PHOTO: To visit the chapter’s nursery stock yard is to be impressed by attention to horticultural hygiene and detail. The plants are clean, weed free and clearly labeled. It is often difficult to find this in a retail nursery yard.
To visit the chapter’s growing yard and facilities – generously loaned to them by the horticulture department at Shasta College – is like visiting a specialty native plant nursery. The plants are robust, weed-free, clean, clearly labeled and organized.
I visited with the crew on the last work day before the April plant sale, when Terri was directing the finishing touches for just this effect. The final weeding, trimming, labeling and organizing so that on the day of the sale, plants could be easily moved from the growing yard to the sales yard and order and inventory counts would be clearly traceable.
Last year’s spring sale had about 2500 one gallon pots and about 2000 of these were sold. The proceeds from the year’s plant sale effort all combined – spring, fall, and various other events at which the chapter sells smaller numbers of plants – was $6000. From this 4 scholarships of $1500 a piece were awarded.
And 2000 native plants went out into the world to be cared for, learned about and learned from.
Besides the approximately 20 regular propagation volunteers, there is also a list of nearly 25 people in the region who can be counted on to provide collected seeds, cuttings or rooted plant divisions of the native plants the team is hoping to have on hand for the sales year.
The seeds and small cuttings start in small containers with nursery mix and perlite and then are potted into larger containers 2 – 3 times as they grow. At the final one gallon pot stage, they get a small application of nursery fertilizer.
Jay took me around the facilities – the propagation table where in the winter, the whole crew is gathered around planting cuttings and potting other cuttings on. The greenhouse where he proudly shows me toyon starts which were propagated following a seed-scarification process recommended by the native plant expert Nevin Smith, who had been in Redding to speak. The toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) – known to be difficult to propagate – were looking hale and hearty. “If we lose 10% of our stock to whatever issue might come up, we are not too concerned,” Jay expressed. “We start enough seeds/cuttings/divisions to balance the odds in our favor.”
The group looks at the data from each sale to determine what they will grow for the next year taking into account what people wanted more of. “Last year, people wanted more salvias – this year we have a lot of great salvias – more than 5 species and additional cultivars,” Terri reported.
One of the great points of pride for the propagation crew is their still-young display garden of so-called mother plants. “Plants we are growing on site not only to show customers what the plants look like, but also to use these plants from which to collect seed, take cuttings or rooted divisions in order to ensure supply for the next generations of plants at the plant sales. This is the first year that the display garden plants have been large enough to take cuttings from them, and the plant sale team is justifiable proud. One group of the 10 working the day I visited was focused on weeding and pruning in the display garden area while the rest of them finished up the potted plant’s sale-day prep. “One of the important things for us to emphasize to buyers” Jay and Terri both point out, “especially this year when the topical issue of drought tolerance is so urgent – is that even though these plants are native and drought-resistant when established – the ‘when established’ caveat means that people need to water and protect these young plants regularly for the first 12 – 18 months of the plant’s being in the ground. Only then can you reduce the water to every other week or once a month for the driest of them. Still, the water you need to get these plants established is still less than what you would be using on a lawn.”
PHOTO: rare local endemic Shasta snow-wreath (Neviusia cliftonii) in bloom. PHOTO COURTESY OF REDDING.com
The mother plants in the display garden include such treasures as the rare local endemic Shasta snow-wreath (Neviusia cliftonii), as well as far more common plants, all of which are well labeled.
PHOTO: The Shasta Chapter CNPS Plant Propagation team’s efforts include extensive plant information signage (and knowledgeable volunteers) at the sale and (signage at least) available on-line as well.
Whether you are reading the labels on the mother plants in the display garden or you are reading the labels on the potted plants for sale, you are not on your own in trying to figure out what to do next. There will be knowledgeable volunteers helping to answer questions and make choices at the sale. Further, at the sale itself, each plant group has a photo & information card to provide buyers with more information as to what to expect from the plant (color, height, scent, deer resistant, pollinator attractor, etc.) and the conditions needed for the plant to thrive (water, sun exposure, soil type). Reading like a local field and gardening guide, this extensive and useful information is ALSO available on the Shasta Chapter website.
Who could ask for more on getting started with a native plant garden that provides beauty, attracts birds and pollinators and uses fewer resources than most other types of landscape? Your native plant gardening efforts will get off to a good start at this plant sale and will be rewarded throughout the coming seasons.
The Shasta Chapter of the California Native Plant Society will hold their spring plant sale at Shasta College Thursday, April 10 (8-5); Friday, April 11 (8-5); Saturday, April 12 (9-4) Shasta College Horticulture Area 11555 Old Oregon Trail Redding, CA 96003. All plants are in 1 gallon pots and ready to be planted out. The sale accepts cash and check, no credit cards at this time.
For more information, questions or concerns, please contact Plant Propagation Manager: Terri Thesken
Happy (native) planting!
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