Free Native Plants for Schools and Community Projects
Native Plantings can have a Ripple Effect on our Waters
Native plants have tremendous water quality benefits and increase habitat and food sources for pollinators. Because of this, the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department has started a native plant growing program to provide a source of free native plants to help schools and community groups with projects that benefit water quality or have educational benefits.
The plants are grown by local volunteers who want to have a ripple effect in their communities. Each fall the Office of Lakes and Watershed hosts a workshop to train new volunteers. Volunteers grow the plants and return them for distribution to community partners. Dane County provides the seeds and trays for this program. Profiles for our current volunteer growers are below.
- Find out how to become a volunteer grower (PDF) for this program.
- Find out how to apply to receive free plants (PDF) from this program. This is the application for our fall 2018 cycle. Applications are due July, 22, 2018.
2017 Plants Distributed
In 2017 we distributed more than 2,000 plants to the following groups:
- Elvehjem Elementary School
- Lafollette High School and Sennett Middle School
- Malcom Shabazz High School
- St. Maria Goretti Catholic School
- Badger Rock Middle School
- Sun Prairie Schools
- Centro Hispano
- Madison Area Food Pantry
- Preschool of Arts
- Midvale Elementary School
- Friends of Lake Kegonsa Society
Secret Places Neighborhood Association
Volunteer Grower Profiles
Theresa started growing plants because she wanted to create a large native garden in the yard of her newly constructed home. Buying plants was too expensive! She had been wanting to experiment with growing her own plants from seed and this was just the motivation she needed. Theresa's experiment was wildly successful! She grew enough plants to fill her 1000 square foot native garden, rain garden, and then some! Theresa greatly enjoyed getting to know the plants from seed to flower and seeing all the wildlife her garden brought to her yard. In just the first couple years she witnessed monarch caterpillars chewing on her butterfly milkweed, numerous bumble bees happily buzzing around the flowers, birds swooping down to eat the coreopsis seeds, and hummingbirds flitting about the cardinal flowers. Theresa started growing plants for herself but she soon had more than she could use and started sharing them with friends, neighbors, and community projects. Her son's elementary school has already planted several species and next year they will use more of Theresa's plants to enhance a new outdoor classroom space. What started out as a way to save some money has turned into a passion for Theresa and she plans to continue growing native plants for others into the future.
In 2004, Lyle and his son Aaron worked with Wayne Pauly, former Dane County parks naturalist, to establish a series of geocaches in several County parks (geocaching.com). They stocked the caches with some handmade dreamcatchers; carbineers provided by the conserve school as well as packets of pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallidia) seed, a threatened species in Wisconsin, with an insert containing propagating instructions. Mr. Pauly provided the initial seed for distribution and Lyle has since established a propagation bed of coneflower at his home to maintain seed production. By 2006 the propagation bed was producing more seed than was necessary for the geocaching project so Lyle started producing plants to be used in Dane County Parks and scaled up his production. Lyle also now grows Prairie Sage (Artemisa sp.), a traditional smudging herb for Native Americans, and Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis) an endangered species in Wisconsin. Each year Lyle provides 400-800 second year plants to Parks Friends groups so that they can establish vegetation and color at trailheads, around signage and in new restorations in advance of the seed produced plants.
Mary is a retired elementary school teacher from Madison. She and her husband have been practicing land stewardship on their 40 acre property near Beaver Dam for many years. In 2006 they planted an eight acre former corn field into tall grass prairie and they have been working ever since to encourage the native plants. When the city cut down the norway maple in front of their Madison home a few years ago Lee and Mary saw an opportunity to replace the lawn grass with sun-loving native plants. Under Mary’s watchful eye the plants thrived but the space is now full. Mary adopted a couple neglected city-planted rain gardens and planted some of her seedlings in them. She also adopted a small section of hillside along the Southwest bike path which she planted with native plants. In an effort to promote more knowledge and understanding of the value of gardening with native species Mary became a native plant volunteer for our program.
Allison is an instructional designer who lives in Stoughton. She started gardening in 2014 with six raised beds for vegetables. She quickly discovered that one of her favorite parts of gardening is hearing the hum of bees traveling from plant to plant. In 2016, she decided added a generous border of native plants around her garden. Although the garden is still in its infancy, it has already welcomed many species of bees, butterflies, and birds. Allison became a native plant volunteer to help make native gardening more familiar and accessible to the public.
Jeff is a water quality specialist with UW-Madison who is passionate about native plants. This interest stems from a curiosity in nature and a background in botany. He enjoys leading natural walks with Madison’s Friends of Urban Nature (FUN) and watching his native, experimental yard prairie grow. Jeff hopes that becoming a volunteer grower will encourage others to use native plants to landscape their yards and bring awareness to the beauty and importance of the natural world.