Salvaging Native Plants
Salvaging involves transplanting whole plants from their natural settings when the plants are scheduled to be destroyed. Salvaging is an excellent way to obtain larger plants at little cost. Two appropriate types of salvage sites are property that is being developed, and portions of roadsides scheduled for widening. Forests slated for clear-cutting are generally NOT appropriate for salvaging, because most native plants can survive timber harvesting, and collecting plants from the site will reduce the number of plants available to revegetate the area after the cut.
1. Finding Development Sites
Finding development sites suitable for salvaging can be a race against the bulldozer. As you look, remember that you want to find salvage sites similar to your planting site, preferably within the same watershed.The best sources of information on future development sites are your local city and county planning departments. Most planning departments keep records of who has applied for building and other permits, and many planning departments conduct regular reviews of large proposed development projects within their jurisdictions. All of this information is public.
Talk to your local planning departments to find out what applications must be filed and what permits issued before development can occur. If you explain to them your interest in removing plants before they are bulldozed, they may be willing to direct you to specific development projects. At the very least, they should be able to tell you when in the permitting process you are most likely to still find salvageable plants.
Once you determine which type of permit application to look at, ask to see the applications. From each application that looks promising, copy down the name, address, and phone number of the person seeking the permit, the location of the property, the name, address, and phone number of the owner of the property, and the size and nature of the proposed development. (If the landowner's phone number is not in the file, you can often get that information from the property's tax record in the county assessor's office.)
If there is a particular site that interests you, talk to someone in the planning department to determine how much work has already occurred, and whether they know of any opposition to the project. (You don't want to remove plants before it is certain the development is going to receive all of the necessary permits and actually happen.)
Once you have some addresses in hand, drive by the properties to see whether there is anything worth salvaging. However, DO NOT GO ON THE PROPERTY UNTIL YOU HAVE PERMISSION FROM THE OWNER! If you see plants you are interested in, contact the landowner.
When you call the landowner, be up-front about your interest in salvaging plants. Many landowners will be happy to know some of the plants are going to a good home rather than being flattened. If the landowner is willing to let you salvage, find out exactly where bulldozing is planned, so you can limit your efforts to those plants actually slated for destruction and avoid removing plants from designated green areas or open spaces. If a contractor or logging operation is already involved, you may also need to talk to them and coordinate your activity so you don't place yourself at risk or interfere with their work.
2. Finding Road-widening Projects
Sections of roadside slated for paving or clearing as part of a road-widening project can also be good salvage sites. The persons "in the know" about such projects are in the city and county roads departments, and the state Department of Transportation.
For safety reasons, you should get permission from the agency planning the widening before you check out the area for suitable plants. Once you find plants you want, you will need to get permission to salvage usually from the contractor doing the work or from the agency planning the widening. If they have safety concerns, permission may be denied.
3. Salvaging Methods
Most native plants can be salvaged. However, successful salvaging requires some knowledge about salvaging techniques and the plants you are trying to rescue. Salvaging will be most successful if done on wet, cloudy days, during the late fall through winter when plants are dormant.
You will need the following equipment: a shovel or flat-bladed spade; a metal file (for sharpening the spade); pruning shears (for pruning branches or roots); and wet burlap bags, lined with wet leaves or mulch (for transporting the plants). Before each salvaging session you should sharpen your spade (wear gloves), so that roots are cut cleanly and easily.
Finding appropriate plants: Focusing on species that are easily-salvaged, look for a plant that is growing by itself; trees and shrubs growing in clumps connected by underground runners are unlikely to survive transplanting. With few exceptions, trees and shrubs are most likely to survive if they are under three feet tall (see the list below and individual plant descriptions for exceptions).
Preparing the plant: Check to makes sure the plant looks healthy. If it does, clear the area around it of leaves and twigs (wear gloves). If some of its branches are too long for transporting, they can be pruned back.
Digging the plant: At least eight inches from the plant's main stem (one foot if the plant is over three feet tall), plunge the spade straight down into the ground as deep as possible. Continue doing this until you've gone all the way around the plant. Gently work the spade under the plant's roots. If you encounter a root the spade will not cut in two strokes, cut it with clippers to prevent mangling the root.
Moving smaller plants: Plants under two feet tall can simply be lifted out of the hole (supporting the roots and attached dirt with your hand), placed in a wet burlap bag, and the roots covered with wet leaves or mulch.
Moving larger trees and shrubs: Root balls (roots plus the surrounding dirt) should be wrapped with burlap and tied up. This will protect the roots from drying out and ensure that you take with you microorganisms the plant might need to flourish.
Two people are usually needed for this procedure, especially for trees and shrubs over three feet tall. Place a piece of burlap about two or three feet square alongside the plant. Once the root mass has been loosened, place the spade under the plant.
While one person holds the spade handle, the other person (who is wearing gloves) should grasp the stem of the plant and, using the blade to support the root ball, lift the blade and the plant out of the hole. BE SURE TO LIFT WITH YOUR LEGS, NOT WITH YOUR BACK! Transfer the root ball onto the burlap. Pull the corners and edges of the burlap up to enclose the root ball, and wrap twine around the root ball and burlap to keep it together.
If you happen to lose most of the dirt around the roots, place the roots in moistened burlap or in plastic bags, and pack wet leaves around the roots. The roots will dry out and die in seconds if exposed to the air, so make sure they stay wet! Roots can be kept moist with a spray bottle, if necessary.
Storing plants: If you need to store plants before you plant them, you might want to build a capillary bed. This is a wooden frame about one foot deep and usually four feet wide by 8-10 feet long. (You can make it smaller, as long as it is still about one foot deep.) Line the frame with heavy plastic ( >3 mil), half-fill it with soil or mulch, and then saturate the soil or mulch with water. Punch holes through the plastic in the corners, halfway up the sides of the bed (level with the layer of soil or mulch), to prevent the entire bed from filling with water.
If possible, pot the plants before placing them in the bed, as this will lessen the number of times the roots have to be pulled up and traumatized. Then place the plants in the bed on the saturated layer, surround and cover the pots with soil or mulch, and spray the mulch with water. Capillary action will provide the plants with sufficient water so long as there is water in the bed's reservoir; watch the water level, especially during the summer and dry periods, to make sure plant roots are staying moist. Plants stored in a capillary bed can survive for up to a year with very little maintenance.
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