Planting Back - giving as opposed to just taking

Spring is a time when i like to reflect upon my goals and plans for interacting with the land and waters for the seasons ahead. This year, I am increasing my focus on ways that i can give more back, and take much less. Specifically, I plan to re-up my efforts with my small wetland and stream restoration project, and focus on learning more specific strategies to propagate and plant native species while eliminating invasives.

In what ways are you giving back? Would love to hear about your ongoing activities and projects, plans for the future, creative ideas, and thoughts about living with our Mother Earth in a more balanced way. Please share your bioregion too! (I’m in the pacific northwest).

Warm regards :sun_with_face::blue_heart:

1 Like

I’m really interested in this as well…I don’t really know what to do so i basically go around chopping away blackberries and ivy from plants we like such as nettles and elders…Would love to learn more about what i can do for the plants i like a lot


Hi Alexander,
What region do you live in? I bet we could figure out a few activities you might like to work on. It took me a while to figure out where my “heart” was - in terms of which things i enjoy and are most meaningful. Starting with your region and setting would enable others to offer suggestions :sun_with_face::blue_heart:

1 Like

I thought I would post some photos of plants I’ve been growing. I’ve learned a lot just from converting my front and back lawns to various native plant communities. There so much nuance to the phenologies and habitat needs of each species, and there’s not really a lot of good info out there. I’ve spent a few years observing “natural” sites then trying to replicate some of that on a small scale. I’m hoping I can expand this to larger restoration sites eventually.

I tried to get some photos of this year’s camas seedlings. I started with some salvaged mature plants, and have been learning how to encourage seeding. Honestly, if you give camas the right conditions, its difficult to not have a huge number of plants after 3-4 years. I can see now how it would be sustainable to harvest them as they will need to be thinned in a couple of years.

Same thing with these Lomatiums. With the right conditions, they are incredibly easy to plant back. I’ve been making Lomatium/cow parsnip stir fries this spring, and have hundreds or thousands of plants that will be mature in a year or two.

I also salvaged some wapato tubers two years ago. I put about 5 in each of 3 containers. I dug one of the containers this winter and had over 50 tubers from one years growth. Super excited about this plant. I just need more space!

Nodding onions last summer.

Fawn lilies that are being overgrown by cow parsnip.

This is a grouping of plants that I’ve had a lot of success with. Its coastal strawberry, nodding onion, and Pacific silverweed. I became very excited about Pacific silverweed after reading Keeping it Living. I went to the coast and dug some from the rock on the shoulder of highway 101 where it is very abundant and often grows with strawberries. Its taken off and could easily take over a large area. I tried some of the roots in the winter. They didn’t offer much food after only one season, but they tasted pretty good.

Anyway, just though I’d share my small scale attempts at plant salvage and “planting back”. Its really just a way to learn to do this in the wild with more confidence. I’d love to see pictures of your wetland project, Tracie. I’d also love to discuss seed/plant sharing. It would be great to start a network to share native plant propagules and info.


Hi Sean!
Thank you for your wonderful post! It really made me happy to see your plants and read your comments - I’m really impressed!

I love the idea of setting up a “network” of sorts as you described - do you think starting this in the Trading Post category would work, or should it have its very own?

I’m hoping to start propagation this year via seed collecting, cuttings / starts, and so on… so far most of my work with the wetland & stream has been battling himalayan blackberry and purple loosestrife, and unearthing appalling amounts of trash i keep finding in the mud (formidable opponents! haha) Since i won’t resort to chemicals, it’s been slow going - trying to prevent their spread vs. getting to the point of actually removing and replacing them). I’ll try to get some photos taken this week!

There are actually two separate locations i’d like to work with - this one is a small area behind my home, the other is a damaged hillside on my father’s property about 6 miles away. My ideas are always bigger than my ability to pull them off however, so i need to prioritize my steps.

I’d love to hear more about your observations of plant communities and interrelationships… this seems like a crucial thing to understand. ANYTHING you’d like to share will have a grateful and interested audience with me, and i’m sure others will join in the conversation soon.

Thank you!!! :smiley::blue_heart::evergreen_tree:

1 Like

I don’t know if I have any specific observations to share. But I’ll give you a sense of my general tactics.

I typically try to make a species list from a nearby, semi-natural reference site, then figure out how to start spreading those species. I think its important to start somewhat small, but be effective. For example, its difficult to fill an acre of land with native plants unless you have help and money. But if you can truly suppress invasive plants on just a couple hundred square feet, you can probably effectively convert it to native plants. Those native plants will rapidly produce seeds, bulblets, stolons, etc. that can be expanded outward. Its a lifelong process.

I also think its important to note which tree species are growing at a site, even if there are just a few. That can tell you a lot about the soil and the disturbance history, which can in turn tell you a lot about what plants might be appropriate to start growing.

I think the long term goal of tending a particular piece of ground has to be constantly removing invasive species (even if its just a few plants at a time) while replanting natives. If you choose the right species, they’ll do the rest.

