I’ve always been fascinated by seeds. The fact that plants can create little dormant pieces of themselves to broadcast out into the world to germinate is quite marvelous. Even more amazing, is how long some seeds can survive before being given the chance to sprout. There have been discoveries of bean seeds uncovered in archaeological digs that are over a thousand years old, and they were still viable and able to germinate! While not all seeds have that ability to hold a spark of life for so many centuries, it’s not uncommon for seeds that have been stored in a dry, cool place to maintain their viability for a decade.
For gardeners, seeds are an essential piece of horticultural, allowing us to propagate and grow thousands of species of ornamental and edible plants. And we can do this in two basic ways:
- Germinate the seeds and transplant the seedlings into containers for future relocation into our gardens and landscapes.
- Sow and germinate seeds directly outdoors without having to cultivate and transplant seedlings.
Each method has its pros and cons. Success in either arena is mostly dependent on the skill of the gardener and favorable weather.
Sowing seeds directly into the landscape
Sowing seeds directly into the area where you want them to grow is a fun, challenging and cost effective way to garden. So here are a few basics that I have used over the years to optimize the outdoor seed sowing process and some easy-to-germinate wildflower species on which to practice.
Here is a short list of materials and supplies you’ll need to sow the seeds:
- A 4 gallon plastic bucket
- A bucket full or 40 lb. bag of coarse sand (not plastering sand – too fine)
- A container of Plant Success Granular mycorrhizal root inoculant
- A stiff bow rake
- Clean wheat or barley straw
- Sod roller or soil tamper
Calculate how much seed is needed to cover the area to be seeded. Measure out the seed and the Granular mycorrhizal inoculant then mix the seed and inoculant into a bucket half filled with sand. Make sure the sand is slightly moist. I use the sand as “spreader” diluting the seeds to more evenly distribute them over the area to be sown. Rake shallow grooves into the bare soil before sowing, then turn the rake over and smooth the soil over the sown seed/sand mix. Using a sod roller, a soil tamper or your feet, compress the soil on top of the seeds then mulch with a half inch of the straw. Water the area thoroughly and keep it damp watering several times a day until you see the seedlings start to emerge.
Sow a pot full of your seed mix as a reference for future weeding. There is no point sowing a new meadow only to weed out the flower seedlings because you didn’t know the difference between the weeds and your seeds.
Some easy-to-germinate wild flower species
Annual wildflowers are a great way to “color up” new gardens and landscapes. Annuals will grow and bloom in one growing season. They also leave behind ample seeds to continue to inhabit their new home year after year. Sow annual flower seeds in late spring.
- Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)– a tough, colorful, drought tolerant native wildflower that the bees and butterflies will love to pollinate. Color wise, it combines best with other yellow, orange, blue or purple flowers.
- Scarlet Flax (Linum grandiflorum rubrum) – an Old World wildflower species, Scarlet Flax has naturalized over much of the US. The large bright red flowers are a stunning addition to your waterwise landscape.
Perennial wildflowers are the essential plant component of meadows and prairies living for many years in the same place. Sow perennial flower seeds in early spring while the nights are still frosty. Or cold stratify the seeds* (see below) and sow in late spring or summer.
- Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) – a big colorful Midwestern wildflower that germinates readily without any pre-treatment.
- Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea ) – a member of the legume family, native Purple Prairie clover is not only a beautiful flower that attracts a wide variety of pollinators, but it takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it into the soil to help feed the soil and fertilize the plants. If sowing Dalea in the spring or summer, you’ll first need to cold stratify* the seed to simulate a period of winter dormancy. Take the Dalea seed and mix it into a ziplock baggie with 4 times the volume of slightly damp sand. Stick the bag in the ‘frig for 6 weeks (write the removal date on the baggie). After 6 weeks of sitting in the damp cold of the refrigerator, it is ready to sow.
To learn more and to view our wildflower seed mixes and species, visit us at www.HighCountryGardens.com
Text by David Salman