Walker: Lucky Peak Nursery helps dead forests, rangelands come back to life

U of I Master GardenerJune 20, 2013 

Lucky Peak Nursery

Last week, the Boise area Master Naturalists took a tour of the Lucky Peak Nursery. I'd been to the nursery numerous times after collecting seed as a volunteer with Idaho Fish & Game. But I'd never seen the extent of the operation.

The nursery is located on Idaho 21 northeast of Boise. It was established in 1957 by the U.S. Forest Service. The nursery was originally set up to replenish trees harvested for timber. As forest fires became more prevalent in the West, the nursery expanded its mission to include supplying native trees and shrubs for replanting burned areas.

In late summer and fall, seeds are collected from trees and shrubs on federal land by scientists and volunteers. Seeds are brought to the nursery for cleaning and storage. Machines are used to separate the seed from other debris that gets collected, and then the seeds are stored for future use.

When a forest is harvested for timber or a fire occurs, the nursery selects seeds to start the germination process for revegetating those particular areas. If a fire occurs in sagebrush-steppe areas, seeds will be started for plants native to that area: sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbit brush, etc. If the fire is in a forested area, seeds of native pines, firs, spruces, hemlocks, etc are taken out of storage and started.

Instead of using individual pots or tubes for starting seeds, they're started in blocks of sturdy Styrofoam with 50-60 indentations that act as pots. After the seedlings have grown big enough to be planted, the Styrofoam blocks are sterilized and re-used the next season.

Some seeds, like grasses and some shrubs, are direct sown in the ground. Seeds sown in open fields are covered with a white sand to help keep the birds from eating the seeds. The sand is coated with a substance that won't hurt the birds, but tastes bad to them. If you drive by the nursery on Idaho 21 and see strips of white, you'll know that seeds have just been planted.

The plants are generally grown for more than one season before being big enough to be transplanted out in the wild. In early spring, volunteers dress in layers of old, raggedly clothes and boots and go out in cold, often snowy weather to plant bare root trees and shrubs. After a day of crawling around on the burnt ground, the volunteers are cold, wet and sooty - and happy knowing they've given Mother Nature a leg up.

The nursery conducts tours each spring from April 1 through June 30. Tours can be scheduled Monday through Friday starting at 10:00 a.m. and going until noon. To schedule a tour, call Kelly DeMasters at 343-1977, ext. 7700.

If you have particular questions about gardening you'd like to see addressed in this column, send them to highprairielandscapedesign@yahoo.com.

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