Native Plant Restoration Project

Lesson Plan by Tania Kim

General Information:

Location:  Any area where exotics are taking over. If in a reserve or park, contact manager/ranger for assistance and advice. In any location contact the local chapter of the Native Plant Society for assistance. This was planned with the terrestrial portion of the Scripps Coastal Reserve, in San Diego.

Duration:  You will need one day in class to introduce the community to the students, the difference between natives and exotics and go over the basic field procedures. At this time you can assign your students to groups of three, as there will be three tasks-digger, planter/map maker and waterer. Students will rotate through the tasks. If you are having a guest speaker this class period might be a good time to invite them to class.

In the field (one day)-
Students will be working in groups of three, planting three seedlings (this of course is variable). Transportation time, in-field instruction and set up time in addition to the students actually planting is required. Three hours in field should suffice.

Try to schedule a follow up so that the students can see how their plants are doing, or go to the site and take pictures to show your students. This will also give you a picture record, which will be especially nice to have if your think you might conduct a restoration project in the area in coming years.

Grade Level:  7-12, very adaptable
This lesson is in compliance with California State Standards for life science and biology. This lesson can be used to fulfill, fully or partially, the standards dealing with biomes and communities, conservation issues as well as classification if the dichotomous keys extension is included. Additionally the standards dealing with science processes and analysis can also be satisfied with this lesson/unit.


Intellectual: Students will learn to distinguish between exotic and native plant species. Additionally students will work in groups in the field to restore a natural habitat and learn to appreciate the natural resources in their own backyard.

Social: Team building will be achieved by students working in groups as well as a whole class and see the difference they can make together. Student interactions with other students as well as with the teacher, and if a reserve manager is involved with her as well, will be different in nature than in the classroom, will foster more interpersonal interactions which will contribute to better in-classroom environment.

Personal: Individual students will have the chance to explore the natural world and they will come up with their own questions, and their curiosity will act as a motivator.


Contact the reserve manager, or park ranger. Ask when is a good time to have your group out to plant. Ask them well in advance what plant species they think might be best-or if you already have seedlings check that they are appropriate for the area. Additionally, inquire about where in the park or reserve is the best site for the project-in terms of the best area for the plants as well as student management and supervision. Don’t for get to ask about a water source, you may need to bring in water in containers. Maps of the park or reserve on which the students will be recording their data.

Background Information

Coastal Sage Scrub is a community that is becoming more and more patchy due to rapid urbanization in San Diego County. The patches that remain are in many cases also infested with exotic plant species, especially wild oats, Avena sp. The terrestrial portion of the UC Scripps Coastal Reserve, known as the knoll, is a wonderful little Coastal Sage Scrub patch that offers a biodiversity trail. Unfortunately, the native species of CSS (Coastal Sage Scrub community) are competing with a number of exotic plant species, most notably Avena sp. and Brassica nigra, Black Mustard. The species that should dominate this CSS patch are California Sage, Artemisia californica; Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum; Coast Sunflower, Encelia californica, Bladderpod, Cleome isomeris; Lemonadeberry, Rhus integrifolia; Lady fingers, Dudleya edulis; Chalk live-forever, Dudleya pulverulenta; and several species of cacti. The restoration of California Sage is a project already in-progress at the Knoll. The seeds have been collected and there are several seedlings ready to be transplanted (contact Isabelle Kay at UCSD’s NRS office). Alternately, the Native Plant Society may have seeds or seedlings available. In some cases local businesses are willing to offer discounts or free products/assistance to school projects. You can always have the students collect seeds, but this would require an additional outing to the field. A native plants garden in your school could provide seeds for year to come and may be considered a community-service project if seedlings are used for restoration. 

It is important to recruit as much help as possible, in terms of management of the project as well as teacher education. If you do not know much about plants simply go to the biodiversity trail at the Scripps Coastal Reserve and take a pamphlet, or to any park or reserve. They tend to have informational labels or pamphlets. There may be docents, rangers or managers that you could work with in developing a lesson, they may be able to meet with your students in the field or even come to your classroom.


