Soil Ecology Restoration Group

last update March 27, 2001

Techniques for Plant Establishment in Arid Ecosystems



Recognition of the need for ecosystem restoration is growing in arid lands. Increasing use of deserts has resulted in plant and soil degration which can be reversed by reestablishing native plants. Without intervention, desert areas disturbed by human activities such as offroad vehicle recreation and mining may take decades or centuries to recover (Bainbridge and Virginia, 1990). Conditions favorable for seed germination and seedling establishment are infrequent and unpredictable in the desert, making direct seeding an ineffective restoration strategy (Cox et al., 1982: Barbour, 1968). Fortunately, many desert shrubs are easy to grow in a nursery and respond well to transplanting. But in harsh desert climates, intense solar radiation, high temperatures, high winds, low rainfall, low soil fertility, and intense herbivore pressure can limit transplant success unless plants are prepared carefully and protected after planting. Our research in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of California has identified nursery production techniques and seedling protection methods that improve survival. In this article we provide an overview of successful desert revegetation practices, which should also prove useful to many workers in less severe environments. It begins with a review of containers and soil mixes for transplant preparation, followed by a discussion of strategies for protecting transplants from environmental stress.