Community volunteers and representatives from the Nebraska Arboretum joined each other during Wildflower Week for a project on the Chadron State College campus and for a wildflower walk at Gilbert Baker last week.
“Western Nebraska has some pretty amazing wildflowers,” said Christina Hoyt of the Nebraska Arboretum. The organization is affiliated with the University of Nebraska, offering grants, gardening tips, technical assistance and growing and providing plants. CSC is one of the organization’s 100 official arboretum sites.
“(Lucinda Mays) has done a great job transforming the college,” Hoyt said, while focusing on sustainable, native grasses and wildflowers, which is the main focus of the arboretum.
A group of representatives from the Nebraska Arboretum always celebrates Wildflower Week in western Nebraska, and Dawes and Sioux counties were on the list of stops June 6. During the visit to Chadron, college and arboretum personnel, along with a few community volunteers, took part in a service project, planting perennial sunflowers and switchgrass along a bank between Eagle Ridge and the Rangeland Complex.
The bank, part of an unirrigated, 50-acre site, has proved to be a difficult spot for plants. Last week’s plantings were the third attempt to grow anything on the slope. The soil on the site is notoriously poor, with a Ph balance of 8.1 to 8.4, with no irrigation, said Mays, the college’s grounds supervisor.
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The college grounds crew has engineered the site with a detention pond and swales, striving to catch and make use of every drop of rain that falls on the site. But the lack of organic matter in the soil also presents a challenge.
“What we really need is to beef up the soil even more,” Mays said. Each time they have attempted to do any planting at the site, they have added compost, a process they continued last week before putting the switchgrass and perennial flowers in the ground. After about 90 minutes of turning soil, adding compost and planting, the volunteers headed inside to learn about other projects across the campus, such as the wild fruit garden at Burkhiser.
Chrissy Land, a community forester for western Nebraska with the Nebraska Forest Service, noted that prairie grasses and wildflowers are just as much a part of the ecosystem in western Nebraska’s Pine Ridge as the trees.
“They all serve important roles,” she said.