Soil Ecology Restoration Group

last update November 17, 1998

Transplanting Native Plants to Revegetate Abandoned Farmland in the Western Mojave Desert

Nursery-grown, native plant species have potential application for revegetation distributed arid and semiarid lands. We evaluated nursery-grown fourwing saltbush [Atriplex canescens (Pursh) Nutt.], allscale saltbush [A. polycarpa (Torrey) S. Watson], bladderpod (Isomeris arborea Nutt.), honey mesquite [Prosopis glandulosa Torrey var. torreyana (L. Benson) M. Johnston], and rubber rabbitbrush [Chrysothamnus nauseosus (Pallas) Britton] transplanted to abandoned agricultural land throughout the western Mojave Desert. Two types of temporary plant enclosure for herbivory and environmental protection (plastic cones and wire cages) and three mulch treatments (straw, bark, and none) were tested at all six sites. Rubber rabbitbrush was difficult to propagate in the nursery and is not recommended for transplanting. Significant differences in plant performance occurred between sites with similar aerial environments but contrasting degrees of edaphic disturbance. Plastic cones were significantly superior to wire cages for plant vigor and survival but no differences were detected between mulch treatments. Fourwing saltbush was generally successful over all treatments and sites and is recommended for transplanting in this area. In a larger plot study, narrow augered holes led to superior survival of honey mesquite relative to wide, hand-dug holes, and plastic cones were superior to wire cages. Mortality of all species was high due to dry, but not atypical, weather during the 2 yr. of the study. We conclude that transplanting without intensive irrigation does not guarantee survival of even the most successful species. Its greater cost relative to direct seeding may not be warranted for large-scale restoration of arid and semiarid environments.