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Students create native gardens on campuses through zoo partnership

Students from three San Diego high schools are getting the gardening dirt from experts at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance who are helping them create native gardens on their campuses this summer.

“I want to learn about plants because I have plants at home and I want to learn how to take care of them,” said Jesus Cortes, 14, a freshman at Lincoln High School. “You can’t just have a plant and expect them to grow. I want to learn how to maintain my plants and learn how to plant more.”

Jesus is one of 100 students from Lincoln, Crawford and Hoover high schools who are building native plant gardens on their campuses as part of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Native Biodiversity Corps.

Funded by the San Diego Unified School District, students learned about soil, conservation and plants during six weeks of weekend field trips to the Natural History Museum, San Elijo Lagoon, San Diego Botanical Garden, Living Coast Discover Center, the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College, and the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

The Native Biodiversity Corps is part of the San Diego Foundation Level Up SD program, described by the foundation as a revamped summer school experience that began last year in San Diego Unified.

In addition to creating lasting, highly visible native gardens on school campuses, the project could also spark interest in careers related to species restoration and recovery. Cortes, however, said he’s still not sure what he wants to do when he grows up, but he’s enjoying the educational experience on a personal level.

“I’d rather know than not know,” he said, adding that he has learned that only certain plants grow naturally in San Diego County and that other types of plants need a different type of soil.

Students are also compensated for their work, earning $400 for participation in the spring session and $500 for the summer session when they build the gardens, which are expected to be completed by the end of July.

On Monday, research associate Connor Parks from the San Diego Wildlife Zoo Alliance helped students take soil samples from a 500-square-foot garden next to the Lincoln High track and football field. In one class, he demonstrated how the soil was classified as sandy – typical for the area – after mixing it in a jar of water, shaking it and letting it sit.

Researcher Connor Parks from the San Diego Wildlife Zoo Alliance holds a jar of soil while talking to students at Lincoln High School on July 11, 2022.

(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

This type of soil is good for native plants like white sage, black sage, Cleveland sage, and California buckwheat, but not so much for birds of paradise, which may explain why native Hawaiian plants weren’t seen much healthy at the edge of the garden.

So they will go, Parks said of the garden’s birds of paradise, which will be restored with native plants.

“We’ve spent the last few weeks in class learning what native plants are and what the different ecosystems are in San Diego County because there are quite a few,” Parks said. “Last week we talked specifically about garden design. What’s it like to design a natural garden, because you can’t just throw plants anywhere.”

This week will be spent designing the gardens, which he said will be presented to school principals for approval before planting begins.

Parks said the project focuses on urban schools because they have lost 89 percent of native sagebrush through development, while more rural schools are likely to have native habitat around them.

Lincoln High freshman Kaidon Mao, 15, said he became interested in plants through his father, who knew about gardening.

“When I heard about this program, I thought, ‘I’m signing up for this,'” she said. “It’s really cool to learn about plants.”

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Students create native gardens on campuses through zoo partnership Source link Students create native gardens on campuses through zoo partnership

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