One last thing: I’ve consistently seen that adding woody matter (like fine wood chips or low N compost) helps incredibly with native seed germination and invasive species suppression. Many people will advocate for N fixing species - and they certainly have a place in any ecosystem - but at first, carbon-rich matter on the ground can help starve invasive species of nitrogen and shift the balance toward native species. I’m not quite sure yet why the seeds germinate on wood and compost, but I’ve seen it happen over and over. On a small scale, cardboard or paper with a compost/wood chip cover over it will usually suppress unwanted species. But sometimes you don’t want to start with a blank slate like that, and its really only effective for very small areas.

For NW sites, I’d be more than happy to recommend plant species and try to give some tips on how to acquire and grow them. Especially if there are any indicator trees or shrubs in place that can give me a sense of the local ecology.

1 Like

As far as a network to share seeds and plants, I’m not sure how that would work. I’m also not sure that I’m the person to start it.

I know that I already tend to have a surplus of seeds every year. And now I’m trying to figure out what to do with all of my young thimbleberry and blackcap raspberry plants - they just keep coming! Same thing with the silverweed and nodding onions. They really begin to reproduce quickly after a couple of seasons.

So there’s a lot of potential to get these plants started on various sites then share the seeds. But I’m not sure exactly how to coordinate that. I see it as a goal of mine to at least be involved with something like that, but it might take a few years.

1 Like

Thank You!! I sent you a pm on fb with one photo of the wetland area - couldn’t upload it here…will try to get some more taken this week. The dominant tree species is alder - there are some doug fir at the top of the hill, and a couple of cedar on the perimeter, but mostly it’s alder everywhere!
I appreciate your suggestion of bark / wood chips - I have been hoarding cardboard for ages to use this year - sounds like placing that and topping with the bark / compost might be good. :slightly_smiling:
PS. would it be helpful to list the other species i’ve observed there? plant and animal?

The alder says quite a bit about the site. I would assume it has well-draining, coarse soil that is moist due to a relatively consistent stream or spring, as opposed to heavy, poorly drained bottomland soils.

Were you hoping to encourage more native edible species? Do you already have salmonberries there? That’s an obvious one, but it would take the least work, and it produces berries and its shoots are an early season vegetable.

It looks like a narrow stand with lots of edge effect. I would think it would be difficult to keep it from succeeding to a shrub understory. If there are shadier, less shrubby areas, there are some wildflowers that would do well. Probably ones you already see all over in that area, like Pacific waterleaf, Pacific water parsley, “lilies” like false solomon’s seal, false lily of the valley, and fairybells. Also lady fern and Equisetums. I haven’t grown those species, but have read about growing them. There’s no shortage of spots to collect seeds or roots for that habitat type along forest roads up there. Certainly a lot different than the Willamette Valley natives I’ve been working with! I’m not sure that an alder forest is ideal for producing food plants, but still a very important place to restore. Looks like a fun project!

1 Like

I don’t mean to tell you things that you already know, either. :slightly_smiling: It just occurred to me that I’m telling you about your land. To some extent its just fun for me to think through these scenarios. So, thanks for that!

1 Like

Thank you!
I’m honestly more motivated to provide water health and habitat for wildlings with my planting choices than i am concerned with my foraging anything here… there are lots of different bird species, deer, beaver, raccoon, crayfish, and some small rodents i haven’t identified yet… all trying to make a living there at different times of year. Let me get back to you about the soil type - the area i’ve had the most contact with has a fair bit of gravel from the road and tons of trash, etc. mixed in with the mud and weeds - I’ll try to bushwhack my way back further as soon as the ground is solid enough and check it out. It’s pretty dark in color and consistently wet… but yes, little springs on the hillside and tiny streams cris-crossing the land, feeding into the stream behind the fence…

1 Like

haha, i didn’t take it that way in the least! i’m thrilled to have someone so knowledgeable offering me advice! you are very kind :slight_smile:

1 Like

Hi tracie I live in Eugene Oregon… it’s beautiful out here and we have fields and fields of camas over here.

to Sean, I am a woodworker… I make some pretty massive amounts of shavings sometimes…So would those work basically for what you’re saying for mulching? I usually burn all my scraps but should I just take it out to the woods instead? I use lots of Hazel and Ash mostly.

1 Like

I guess I meant in the context of intentionally trying to seed a patch of ground with native plants. For example, if you added some of those wood shavings to a piece of ground and let them partially decompose, then throw appropriate seeds over it in the fall, I would imagine you would have a higher rate of germination than if you seeded on bare mineral soil. The high carbon content also deprives other plants of nitrogen. Restorationists have had some success with adding sugar to soil in order to “starve” N hungry invasives. I’m not sure if it would make a difference one way or the other if you added them to an already existing forest. There is already a large amount of woody material in a place like that. It would make more of a difference in a yard or an agricultural field.

I’m curious, what species of ash do you work with? I’m researching Oregon ash forests now, and have become interested in motivating people to plant it. There really isn’t much of a market though. But, for certain uses, it seems like a beautiful type of wood. (Sorry if that gets off topic, but we can plant back trees, too :slightly_smiling:).

