Restoration Tips - Amateur Project

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on: January 08, 2007, 04:24:54 PM
RESTORATION AND THE NEOPHYTE: Tips for the Amateur by an Amateur
By Ron Plakke Ph.D, Lake  Beautyberry Chapter, FNPS

The Palatlahaka Environmental and Agricultural Reserve is an environmental park in Central Lake County.  The not-for-profit corporation, Palatlahaka Environmental & Agriculture Reserve Association, Inc. (PEAR), is involved with the environmental restoration of this park in cooperation with Lake County. As members of this organization, my co-coordinator, Peg Urban, and I, both inexperienced, agreed to take on the project of restoring 50 acres of this previous agricultural land to a scrub jay/scrub oak habitat. We began our project in 1994 and made our first planting in 1995. We have planted 20+ acres with 4,400 specimens of over 100 scrub and sandhill species.  This includes our principle scrub area, a pond transition area and a public educational demonstration area of native scrub plants including a butterfly garden.

All work, not done by heavy equipment, is done by volunteers. Some heavy equipment operation is done by a PEAR Association volunteer and some operation is done by Lake County personnel. We have developed many techniques that work for us, at our site and with our volunteer force. You might want to consider some of them in your project if they fit your needs and site.

Site inventory and plant palate planning: Before developing the site, we found it very beneficial to inventory the plants on site and on the periphery of the restoration site. This will tell you what plants might thrive on your site and what species you might anticipate recruitment from the periphery of the site. Your local chapter of the FNPS should be very helpful in this task as it was for us. There are also many good references for Florida native plants and habitats each having its strong points. We felt that Dr. Walter Taylorís Florida Wildflowers in Their Natural Communities was a good place to start because of the community orientation.

Site preparation: It is generally accepted that burning is the preferred initial site preparation, especially if you have both extant pyrogenic native flora and a native seed bank present. Our site has little of either. We initially burned the entire site before we planted the first phase. We have not been able to burn for various reasons for the successive phases. It does not seem to have made a difference. We burn or mow and spray with herbicide. After the plants die, we disk to break up the grass roots and spray again at least two weeks before the first planting. This provides a clean surface for planting and kills the first emergence of the weed seed bank. Although the weeds and grasses reseed, we have resisted using herbicide after these initial applications. We apply a two to three percent solution of glyphosate (Monsanto Honcho Plus is about one-half the cost of the equivalent Roundup). This kills most shrubs as well as the bahia and other grasses.

Plant preparation:  Most of our plants are containerized in one gallon pots in our nursery and maintained for six to nine months. They form good root balls and growth for transplanting in this interval. We have tried both bare root stock and cells. We much prefer the cells as they have a very high survival rate and have little transplant shock. Our grower also inoculates the cells with mycorhiza which enhances survival in the container and field. Our bare root stock suffered about a 30 percent loss and heavy transplant shock. Even though bare root stock is initially cheaper the vigor and survival of cells makes them cheaper and superior in the long run. We use commercial bulk potting soil of sand, peat and small pine bark. One tablespoon of Osmocote and a sprinkle of germination inhibitor to control weed growth is added to the container. These are reapplied every three months. The containers are hand watered two to three times per week as demands indicate. If we acquire plant rescues, we try to put them in appropriate sized containers with sufficient soil to maintain them in the nursery until they recover from shock and develop new root growth. Plants purchased or donated in smaller pots are replanted in gallon containers for growth and ease of uniform watering.

Planting preparation:  We try to keep each planting phase within our capabilities to plant and maintain.. We also attempt to make the work as easy and effective as possible for the volunteers. We get much positive feed back from our volunteers for our preparations and they keep coming back for repeat plantings. With this in mind, we limit our plantings for the year to around 5 acres or 1,200 plants. We make three plantings during July and August when the rains of Central Florida are most reliable. We never plant more than 400 plants per planting session or more than two hours of planting. Usually, we have enough volunteers to complete the planting and pick up the pots and water bottles and retire for refreshments within two hours or less. To accomplish the planting as we would like, we stake each plant site with a 2 Ĺ foot PVC pole. On the afternoon before the planting, we place a well watered plant by each pole and a gallon of water by every other pole. Poles are placed to facilitate mowing and water carrier access. It is important to discuss this arrangement with the personnel that will do the mowing if you plan on controlling weeds with this process.
Planting and  care:  To obtain a mix of plants,  we plant about 75 percent trees, mostly oaks, and twenty-five percent shrubs and perennial herbs. All plants are planted on the south side of the PVC pole to facilitate better and safer weed control mowing. We started using flush planting with water collars. This proved to be less than satisfactory for our long term maintenance and volunteer help. The water collars needed to be continually rebuilt and often volunteers would make them too small, too large or on mounds that would wash off exposing the plant crown. We found it best and easiest to plant in shallow dishes. We demonstrate this before planting and hand out printed directions with registration of the volunteers. This arrangement is also the least labor intensive for the section watering crew. We have experimented with different sizes of containerized trees from planting cells directly into the ground to the purchase of three gallon containerized trees. We found our best results and greatest survival rates are with the one gallon containerized cells from our nursery. These trees quickly catch up with the larger trees in the field. The cells require an every other day watering for an extensive time to survive and the purchased three gallon trees are often repotted, root bound, one gallon, container trees whose abnormal root structure does not facilitate efficient transplanting. We have to water them twice as often with twice as much water. Still transplant shock is severe and survival is much lower. Discussions with other projects leaders indicate that they have had the same results. This may not be true if you have a good irrigation system. We water our trees with one half gallon of water two times per week for the first two months and then once per week until dormancy in the winter. Our major loss of plants occurs during the dry spring months of March and April when the new leaves develop. We again water once a week until the summer rains begin or to the first of July. The plants should be well rooted by then and require no further watering. Plants that receive a full half gallon of water in a well formed, weeded dish survive and thrive at a very high level. Sections that receive lesser care thrive less and the survival rate drops. This is one reason that we designate a section of about one half acre to each person who waters. This gives them ownership of that section and we get better volunteer results. We have been very pleased with the efforts of our volunteers. We mow periodically for two years for weed control, disc some areas for broadcast seeding of gathered native seeds, remove the PVC poles and let nature take over.     

There is a strong interest in restoration and preservation developing in Florida and interested volunteer help is to be had. Donít let the fact that you are not an expert or experienced in restoration prevent you from taking on a project. You can obtain much information, advice and help from your local or neighboring chapters of the FNPS, native nurseries, and the literature. Modest grants are available from state, federal, national organizations or commercial sources to help fund these projects, including the FNPS Conservation Grants. Donít be afraid to develop techniques that work for you. GOOD LUCK.

Karina Veaudry

Joan B

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Reply #1 on: January 25, 2007, 09:24:47 PM
Ron, Thanks for writing up your tips! and Thanks to Karina for posting. It was inspiring to think that restoration of our natural communities could be accomplished by a group of amateurs.

Congratulations on your acheivement!  Our Conservation grant monies were well spent! 

Joan B

Mark Hutchinson

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Reply #2 on: January 31, 2008, 05:54:14 PM
Ron, you got me pumped-up dude.
Clearly you understand the benefits of enlightened management - You work for them and they will bend over backwards for you and your goals. Keep up the good work.