June 26th 2018

After a busy planting season, the MRT veg crew are now focusing on site maintenance for our restoration sites and other protected lands.  Our current planting sites are at de Anza Park, Malibu Creek State Park, Headwaters Corner, Cold Creek High Trail and La Sierra Preserve. Since the end of the planting season, we have been catching up on our weed maintenance program by removing non-natives through weed-whacking and selective hand-weeding while avoiding the large-scale use of herbicides.

With multiple revegetation projects and others in development, the nursery has become the foundation of the program. The MRT nursery has been operational for almost nine years. Our growing grounds are unique in many ways, one being that the nursery complex is spread out in five locations. The shadehouse at Headwaters Corner was our first nursery structure, built in 2009 by two Eagle Scout projects and used to store seed propagation flats. In May of 2010, we began to use the “April Rd greenhouse” located on State Park property above the old Ronald Reagan Ranch. This greenhouse stores many native collections and with its great light provides near optimal growing conditions for our native propagules.

In 2011 we got permission from State Parks to restore and occupy a large shade structure located behind the Malibu Creek State Park campground. The PVC structure that supports the shade cloth was re-glued at this time and at least twice since after winter storms. This shadehouse stores our one-gallons and treepots and is much cooler than the greenhouse in summer, although adversely colder in winter.

We are using the small greenhouse I installed in the backyard of my Canoga Park home to grow all our coast live oak, valley oak and scrub oak saplings, California bay laurel, hollyleaf cherry, coffeeberry chaparral yucca and other native collections. This greenhouse has found its niche to provide a safe place for these young trees, because there is no predation by mice or squirrels who, if given a chance, will steal every acorn sown in a tray overnight. Nursery Assistant Manager Betsey Scheets has also been growing natives in her backyard nursery, and provides a few species to supplement our stock, including blue-eyed grass, creeping snowberry and yerba buena.

In the nursery, we continue to propagate from seed, cuttings, division and salvage. As the nursery manager I am particularly proud of the modifications we have made in the past year to improve our seed propagation program. Although we will continue to sow seed in propagation flats, we have also found success in direct seeding into 2-inch x 7-inch liners (50 per tray) and sowing multiple species per pot, all common to the same habitat type. For example, we typically have been sowing different combinations of deerweed, golden yarrow, woolly aster and showy penstemon seed, all appropriate companion species for grassland habitat, then lightly cover this seed and sow purple needlegrass seed, cover again with light layer of soil and then compress soil. We then tightly wrap these trays with hardware cloth caging to prevent rodent damage and leave these trays in the greenhouse environment for optimal light and moisture to allow for natural seedling development.  These liners can be planted directly into the ground or repotted to one-gallon pots. We have had great success with establishment of these plugs at a revegetation project at Malibu Creek State Park, with 300 plantings without any fatalities. Another key part to this successful planting has been the use of coco disks installed over the watering basins and wrapped around the neck of the protection cages to greatly increase the moisture retention in the soil.

On Thursdays I work with Betsey and our April Road greenhouse volunteers from 9am-2pm to complete all our propagation and repotting work for the week.  Long-time volunteers include Karen Cleaver, Virginie Snyder, Juliet Montgomery, John Ulloth, Phil Peck, Michael Hart, and new volunteers Chad Lee and Ben Schmit.  These volunteers are dedicated to the work and become skilled as they gain experience with repotting and propagation methods, while enjoying the company and environment found in our greenhouse cathedral. I should add that this greenhouse also houses nesting birds, lizards, snakes, and pesty mice, with honeybees and yellow jackets, buzzing all about in search of moisture more so than plant nectar or human blood. If you would like to join our greenhouse crew, please send me a note of your interest.

I will be working with volunteers on June 30, July 14 and July 28 at the Cold Creek Valley Preserve to remove invasive species and collect native seed. This is a great opportunity to learn native plant and weed identification and much more while working and hiking in our valley preserve.  Other upcoming volunteer veg events are scheduled for June 7 (at de Anza Park in Calabasas), July 14 at Potrero Creek in Newbury Park, and July 21 at Malibu Creek State Park.  All events occur from 9am-12pm.  Please sign up here.