Plant Rescues

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I learn of rescues?

Members are notified of rescues by e-mail and they can contact the rescue coordinators by telephone or e-mail for further information. There are “short notice” rescues, which are scheduled quickly for various reasons. Members are alerted by e-mail, with as much notice as possible. Each rescue will have a point of contact. NCNPS rescue coordinators:

John Clarke
rescues @

Who can participate?

Any member of the North Carolina Native Plant Society can participate in plant rescues. Some rescues will have limited participation and will be on a first to sign up basis with the point of contact.Members may bring a guest with certain restrictions. Check with the lead facilitator on each particular rescue for permission.You may bring children to plant rescues if you will properly supervise them. Children hold the future of preserving our native plants in their hands and we do not want to keep young people away from our digs.

May I bring a friend/spouse?

A friend can come on a single rescue before joining the NCNPS, but cannot dig as our insurance only covers members.

Is there any cost to go on the rescues?

In most cases, there is no cost (except for sweat equity). Participation is a benefit of membership in NCNPS. We have, however, participated in rescues where the diggers were asked to donate to an organization such as a land conservancy or set aside part of your “diggins” for another site.

How often can I come?

There are no restrictions on how many rescues you come to. The major limiting factor is how much room do you have to plant.

How are the rescue properties discovered?

We learn of potential rescue sites through our members, from newspaper articles, from developers, and from concerned citizens. To proceed with site procurement, we must be given a contact name and a telephone number. When we are notified of potential sites, the sites are checked out prior to beginning the site procurement process.

Can I help?

Land is always being developed, so if you learn of where this is happening at the present or in the future, let us know! We can then contact the landowner and discuss their interest in participating in a plant rescue.Network with friends who are landowners, real estate agents, contractors, developers and excavators and ask them to notify NCNPS rescue coordinators before a site is to be excavated. We would appreciate the opportunity to survey the site for any native plants that can be rescued. Assure them that we will not hold up any scheduled construction.Offer your assistance to our volunteer coordinators in getting the word out by phoning or e-mailing members in your locality who are on our list of members to be contacted for digs.

Where are the rescues?

The sites for which we get permission to save plants are usually wooded and are slated to become subdivisions, office parks, roadways, and even reservoirs. At some point, we would like to hold rescues throughout North Carolina.

How long do we stay?

Our rescues last about two-four hours, depending on conditions. I should add that we have dug in pouring rain (no lightning though).What supplies do I need to bring?

  • To carry the plants, we use plastic grocery bags, doubled for strength. (To avoid mix-ups, prior to the rescue, please use a marker pen to add your initials to the bags.) Buckets with handles also work well. Large drawstring garbage bags are good for heavier plants such as shrubs, small trees, or large ferns.
  • To carry the bags out, consider a plastic toboggan, saucer or rectangular laundry basket with comfortable (thick) rope handle. Wheeled carts are often clumsy and difficult to maneuver over rough terrain.
  • Sun screen, insect repellant, drinking water, water for the plants, snacks.
  • Sharp shovel, pruning shears, collapsible saw, mattock – Mark all tools with visible paint or ribbon. An unmarked tool left in leaf debris is easy to overlook.
  • Marking pen, plastic bags, plastic plant containers, and boxes for temporary holding.
  • Old shower curtain or other plastic sheeting to protect car trunk or to prevent wind damage to plants if transporting in truck bed.
  • Have water available in your vehicle for your rescued plants to help them to survive the shock of being transplanted.
What should I wear?

The woods, while beautiful, are often host to poison ivy, ticks, and biting or stinging insects. We recommend:

  • Long sleeves and long pants
  • Sturdy boots or shoes with socks; gloves
  • Visible colors or orange safety vests if site is near busy road
  • Cap with visor; rain gear, if necessary
Will there be someone there to help me?

With plant ID, yes, the rescues are generally a mix of experienced, knowledgeable people and newcomers. You will find that we are happy to share our expertise on plant identification and replanting.As for help carrying out your bags, the rule is-You Dig It, You Carry It. You have to gauge your own abilities. Do not intentionally leave dug plants in the woods.

Are the plants we dig going to live?

Yes, most likely. Most of them are surprisingly tough, and if given good and proper care, they will thrive when transplanted. The key here is preparation!

  • Learn the site requirements of local native plants BEFORE attending digs. Not all plants will grow successfully on all sites due to differences in soil, moisture, and light, among other factors.
  • Prepare site at home prior to the rescue, if possible. This will mean less work on dig day and allow prompt replanting at the new site. For a fall dig, use your vegetable garden space to heel in rescued plants for spring planting.
  • Allow enough time and energy. All plants dug should be replanted promptly for best success. Sprinkle rescued plants with water if replanting cannot be done same day.
  • Note soil type, exposure, companion plants at dig site and mark rescued plants accordingly. Do not try to force transplants into conditions that are too far from their original site situations.
  • Take enough soil to disturb roots as little as possible. Put plants into plastic bags (grocery store type) so soil is disturbed as little as possible during transport. Loosely tie bag shut to help retain as much moisture for the root ball as possible.
  • Water transplants regularly until established.
  • After ground freezes, mulch to prevent winter heaving.
How hard is it?

Native plant rescues are not “a walk in the park.” They are lots of fun, but also involve climbing steep slopes, crossing creeks, and maneuvering fallen trees. People of all ages join in our rescues, but it’s best to be at least somewhat fit. Just carrying heavy bags of plants and damp dirt back to cars can be strenuous.

What will I find?

Every site is different, but in general, you will find various wildflowers, ferns and mosses, shrubs such as native azaleas or viburnums, and small trees such as beech, maple, and redbud. Some sites have unusual, special plants, which we are always delighted to find and save from the earthmovers.

Where do all the plants go?

The ferns, wildflowers, shrubs and trees we save are given new homes either in NCNPS members’ home gardens and habitats, or they are transplanted to public facilities and projects of the NCNPS, such as nature centers botanical gardens or Master Gardener projects.Alternately, do I get to keep my plants?While you are not required to give away any of the plants that you dig, occasionally a facilitator will ask or suggest that a small percentage of the plants be donated to a NCNPS-aided public garden or project in need of certain native plant material.

Can I come back on my own?

As a general rule, no. The only time you can be on any rescue property is when you are there under the leadership of a NCNPS facilitator on a sanctioned native plant rescue. There have been cases where we have received broader clearance to dig on a specific day of the week but this is not the norm. We do strongly recommend that you never go out alone-that’s just not smart.

Can I sell the plants I find?

No. To make money from the plants that are rescued would be a violation of the generosity and trust the developer places in the NCNPS. The only exception is the annual NCNPS Plant Sale, which is a fundraiser to support the projects of our non-profit organization.

Any other Hints?

Know what poison ivy looks like in its various forms and seasons. Be sure your tetanus booster is up to-date – repeat every 8 years.

How can I join the Society?

There is an application form with the address on the membership page. You will be so glad you did join NCNPS, and not just for the rescues. This is a wonderful group of interesting, bright, caring folks with a challenging mission, and you will fit right in!