Jeff Co annual native plant sale is back on

Posted 12/24/19

The Conservation District’s annual native plant sale is back on, after fund shortages caused a hiatus last year.

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Jeff Co annual native plant sale is back on


The Conservation District’s annual native plant sale is back on, after fund shortages caused a hiatus last year.

In the past year, both the county and the city governments approved more funding for the district.

The conservation district’s role is to help landowners protect natural resources while making a living from the land. The district provides programs and classes for local farmers, water quality monitoring, soil testing and more.

When the state Legislature failed to pass a capital budget in 2017, the district did not receive state funding for seven months, causing it to lose 61% of its operating budget that year.

“We were 28 days away from closing our doors,” conservation district manager Al Cairns said back in November of 2018, when the district went to the Board of County Commissioners to ask for help. The lack of funding meant a loss of two staff members and therefore the district was unable to hold its annual native plant sale in 2019.

On Nov. 26, 2018, the county commission approved a 10-year system of rates and charges on parcels in unincorporated Jefferson County, adding a per-parcel fee and a per-acre fee to land owners. The fees do not surpass $5 per parcel and 8 to 10 cents per acre, and are collected with property taxes by the county treasurer.

The per-parcel fee for agricultural land is $4.99, and the per-acre fee is $0.10. Meanwhile, the per-parcel fee for residential land is $5, while the per-acre fee is $0.10.

The City of Port Townsend also requested that it be included in the district’s service area, imposing this same fee on city residents’ property taxes in July 2019. City residents account for half or more of the district’s customers, Cairns said.

“The stable funding hasn’t just aided the Conservation District – it has saved us,” Cairns said.

The funding was enough to fill one of the positions that had been lost, and having enough staffing allowed the native plant sale to take place this year.

“What we realized in its absence was a lot of people were heartbroken that we weren’t able to do it,” Cairns said. “That’s been the most pleasing element of our rebound, is hearing how much people are glad we’re back on our feet.”

This year, the native plant sale will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 29.

For the first time ever, the district is going electronic: pre-orders can be made on the district’s website until Jan. 30. Orders made ahead of time can be picked up on the plant sale date at the horticulture building in the Jefferson County Fairgrounds at 4907 Landes Street in Port Townsend. The district will also be offering a pick-up site in Quilcene, which can be requested by those who pre-order online.

This year, the district will be selling bundles of 29 different native species of trees and shrubs, from Red Alder, to Oregon Grape, Nootka Rose, Golden Currant, Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce and more.

“What’s unique about the plant sale is that everything is coming from the plant material center operated by the Washington Association of Conservation Districts,” said Sharon Yeh, the district’s conservation planner, who came into the role in September. “They have very local seed sources. All of the plants we are selling have seed sources from Western Washington. It’s hyperlocal and the plants tend to fare better when they are from your local seed area.”

Native plants are important because animals and pollinators have all evolved over time to live amongst natives, Yeh said, making an ecosystem that is whole. When you plant natives, you are providing more food and forage sources for our local birds, bees, butterflies and mammals.

This year, Yeh said she is most excited about offering the Pacific Madrone, also known as the madrona tree. This is the first year the plant sale will have madronas for sale. Their red bark that peels over time is a beautiful addition to any garden, while their red berries that come in the fall will bring birds to forage in your yard.

The sale is also offering some types of berries, both edible and inedible. The blue elderberry mostly grows on the east side of the Cascades, but planted in a sunny spot in a garden can do quite well here as well, Yeh said. The berries have medicinal purposes, and made into a syrup can help fight off cold and flu season.

Meanwhile, the inedible snowberry is a favorite of the Pacific Northwest. The stunning white berries add some color to grey winter days. Planted alongside the Red Osier Dogwood, also for sale, the red bark and white berries make for a lovely holiday garden scene.

The plants sold are small and bare-root, meaning they are dormant for the winter and come in sawdust and a paper bag. It’s best to pot them or put them in the ground as soon as you get home, Yeh said, as they might come out of dormancy.

While pre-orders are sold in bundles of 10 plants, those who do not want that many can take their chance with day-of sales. Anything that is not pre-ordered will be sold on the day of the sale at the horticulture center, Yeh said.

Beyond bringing the native plant sale back to life, the funding provided to the district has allowed it the opportunity to apply for more grants to expand their programs.

An example of this is a recent grant the district received from the Department of Ecology. The grant allowed it to purchase a specialized subsoil plow that increases soil water retention and fertility. Farmers who take a workshop on using the plow will be eligible to rent the equipment, Cairns said.

Beyond that, they are trying to increase their presence in Port Townsend since the city voted to be part of the district. The district is applying for grants to assist with the school garden program at the Port Townsend School District, specifically to increase staffing at the Blue Heron Middle School garden and develop a science and math curriculum around the garden.

They also are planning on doing some restoration work at the Big and Little Quilcene Rivers, which will aid in protecting Port Townsend’s water supply, which comes from the Quilcene River to Lord’s Lake. Trailhead improvement and planting will improve the riparian area around the river, helping preserve water quality.

The district also plans on continuing and expanding its Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which works with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition to plant thousands of native shrubs and trees along creeks in Jefferson County to aid in salmon restoration.

“We’re still just a mighty staff of four full-time equivalents,” Cairns said. “But we’ve got our footing back underneath us now.”