Plant Restoration Project

The Plant Restoration Project is a long-term restoration ecology project created by 2000 HOST Teacher Deanna Smith-Turnage.  


  • To raise native bushes
  • Measure the seed mass
  • Measure, record, and graph the growth of native bushes
  • Write a laboratory report
  • Participate in a restoration project
  • Do field work and make observations
  • Learn how to map their grid area
  • Decide how and where to plant their seedlings

To collect seeds from the reserve for growth in the classroom, undertake a scientific study in the classroom, transplant seedling back at the reserve, and to study plant growth at the reserve.

LOCATION: Any NRS Reserve with Classroom Follow-up


Teacher Preparation

Before the project, spend some class time talking about Restoration Ecology.  What does the phrase “native plant restoration” mean.  Explain that restoration can mean removing invasive, non-native plants and replacing them with native plants grown by the students.  Ask students to discuss the compelling need for restoration of native plants in the landscapes.  Why is this important?  What sort of obstacles may be encountered.  


A.  Seed Collection

  1. Collect seeds from native plants in early July.
  2. Place seeds in small plastic bags and label.
  3. Labeling should include the following: name of plant, date collected, location.
  4. For each seed type, make collection from three different plants in order to increase chances of seed growth.
  5. Place labeled seeds ziploc bags in refrigerator until ready to plant.

Preparation of Soil for Planting

Native Soil

  • Native soil is screened with a 2 mm sieve and autoclaved (baked in oven) to kill weeds and microorganisms.
  • Mix 1/3 native soil with 1/3 coarse sand and 1/3 medium sand.

Native Soil with Mycorrhizal Fungal Spores

  • Between August through September, collect native topsoil from the top 5 cm from a place at the reserve that has a good growth of black sage.
  • Collect enough soil to inoculate each cup with 1 teaspoon of soil, mixed into about the top 2 cm of the cup before planting the seeds.

Preparation of UC III Mix

  • UC III Mix contains about 1:1 plaster sand:screened peat moss plus some oyster shell lime and micronutrients.
  • Mix 1 part medium grade (coarse) perlite to every 9 parts of UC Mix III to increase aeration and drainage.

Seed Germination Treatments or Pretreatments

Brittlebrush (Encelia farinosa)

  • a. refrigerate seeds in ziploc bags before use
  • b. After refrigeration, plant seeds in a tray containing vermiculite
  • c. after seeds germinate, move seedlings to cups

Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)

  • a. refrigerate seeds in ziploc bags before use
  • b. place 8 seeds in each cup

White Sage (Salvia apiana)

  • a. refrigerate seed in ziploc bags before use
  • b. place 8 seeds in each cup

California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)

  • Pre-chill seeds (1-3 days before planting) on filter paper saturated with cold water.
  • Soak seeds over night in liquid smoke (1 ml/1000 ml)
  • Plant 6 to 8 seeds per cup or petri dish many seeds should germinate with 5 days of planting
  • In about 2 months, seedlings may reach about 5 cm in height, a good size for transplanting.

Slender Sunflower (Helianthus gracilentus)

  • After refrigeration, use same treatment described for brittlebush.
  • After seedlings appear, move seedlings into cups

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)

  • Refrigerate seeds in ziploc bags before use
  • Plant 4 seeds per cup

Planting Seeds

  1. Seeds of most of these species need to be planted at or near the surface of the soil (just barely covered).
  2. Seeds can also be germinated in petri dishes and then transplanted to cups.
  3. Flats can be filled to approximately 1/2 to 1/3 from the top.
  4. If you plant germinated seeds, be sure that the roots point down.
  5. Plant about 3 seeds/cup for species with good germination rates.
  6. Plant 5 to 10 seeds/cup for species with low expected seed germination.
  7. Sprinkle a little soil over the seeds.
  8. Plant seeds to a depth of no more than 2 times the diameter of the seed. Avoid compacting the soil. 

Measurement of Seed Mass

  • Get 12 to 24 assigned native seeds for growth.
  • Separate the native seeds into four groups of 3 to 8 seeds each.
  • Label the groups A, B, C, and D.
  • With a balance, determine the average mass in grams of the seeds in each group. To do this, find the mass of the entire group and divide by the number of seeds. Record the total mass and the average mass in grams in Table 1.
  • Convert the average mass of the seeds in each group to milligrams and kilograms. Record these units in Table 1.

Plant Height

  • Label styrofoam cups A, B, C, and D. 
  • Using a pencil, punch 3 holes in the bottom of each cup.
  • In the cups add the following soil types:
  • Cup A – UC III mix (control)
  • Cup B – UC III mix with inoculum (mycorrhizal spores)
  • Cup C – Native Soil (control)
  • Cup D – Native Soil with inoculum (mycorrhizal spores)
  • Plant each group of 3 to 8 seeds in its labeled cup containing 8 cm of potting soil.
  • Be sure to put group A seeds into cup A.Group B seeds into Cup B, etc. Plant the seeds no more than twice their diameter.
  • Using a graduated cylinder, measure 50 ml of water and carefully water each cup. Keep the surface of the soil moist until seeds germinate.
  • Once seedlings grow roots into the soil, let the surface of the soil dry out between waterings. Apply water until water drips out the bottom of the cups each time you water.
  • Observe the cups of seeds daily. On the cup’s label, record the date when the first seedling in each pot emerges.
  • On the third day after the seedling emerges. Measure the height in centimeters of each plant in each cup. Determine plant height by measuring from the top of the potting soil to the tip of the main plant stem. If the plant droops, gently straighten it to get its actual height. Record these average heights in data Table 2.
  • On the sixth day, measure, average and record in data Table 3 the heights of the plants in each cup.
  • On the ninth day, measure, average, and record in data Table 4, the heights of the plants in each cup.
  • In Tables 2, 3, and 4, convert the average heights of the plants in the cups to millimeters, meters, and kilometers. Be sure to multiply or divide by the correct multiple of 10 to get the correct numbers.
  • Using a different color pencil for each cup, graph the average growth of the plants in cups A-D.

Preparation & Planting of Seedlings at Motte

  1. Planting of seedlings should occur at the beginning of the rainy season.
  2. Students are to measure the height and width of like plants on the reserve in order to determine the required spacing.
  3. Students are to measure and clear an area for planting. 
  4. Plan a grid for the placement of seedlings. The grid should include the type and location of seedlings. 
  5. Plant several seedlings 1 meter apart. Label each seedling with a flag containing date planted, group name, and period.
  6. Seedlings have to be enclosed in some type of covering and contained in a fenced area to prevent being eaten by small animals.
  7. Water all plants and observe growth.


  1. Students will present their written laboratory report.
  2. Students will map their grid area
  3. Students will present a graph of the growth of native bushes.
  4. Students will keep a field journal to record measurements of the plants and other observations.

Teach Materials

  • Native seeds: Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
  • White Sage (Salvia apiana) 
  • Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
  • Slender Sunflower (Helianthus gracilentus) 
  • California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
  • small and large plastic bags
  • metric ruler
  • masking tape
  • 50 ml graduated cylinder
  • balance
  • plant stand with trays and UV light
  • 8-ounce styrofoam cups
  • source and timer
  • native soil (Motte Rimrock)
  • native soil with mycorrhizal fungal 
  • solutions: water, spores
  • non-toxic marking pencil
  • beaker
  • UC Mix III
  • graph paper
  • flats with screening
  • vermiculite
  • coarse sand
  • medium sand
  • 2 mm sieve
  • perlite
  • liquid smoke