Monday, January 18, 2010

NOW'S the Time to Buy Seed for Native Plants

While there are a few native annuals and biennials that you can buy at a nursery, to get true natives you will most likely need to start from seed. For native plants adapted to, or tolerant of, your climate direct sowing in place, in the fall, can work; although the success rate may be low.  If you’re starting the seed indoors under lights, some special treatments may be necessary to get the seeds to germinate.

Many of the seeds you purchase off-the-rack are for annuals from warm climates, generally referred to as 'tender annuals.' When sown after the danger of frost is past these seeds will germinate when the soil warms up. Unlike seeds for tender annuals, seeds for plants native to colder climates have a mechanism that inhibits germination until they have experienced a period of cold. This can be simulated indoors using a process called stratification. Generally speaking this involves mixing the seeds with some sterile, moist (not wet) material and storing in a sealed plastic bag, in a refrigerator (33-38°F) for a given number of days (anywhere from 10-90) depending on the specific plant you are working with. For this reason, NOW is the time to make some decisions and get those native seeds so that you can have them ready for germination.

Locating seed for native plants takes some work, but use of the internet has sped up this task incredibly. Searching on the plant’s botanical name, in quotes, and ‘seed’ will narrow the field. The New England Wildflower Society has a seed sale that will start up again in Jan. 2011, which offers many native plant species, some of which are biennials. I have found many annuals and biennial seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery, based in Minnesota (, as well as other native seed suppliers.  Most suppliers provide the germination information required in their catalogs or along with the seed.  One comprehensive source for germination information for all types of plants can be found in Tom Clothier’s Seed Germination Database, .

Collecting seed nearby from the wild an effective way of getting seeds for plants adapted to you local conditions. But you need to have permission from the landowners or land managers before taking anything that does not belong to you. Guidelines on seed collection for native plants have been published by the New England Wildflower Society and can be found at their website, . Remember, you do not want to remove seeds from plant populations that are not robust.

For those of us who are not inclined to start from seed, in my next entry I will list a few native (or nearly so) annuals that I have found at nurseries in the Boston area.


grdn grrl said...

Curtis - great blog and timely topics!! I look forward to receiving more wishes

JM said...

Hi, Curtis,

I found your reference to you new blog on The Underground discussion group. I've bookmarked it and intend to keep reading, so keep posting.