Native Plant Sale: Dormant in 2020, Will Return in 2021

A Native Plant Sale shopper admires pots of prairie grasses

A Native Plant Sale shopper admires pots of prairie grasses (Photo: Kathy King)

For 30 years, the Native Plant Sale held at the UW–Madison Arboretum has provided local gardeners with a reliable source for native plants. Since 1990, the Friends of the Arboretum has organized and hosted this popular springtime event—however, this year’s sale has been canceled to protect the health of our community during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Though we have faced challenges in the past (rain, snow, and one time a wind that blew the tent down), the challenge this year puts our volunteers, our customers, and indeed our whole community at risk. That is a risk we cannot run. As we cross this year’s sale off our calendars, let’s look back at how this event has evolved over the decades.

Friends of the Arboretum volunteers who were involved in the early years remember the event as an intense labor of love. They contacted growers, cataloged inventory (without the assistance of computers!), and even drove to the nurseries to pick up plants. Holding the event inside the McKay Visitor Center presented added challenges until it was moved outdoors as time went on. In addition to nursery-grown plants, there were also plants donated by local garden enthusiasts. Volunteers often helped these generous donors dig up plants from their yards. That practice continued for another 20+ years until the threat of a jumping worm invasion halted plant donations.

At the first sale in 1990, about 1,100 plants were sold. It was such a success that half the entire inventory was sold in the first half hour! The following year saw a double in number of sales and proceeds. In recent years, over 13,000 plants have been provided—about 200 species of trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, grasses, and ferns—delivered from 7 nurseries.

About 75 hard-working volunteers, under the leadership of Native Plant Sale Coordinator Karen Deaton and the Native Plant Sale Committee, put in nearly 400 hours early in May to prepare for and conduct the sale. Jobs range from unloading trucks to organizing plants to adding up purchases for the cashiers. The day of the tent sale is fun for plant lovers of every age, as more than 1,000 eager shoppers come to pick up hard-to-find native plants. The event brings in about $30,000 in revenue to support the Arboretum. More volunteers are always welcome! If you are interested in getting involved next year, email Karen Deaton.

We look forward to seeing you at our next Native Plant Sale on Saturday, May 8, 2021!

—Friends of the Arboretum staff

Note: If you ordered plants through the advance order sale, you will be contact by Friends staff.