Monthly Archives: January 2013

For Sale: Bare Roots and Live Stakes

While it’s still too early in the year for most native plant sales, there’s one type of sale that is already underway. And that is the conservation district bare root plant sale.

As a lifelong city girl, I never really knew what a conservation district was until I worked for the late Washington Biodiversity Council. Then I learned that conservation districts grew out of the Depression-era dust bowl troubles, as a way for the government to help farmers and others manage their land better. Nowadays the districts continue to provide advice, tools, and technical assistance to help landowners conserve land and water resources.

WashingtonState has 45 conservation districts (interestingly, more than our 39 counties), and many of them offer early season plant sales of trees, shrubs, and sometimes perennials—and many, if not most, of the offerings are native species.

The conservation districts most often offer plants that are “conservation grade.” Not sure what that means exactly—how would you define it?

In practice it means that the conservation districts sell plants for use in environmentally friendly landscapes, restoration projects, reforestation, windbreaks, wildlife habitat, and the like.

But there’s no reason a home gardener can’t buy them and plant them too. Just be aware that some districts require you to buy a lot. The minimum can range from 5 to 100! And five twinberry shrubs (Lonicera involucrata) can grow into ungainly tangles on an urban lot…not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

The plants available from conservation districts are usually bare root or live stake.

Bare root plants aren’t in pots, nor are their roots balled and burlapped. The plants are dormant and their roots are, literally, bare. Nurseries frequently sell roses and fruit trees this way.

Tagging live stakes at Lincoln Park, Seattle.  Photographer:  Janet Skeels, all rights reserved.

Tagging live stakes at Lincoln Park, Seattle. Photographer: Janet Skeels, all rights reserved.

Live stakes are basically sticks or cuttings. Certain species, such as willows (Salix spp.) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) root so readily that they can be planted this way. Both King County and Sound Native Plants provide great introductions to planting live stakes.

Bare root plants and live stakes have several advantages. They are usually:

  • Reasonably priced, sometimes even cheap
  • Vigorous
  • Easy to plant

Of course bare root plants and live stakes have some disadvantages too. They are:

  • Vulnerable to water loss
  • Need to be planted in a narrower time frame.

Interested in checking it out? The Washington State Conservation Commission has a conservation district locator map.

Each conservation district plant sale has its own procedure. Most require you to pre-order and pick up your plants. Some have dollar minimums as well as quantity minimums.

Here is a list of conservation districts that I found advertising their 2013 sales online. Some pre-order deadlines have already passed or are coming up soon. Act now if you want to get plants from your local conservation district this year!