The Nebraska State Arboretum is nearing the end of its fall plant sale season for 2021.
Sales are open to the public and have been happening every Friday afternoon from noon to 4 p.m. since Aug. 27, taking place at the shade greenhouse at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus located on North 38th Street. Oct. 15 is the last day of the sale.
The plants consist of a variety of trees and shrubs and are mainly used for landscaping and windbreaks. Bob Henrickson, the horticulture program director for the NSA, said what makes the sale different from most other gardening centers is nearly all of the plants are regionally native helping with biodiversity and keeping insect populations high. For example, downy wood mint is a woodland native found at the NSA plant sale but not as common at nurseries.
Henrickson said the native trees are essential for the song bird population in the Lincoln area.
“Our song birds are actually in trouble,” Henrickson said. “Their numbers keep declining. Is it because of habitat loss? Is it because of pesticide use? Is it because of a lack of food source? We’re trying to change that by making these trees and shrubs available because that’s only where they’ll lay their eggs,”
The NSA’s plants for sale are perennials, meaning they live more than two years. Most perennials aren’t near full strength until their third growing season when they produce many blooms and flowers.
“What’s great about perennials is they’re dynamic, and they change daily,” Henrickson said. “They emerge at different times in the spring. They bloom at different times. Some bloom in the springs, some in the summer and some in the fall, so it provides that constant food source, getting a mix of diverse plants in your landscape with perennial plants. The best thing is they come back year after year.”
One of Henrickson’s longtime customers, John Moss, is a resident of Lincoln but also owns land in rural Lancaster County. He said he keeps coming back because the sale includes plants that are difficult to find anywhere else in the Lincoln area.
“For the most part, there are things here that aren’t available at other places,” Moss said. “The focus here of course is natives. That’s really critical because we’re experiencing dryness right now, and we’re looking forward to continued dryness, dry spells and drought that’s gripping the entire western half of the United States.”
Moss said that he doesn’t waste his money anymore because natives plants have a higher success rate than non-native plants.
“The reason I come to Nebraska State Arboretum is because I can readily find plants that are native, near-native or can be naturalized that will withstand the rigors of Nebraska weather,” he said. “That’s important for sustainability.”
The NSA is a non-profit organization and was founded in 1978 to help build and improve communities. Henrickson said that by building arboretum sites, people can go for nature walks in their own town rather than go to Lincoln and wonder if a certain tree or shrub would grow at their home. The NSA has over 100 arboretum sites across Nebraska from Falls City to Chadron.
Last year was especially difficult for the NSA, Henrickson said, because with the COVID-19 pandemic, they couldn’t bring any visitors to campus for a long time. The plant sales fund his annual salary and half of his co-worker’s salary. He said they have had a good year of sales this year and that while he didn’t know the exact figure, the NSA is happy to make communities greener and thankful the public supports them.
“Being a non-profit, we basically break even every year,” Henrickson said. “Without the plant sales, quite frankly, the state arboretum would have a hard time functioning,”