Native Plant Nursery – Sawdust Beds

Native Plant Nursery – Sawdust Beds

This spring Lucky Peak Nursery, a USFS production nursery, overproduced native plants for their needs and had to sell the extras to the public! In early April I purchased 50 sage brush, 50 bitterbrush, and 100 ponderosa pine seedlings. I kept them dormant in a plant fridge until there was an opportunity to build sawdust beds and transplant them into their summer home at Riverstone International School in mid-April.

Due to the young age and small size of the plants, and because there are fewer students and staff around during the hot summer months, we chose to nursery the seedlings over the summer and grow them larger before planting them out on campus this fall. One of the first steps in getting happy and healthy plants for the summer was creating a sawdust nursery to “heel” them into so they would have their root temperature and moisture moderated and could still be easily transplanted to their forever home in the fall.


Two of the necessary components of a successful summer nursery in hot, dry Boise are good potting mix and a way to keep roots moist and cool. So I purchased sawdust and raised bed mix and potting soil to create our nursery.

Sawdust Beds

We repurposed some raised garden beds that were not being fully used by transferring the garden soil to one of our large garden beds, spreading weed barrier cloth and then filling them with a mix of cedar and pine wood shavings.

During “Wednesday Without Walls” several grades from the school rotated through the planting stations. We educated the students on the basic principles of creating a native plant nursery and proper planting techniques into the extra tall “tree pots”.

I am really excited to see how these plants do over the summer and get them planted on the grounds in the fall. Some of the seedlings did not make it through the extended dormancy in the plant fridge, but we still transplanted nearly 200 plants into the sawdust beds on a beautiful spring day.

Update! 7-7-23

Over the summer we maintained the plants in the nursery. The sawdust beds worked great! However, some of the tree pots were too narrow to sufficiently water the seedlings using our overhead irrigation. We culled the plants that didn’t survive to give more space to the thriving seedlings and weeded and fertilized. The remaining trees should be well hardened off and ready to thrive this fall when we plant out!