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US (NE): New greenhouse grows opportunities for Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

The arboretum's new facility on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's East Campus will be the home of its public spring, summer, and fall plant sales. Growing the plants on campus will allow more freedom for arboretum employees and volunteers, offer educational opportunities for students, and promote native plants across Nebraska.

"We're helping to create the demand," said Bob Henrickson, horticulture program coordinator. "Then, in turn, nurseries are maybe shifting part of their focus to native plants."

The project was funded by private donations and a grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Construction began early last year and was completed in time for this production season. Staff began planting in February and are preparing for the first sales of the season and the first ever at the new greenhouse.

Henrickson said the facility is prioritizing native and well-adapted plants because of the positive environmental effects and benefits to local wildlife. Some of the roughly 100 species growing in the new greenhouse include penstemon, coneflowers, bee balm, and a variety of trees like oak, hickory, and catalpa.

"Our mission is to get these plants out into gardeners' hands, putting them out in front of people so people start asking of native plants more," Henrickson said. "You shouldn't have to water these plants once they're established, you shouldn't have to provide any fertilizers or insecticides, and they can deal with our climate extremes."

The new building takes over the function of a facility in Mead, Nebraska, where the arboretum had been borrowing a production greenhouse at the Eastern Nebraska Research, Extension, and Education Center. Henrickson and horticulture program volunteers were driving to and from Mead several days a week. Having a production greenhouse on campus will bypass transportation risks and costs and also allow for a longer production season each spring. The production season in Mead lasted from February through April. Henrickson hopes that will now extend into June.

"Getting everything done in two months, it's hard to fathom," Henrickson said. "In the past, if I had plants I wanted to increase in size and get ready for sales, I often didn't have the space to do that in."

Hanna Pinneo, executive director of the arboretum, is also hoping to offer more opportunities for students. Husker students will be able to pick up part-time jobs, and classes of all ages will be able to visit the greenhouse to see something different from the high-tech research greenhouses on the East Campus.

Sometimes, students don't realize what career opportunities are available in this field, Pinneo said, and student work and classroom observation could open their eyes to more options for their future.

"We need people moving into the nursery and growing industry," she said. "This is a realistic look at what you could do if you had a little bit of land and some seed money to put up a greenhouse. It gives those students who are interested and thinking about that as a career a chance to know what that would look like."

The goal is not to compete with existing nurseries, Pinneo said, but to support and help the industry. It's a way to encourage planting native species while showing what the arboretum is capable of in the future.

"This is one of the biggest undertakings our organization has ever done, so showing our supporters we can do these big projects opens up people's minds to the possibilities," Pinneo said.

The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum will host a ribbon cutting and and members-only sale at the new greenhouse on May 2, with more sales at the facility on May 4, 17, 24, and 31 and June 21 and 28. The organization is also hosting its annual Spring Affair plant sale April 25-27 at the Sandhills Global Event Center.


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