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By: Susan Krzywicki.

Betty Young is a major figure in California native plant restoration nursery management. She’s “written the book” on how to start a nursery and has been a major advocate for propagation changes to stop the spread of Phytophthora, the root rot that has been causing surprise plant death in nursery-bought plants.

Program Director of Nurseries

Betty was long-term Director of Native Plant Nurseries (1997-2014) at Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. She ran six nurseries that grew 175,000 plants each year representing 411 species native to the parks.

Each year, Betty taught classes in integrated pest management, pest control, disease management, soils, plant nutrition, and nursery planning and management. She also directed community stewardship programs for over 5000 volunteers and 1000 students annually.

How do You Start a Nursery?

Betty is the go-to person on how to start a nursery. In 2012, she wrote “The Science and Art of Growing Plants for Habitat Restoration.” Drawing from her years of experience at GGNPC, this is the authoritative manual for both those looking to enter the field and those looking to improve their existing operation. It is available directly from Betty, at no cost, by getting in touch with her at

The Dreaded Phytophthora

In the process of working with plant nurseries, wholesale growers, retail establishments, and restoration operations, Betty has been documenting the rapid increase of crown and root rot, soil-borne diseases created by fungus-like Phytophthora. Pots sitting on the ground in a wholesale or retail nursery can transmit the deadly disease. If you have ever brought plants home just to install them in the garden and seen them rapidly and mysteriously wilt and die, you may have experienced the results of a Phytophthora. We will do a follow-up article on Betty’s findings and suggestions for how to combat this problem.

The Path That Betty Walked

After helping her then-husband through forestry school, Betty abruptly changed her “save the world” sociology major as her interest in working with plants grew. About this transition, she said, “I actually developed my love of horticulture, ironically, in that forestry school curriculum. Helping him study his trees and understory plants reignited my love of botany.” Once her decision was made, she continued to work in an unrelated field for four years as she saved enough money to head back to college and earn a B.S. in Plant Science from the University of California at Davis. Then came her first job as nursery manager at the legendary gardens of Filoli for five years, followed by a year as propagation manager at a wholesale landscape nursery and seven years as nursery manager at Circuit Rider Productions where she grew native plants for habitat restoration. She realized early on that she was “…deeper in the science.” She knew that experimenting with new techniques and new cultivars was gratifying, as was working with interns and passing along her knowledge.

Susan Krzywicki is a native plant landscape designer in San Diego. She has been the first Horticulture Program Director for the California Native Plant Society, as well as chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee and is on the Port of San Diego BCDC for the Chula Vista Bayfront.

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