Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Nonprofit Melwood is ‘filling a niche’

Center grows plants for rooftop installation

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It takes Lester Oden of Fort Washington about 15 minutes to fill a plant tray with 72 sedum trimmings.

In about eight weeks, the trimmings will be mature enough to be replanted at their destination — a rooftop somewhere in Maryland or Washington, D.C.

‘‘It’s a good thing,” Oden said of his work, because covering a rooftop with vegetation helps the environment.

Oden is one of about 12 people with disabilities who are paid by the nonprofit Melwood Horticultural Training Center to help grow sedum in an Upper Marlboro greenhouse for the purpose of green roofing.

Melwood began growing sedum for green roofing about two years ago, said Maggie Wiles, the garden manager at Melwood.

Sedum is a low-growing plant that spreads quickly and is commonly used as a groundcover. Because it does not require deep soil or much water, and because it is hardy and native to this area, sedum is ideal for green roofing, Wiles said.

Green roofing — popular in Germany for decades — has been catching on in the United States in recent years as a technique for preventing harmful air pollution from getting into waterways, she said.

But not many nurseries in the area supply plants for green roofing because the plants need to be at a younger stage of growth, said Sarah Murphy, who works for D.C. Greenworks, a nonprofit that does green roofing in Washington. Most nurseries wait until their plants are larger before selling them.

‘‘We need as many growers as possible,” Murphy said.

Only one other grower in Maryland provides plants for green roofing, according to, an online directory of businesses.

Cathy Umphrey, the director of horticulture at Historic London Town in Anne Arundel County, agreed that Melwood is ‘‘filling a niche” by providing sedum for green roofing.

Umphrey has talked to Wiles and other Melwood officials about the possibility of putting sedum on a 1,000-square foot rooftop in Historic London Town.

Oden, 68, and other workers spend about four hours a day in the Melwood greenhouse tending to the sedum and other plants. They get paid about $8 an hour, depending on their experience.

The plants sell for 50 to 60 cents each, and about two plants cover a square foot, Wiles said.

Growing sedum is easy enough that all of Melwood’s greenhouse workers can contribute to the process, Wiles said.

Oden, who grew up on a farm, is the group’s expert at the most delicate part of the process: cutting back the plants and sticking the trimmings in fresh soil so they can take root. After that, all the sedum needs is periodic watering.

By growing new plants from existing ones, Melwood is able to cut down on costs and propagate the sedum quickly, Wiles said. The greenhouse has about 500 plants growing at once.

Melwood’s main buyer of sedum for roofing is D.C. Greenworks. Melwood sold them plants that they used on four residential projects last summer, Murphy said.

But Melwood officials have recently begun to market their service to contractors and homeowners as well, for example through their listing on

Wiles expects green roofing to become more popular in the area as people learn to appreciate its usefulness in helping cut pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

‘‘Everyone is talking about green,” Wiles said. ‘‘This is something that has been tried and proven.”

E-mail Andy Zieminski at