1 Like

i definitely meant to include trees when i said “native plants”… any sort of native species including fungi would be of great interest to me in terms of “planting back” and restoring habitat. :sun_with_face::evergreen_tree::blue_heart:

Sean - any thoughts pro/con about doing some gentle thinning of alder where it is really dense to allow for some light and other species? (wondering if leaving a couple on the ground and maybe a snag or two standing might offer some diversity…???) This is a south facing hillside BTW. Thanks :slightly_smiling:

i am also curious to hear more about your work with hazel and ash… and it strikes me that you could definitely use the shavings to amend the soil where appropriate - with or without trying to start seeds. you might be able to use it “raw” to suppress weeds, or aged / composted a bit for planting or otherwise amending soil… (Sean??) :sun_with_face: personally, i would definitely toss it in a pile to compost rather than burn it. :evergreen_tree::blue_heart:

I actually think alder stands are prime candidates for small-scale, responsible forestry. They grow quickly, usually become dense enough that thinning does no ecological harm, and the wood is great for furniture, tools, etc. They’re also much easier to cut down than, say, Doug-firs. You could consider growing mushrooms on them as well. They are great for that. Oyster mushrooms on alder snags/logs in Washington can be prolific.

I would expect, though, that the more light that hits the forest floor there, the more blackberries you’ll get. I’m not sure how to combat that other than to just keep at it. I don’t know much about alder snags, aside from the mushroom substrate. I would think that larger trees would be necessary to really benefit wildlife. But honestly, I’m not much of a wildlife biologist! Maybe someone else knows more about the habitat qualities of alder?

1 Like

why do you suppose alder has such a bad rap, Sean and Alexander? i live in a mill town where gmo doug fir is king and everyone thinks of alder as “garbage” trees… i always thought it made fine firewood, but never really learned other uses for it. i know it’s a nitrogen fixer, good for stabilizing hills, and a good habitat tree because it is short lived and offers lots of cavities and rotting wood as it breaks down. (think bird and bug condos! haha) i’m planning to learn basket weaving using invasives, but wonder if alder would work for that as well. any thoughts?

I think its just economic efficiency. Conifers have a more uniform/straight growth form and are easier to turn into 2X4’s and telephone poles. But if someone was looking to make a dresser or need interior home building material (like flooring), then alder is fantastic. If you can find a market for it, its actually worth a lot more than Doug-fir. Its just a more specialized milling and kilning process. I’ve met people in WA who bought land and sustainably/responsible harvested a portion of the alder on their property. They were able to pay a fair amount of their mortgage off that way. I met one guy who milled his own flooring and sold that as a small cottage industry. Its certainly a valuable tree for both habitat, nutrient cycling, and materials. It also hosts many epiphytes, which are close to my heart :slightly_smiling:!

I’m sure Alexander would know a lot more than me about cutting it/milling it/using it.

1 Like

I like Alder because of it’s regenerative effects on disturbed sites you know, I don’t really use it for anything though. I think it would be a great shelter building material if theres a stand close by and stuff like that. I know people who make chairs from Alder and they love it…It’s the main wood they use for their chair building class in portland (more like a stool)
As for “garbage trees” a lot of people “hack and slash” literally everything when clearcutting… So ya, for me these treasures like Oceanspray, Hazelnut, Vinemaple, and others go literally unused and abused and are actually in the way for the loggers… I know how tough vinemaple is…Very tough work i’m sure to hack through that…I feel like they get this negative attitude towards these plants because they aren’t necessarily harvesting them, and they are also “in the way” when they are doing their (in my opinion stupid) job.

It’s all about boards feet… a lot of these plants don’t get to useful diameter and as Sean said they grow all crooked and stuff.

I make bows and arrows/atlatls out of hazelnuts and also ash but not as often… I use a lot of ash for my wooden swords and knives kids love them…As far as species of ash I am quite unfamiliar with the different species and ID… Also keep in mind that I don’t kill plants, so when I find a good stick (naturally down, or human caused sometimes) there usually aren’t things like leaves and obvious ID indicators on it other than the bark…I’m unfamiliar basically with exactly which species I’m using… I will say that Ash is very very beautiful and very tough…super strong…lots of people like the way ash looks all finished up. I do too…Makes very sturdy bows too but I find that they take a “set” pretty fast…Also all these woods are really really good for my sculptures too I like to carve animals and birds out of all these species except for anything with a large pith…

I am definitely interested in learning about hardwood cuttings…I love the idea of cutting a bunch of twigs and planting them… What plants would you recommend doing this with in the PNW area?..Any necessary steps involved? Was thinking about willow watering a bunch of willow/dogwood/oceanspray?

I guess I could just look it all up but maybe someone here has personal experience

Its very hard for me to get the time to do this actually though because I’m really obsessed with my sit spot…spend all my time there lately…found a place with hawks, kestrels, eagles, ospreys, and an active fox den…all in the same spot!!!

I have been trying to claim and take care of two nettle patches…They are pretty isolated but it would be fun to close the gap between the two populations… can you like basically spread nettle seeds to help them…?? does this work with many plants? just helping them spread seeds feels like something that could be done easily and fast… I feel such an intense admiration for these nettles who are literally being dominated by blackberries and ivy…tryin to help but it’s hard to not damage the nettles themselves when dealing with dry/green blackberries and ivy