Before the field: Give the students background on the area you will be working in as well as the species common to the area. A great way to do this is to have a slide show and bring in plant cuttings or herbarium cards if available. Tell the students what the roles are: A digger-this student will dig a hole large and deep enough for the 
A map maker-this student will record the location of where the plant is going in on a map of the park or reserve. 
A water bearer-this student will go to the central water station and collect enough water for the seedling.
All three students will plant the seedling together, if this does not seem likely to work with your students assign the map maker the task of planting as well.

After a background is given make sure the students understand the proper procedures
for the field-which are as follow.

Students should bring water, a hat, sunscreen, and a bag lunch.
Students must wear shoes that they can walk around in comfortably-tennis shoes or hiking boots. 
When we arrive to the field site we will have brief overview of the park/reserve-either given by the teacher or a ranger/manager.
Then we will review the procedures to plant and water the plants.

In the field: Give a background of the community/park/reserve. Tell students where they will be planting-the manager may have an idea of a general area the restoration efforts are most needed or may have very specific locations.
Review the tasks the teams of three will take with the students, and make sure they understand they are to rotate roles with every plant.
Set up a central water station, if possible-here if you have access to a hose great, otherwise unload the water containers. Also consider having a seedling station, where groups can come get the seedling when they are ready to put it in the ground.

Let the students do their work and oversee that everyone is on task and enjoying being outside. Encourage students to take a bit of time to observe their surroundings. Document their effort with a camera (stills or video). 

Once students are done collect their maps-they should have put their names on it. If picnic facilities are available consider having a lunch picnic before heading back to campus.

Back at school: Have students map their plants onto a class map. This way you have a record of all the seedlings on one map. This will allow students to see their combined effort makes a difference. Also, if possible give a copy of this map to the manager/ranger, it is resource for him/her as well.

Have a discussion about conservation efforts and ask them to respond to why it is that restoration is necessary-and ways to prevent it.
Lots of extensions are possible here: have students write a short essay on the local habitat they helped restore (CSS)-have them write it in a persuasive manner as if convincing the people in the surrounding area to help preserve the habitat. Have them research animal species that are associated with the plant community and do reports. This would allow you to assess what they have learned/gained from the experience.

Closure: Follow up visit and watering if possible. Have students go check on their plants and record if their plants are thriving. If a second field trip is not possible, consider going to the reserve with the camera and recording/documenting the general area as well as the specific plants your students planted. Then present the slide show or video to the class. More extensions here! Calculate survival rate, graphing, simple statistics esp. great if you watered only some plants when they were planted-can compare the survival of watered versus not watered.


This list is only for the actual restoration outing-separate lists are included with the extension ideas if necessary.

Decide how many groups you are going to have then per group you will need:

  • a shovel or trowel
  • three seedlings of the predetermined plant species (ask a 
    ranger/manager for advice) At the Knoll there is an on-going Artemisia californica restoration project.
  • A map of the site so that students can mark where they plant their seedlings.
  • A container to hold water to irrigate the seedlings (any container will do).
  • Gardening gloves would be nice, but not required. Students may bring their own if they really want.

You will need enough water to irrigate all the seedlings-have a central water station (Where there is a hose if at a park) Students will rotate tasks-one of which will be the water gatherer.

Possible Extensions

Several are mentioned above, in addition:

  • When the students are introduced to the community and plant species dichotomous keys can be taught here too. Have students construct their own dichotomous keys using plant cuttings the teacher provides. Have the students work on the key with their field-team of three.
  • Have student collect (ask ranger/manager first!) plant samples and press them (plant presses are required-a whole lesson could be assembling plant presses in class, since they can be expensive). Make a class herbarium collection-to preserve them for year to come laminate them or use contact paper. Have them do this to learn the plants they will be encountering before they go planting. These herbarium cards could supplement the dichotomous key exercise above. 
  • A native plants garden would supply a seed bank in the future and it would attract wildlife that could be observed in another exercise. This extension requires a lot of work and lots of beginning materials. Contact the CA native plants society to get advice and possibly help. Contact local gardening suppliers and try to enlist their help. Consider fund raisers.