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Nursery owner speaks up against invasive plants

High Ranch’s John Nitta has eliminated them from inventory
By: Gloria Young Gold Country News Service
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A Loomis nursery owner is taking a stand against invasive plants. John Nitta, whose High Ranch Nursery has been in business for 33 years, said it was a difficult but necessary decision. “That’s the hard part, making that economic decision. But growers need to do that statewide,” he said. High Ranch cultivates ornamentals and California native plants for nurseries from the Tahoe-Reno area to Chico, the East Bay and Napa. The decision not to grow invasives means culling some popular varieties. “I’ve grown pampas grass for years,” he said. “It’s a pretty bad invasive on the coast. So I’ve chosen not to grow it. If we move it locally, it could end up in a coastal area.” Another variety his customers won’t see is Scotch broom, a spring flowering plant. “There’s a real market for that in Reno-Tahoe,” Nitta said. “It’s very showy in bloom. Their harsh climate is not conducive for it spreading into the wild. But, locally in Placer County, Scotch broom is a bad one. If we grow it here, the bloom produces seedpods and it can spread readily. So we’re not growing that locally.” Another invader is Chinese tallow tree. “It has excellent fall color and is really showy, but the seeds escape,” Nitta said. “Even if you cut down the tree, if it has gone through its seed cycle, the seedlings will spread.” Then there’s nassella — Mexican feather grass. “That tends to recede itself pretty readily,” he said. “It’s a very nice ornamental but in our local area, it is going to get worse.” Invasives have always been an issue, but unfortunately they’re becoming more widespread. That’s partly because there’s simply a much broader selection of plants available. “Nurserymen may have 800 varieties at any given time,” he said. And, unfortunately, there’s a demand for some invasives. “Often the public is not aware it is an invasive,” Nitta said. “But the professionals in the (nursery) business know it is. It is a matter of educating the public. It is a nursery’s responsibility.” There’s always a suitable substitute. “There are many non-invasive plants to choose from,” Nitta said. When choosing new plants for the yard or garden, Nitta suggests doing online homework first. High Ranch nursery has a searchable database or visit the UC Davis arboretum all-stars site. “They had a big kickoff this spring to market that line of plants,” he said. “These are plants that are compatible with the native environment, and they use less water, chemicals and fertilizers to keep them going. They have esthetic value and don’t escape. They’re not invasive.” The arboretum all stars are a line of 100 plants that have been proven to do well in our area. “A lot are natives such as deergrass, a popular native grass. It stays tidy and is good for the garden,” Nitta said. “There are a lot of perennials on the list.” As part of Nitta’s campaign to curb invasive plants, he plans some revamping for the 2010 spring season, including adding some new plants to replace those he’ll no longer carry. “I think it is a pretty hot topic,” he said about invasives. “The habitat-restoration industry is booming. Ecological groups are going out, reclaiming the land and replanting native plants. So they want to plant pure natives. They don’t want to have invasives competing with the natives.” Peggy Beltramo, publicity chairwoman of the Auburn Garden Club, is impressed with Nitta’s stand on invasives. “As a master gardener, I am well aware of the problems from introduced plants that do so well in our area that they crowd out native species,” she said in an e-mail. “I am really impressed that John has put his money where his mouth is by no longer selling plants that are on the invasives list, even though they are money makers for him and are sold in Reno where they do not seem to pose a problem.”