Quick Start: Grow Natives From Seed
Growing perennial natives from seeds opens up lots of opportunities for you and resolves some problems. First, seeds are plentiful, available, inexpensive, and offer a wealth of choices. Second, you don't have to worry about pesticides - you are in control. Third, there is nothing like nurturing a plant from seed. It is one of life's many miracles. Fourth, this will give you something to do in the winter, but not in the way you may think.
The trick to growing native perennials from seed is to remember that they are adapted to our environment. They need and expect the dormancy of winter. That is what triggers their germination. Just think like nature does. The seeds drop in the summer or fall, but if they germinate then the tender baby plants will not survive the winter. So, Mother Nature, in all her wisdom, doesn't trigger the plants to germinate until they have experienced the dormant conditions of winter. Makes sense.
You have to do something called seed stratification to native seeds to mimic winter conditions to get them to germinate. Which is why your neighbors are going to think you are nuts during the holidays because you will be planting seeds in pots and/or garden beds- outdoors. Personally, we can't think of a better way to bring in a new year than by planting native seeds.
For our native perennials the most common stratification method is cold stratification, which means the seeds must be kept in damp and cold conditions anywhere from at least 10 to 60 days, depending on the plant. Take the lazy way out and save your refrigerator space by just putting the seeds out in planting containers or the soil in early winter. Simple. Easy. Below is more information about growing your native perennials from seed.
Where do I get my seeds?
You can source seeds from native plant seed suppliers (usually online vendors), collecting seeds from your own plants, exchanging seeds with friends and neighbors, or getting free seeds through a native seed swap event.
Tip - if you plan to cold stratify your seeds outdoors over the winter you'll need to make your seed purchases by the holidays.
How do I collect my own seeds?
How do I know what to do for each plant seed?!
Each plant seed will have germination requirements that generally fall into several categories of conditions needed to sprout. When you get your seeds you will receive instructions on what is needed. Prairie Moon Nursery has a great guide on this and they also provide germination codes for many native plants.
If you do not stratify your seeds outdoors over the winter, all is not lost. In the guide you will see how to fool the seeds into thinking they have been through winter........in your refrigerator.
How do I plant the seeds?
You can sow them directly into the ground in the early winter or put the seeds in containers. If you want to leave them outdoors we recommend repurposing containers - yogurt containers, small plastic containers and food containers make great pots for this purpose. We cut the plant labels from milk cartons and use a sharpie to write - they last and it's easy. Use sterile, organic potting soil. Here's a great guide to help you, including how to transplant the seedlings. Have fun. Garden in winter. Look forward to seedlings in the spring.