By Candy Venning
Did you know that native plants are awesome but can be hard to source, may be expensive, and that growing from seed is economical, and for many varieties, quite easy?
Get ready, get set, for winter sowing your native plant seeds – I’ve done this as late as February and still had good results – not so easy with frozen bags of soil – also it’s hard to find bagged soil in winter so you may want to re-use any leftovers from your potted annuals, urns or hanging baskets, the threadlike roots of annuals will turn to mush and shouldn’t affect your seeds. OR just drag frozen soil or pots into your house to defrost so you can make a huge mess in your kitchen like I have done.
Why am I planting things in January?
Native plant seeds need to go through a freeze/thaw process that mimics the conditions they would experience outside, in the wild – aka cold stratification.
Why grow native plants in pots at all? Mostly for the same reasons you’d grow anything else in a pot – so it can be labelled, so you know what it is/ what it isn’t and so you can move it around and protect it in its tiny and vulnerable stage. Providing some ideal conditions in a pot will get the best germination results vs scattering in the garden. Sometimes we forget all the things that can occur in the yard, seedlings may be walked on, eaten by critters, mixed with unwanted seeds via bird droppings, bird feeders or just mixed in with dormant seeds in your soil, peed on by pets, etc. Growing from seed also ensures you’ll not be getting any jumping worms, a transformative and unfortunate invasive species now spreading across north America.
Many folks use 2-liter pop bottles, or plastic milk jugs, I happen to have a lot of Clamato jugs (don’t judge!) Cut in half, hinged with duct tape, discard the lid and punch some holes for drainage – these will stay outside all winter. The reason to use jugs is the protection that the upper part of the bottle provides against windborne seeds & digging critters, mostly squirrels. Come spring, it’ll become important to regulate the temperature, so the seedlings don’t sizzle in their tiny greenhouses. If you happen to have somewhere that squirrels don’t get to (rare) then you can simply grow in regular plastic pots or grow in pots and add a protective mesh frame over them all to stop squirrels.
I’m pretty new to winter sowing yet had great success with Black Eyed Susans, Swamp Milkweed / Asclepias incarnata, Aquilegia canadensis /Native Columbine, and a really beneficial native that attracts all kinds of insects; Pycnanthemum / Mountain mint. (not the same as mint used in Mojitos, don’t judge!)
The lists of native plants for your area as well as Winter Sowers support groups on Facebook and Instagram make it easier than ever to source seeds and get helpful tips – come June, a few wee sprouts will feel extremely rewarding.
P.S. For alllll the details go here www.rbg.ca/winter-sowing-part-one/