National plant materials center goes native in Washington, DC

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Among its many ongoing research studies, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Plant Materials Center (NPMC), in Beltsville, Maryland, is researching native, ornamental, perennial plants which are tolerant of hot, droughty conditions. The end result of this research is to promote city gardening in the Washington/Baltimore metro area and to eventually expand to the entire mid-Atlantic region.

“The use of native plants are beneficial to the region in that they are already adapted to the cultural conditions present in city environments and are unlikely to displace other native-plant communities,” said Shawn Belt, Horticulturalist at the NPMC. “And, not only do these native plants add to the diversity of inner-city plant materials they encourage wildlife as well.”

Working with NRCS conservationists for Washington, DC, the NPMC has recently installed a “butterfly garden” a native-plant garden at the Myrtilla Miner Elementary School in NE Washington DC. According to Belt, Washington, DC typically has poor soils so this site will be a good evaluation for hot, dry conditions.

“Since there are no farms in DC to award contracts for the various NRCS cost share programs, NRCS does award cost share for schools in order to educate students to the benefits of using native plants in city landscapes,” said Belt.

NRCS conservationists have been encouraging teachers to install butterfly gardens with cost-share money from the Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP) to help with the costs of installing these gardens.

While working with the school to install the native-plant garden, NRCS employees will evaluate the performance of the plants over the next 3 years. Additionally, evaluations will be continued in other areas of Washington, DC in order to replicate the "experiment" in differing locations.

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