By Carol Decker
Republished January 2024, Originally published in October 2021.
Did you know that native plants have to be sowed in winter! There still is time to get your seeds planted... but don't wait. We're republishing this blog from Carol Decker with instructions on how to get started.
We are excited that Heather McCargo, Founder and Seed-Program Manager of the Wild Seed Project will be joining us in a webinar on October 28, 2021 on Why Native Plants Matter. If you missed it live, be sure to see the recorded presentation on our Events Page. I had seen a presentation by Heather previously, read the Wild Seed Project’s information on growing natives from seed and decided to grow my own in December 2020. I decided to sow 18 different native wildflowers, some from seed I obtained from my own garden and others I purchased from the Wild Seed Project.
It seems a bit strange to be growing seeds outdoors in winter, but that is just what our native seeds need. Some will sprout up in early spring, while others need more warmth and may not appear until mid- June. We built a cold frame to protect the potted plants from critters. Two 8’ boards were purchased at Home Depot, which were cut into five’ sections to create a 5’x3’ frame. Hardware cloth was stapled to the bottom of the frame and we built a top, stapled with hardware cloth to prevent small critters from eating the seeds or emerging sprouts in spring. If you do not want to build a cold frame, find a protected area for your pots outdoors.
Seeds were sowed in both 4” and 6” wide pots with depths of at least 3” or more. Perennials grow strong roots! Buy an organic potting soil (no fertilizer), sow the seeds to the depth of the seed's thickness and then lightly cover with course or sandbox sand that is free of any chemicals. Be sure to label your pots well as they will be out all winter. Pots will need to be watered at least until the snow covers them and then throughout the spring and summer as they germinate and flourish.
For more information on detailed planting, germination codes, where to purchase native seeds, go to the Wild Seed Project's sowing instructions at https://wildseedproject.net/how-to-grow-natives-from-seed/
As your plants get taller and overcrowded in their small pot, usually by mid-July, take the whole clump and place in a larger pot. That way the roots do not get disturbed. I planted some of my plants in a new native garden bed in September and some will overwinter to be planted in the spring.
Native plants are so important in supporting wildlife communities as well as pollinator species. As Doug Tallamy so eloquently states, “In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty. Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators and manage water.” Start today and plant native!