Growing native plants from seed is an economical way to get more plants, whether to plant a large area or to have extras to share with friends. This winter, Beaux Arbres is offering seeds from more than 80 species of wildflowers native to eastern North America. The species in this collection are among the easiest wildflowers to grow from seed, all seeds tolerant of dry storage and none demanding tricky germination techniques. Packets are $4.00, minimum order – 5 packets.
Many native woodland plants are challenging from seed — either the seeds are intolerant of dry storage or require multiple winters (or both). Because of that, the collection is slanted toward the sunny meadow species. Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and White Snakeroot (Agertina altissima) are plants for shady gardens that are also easy from seed.
Some other seeds have very hard seed coats that require physical abrasion (scarification) to allow water to get into the seed. They may have evolved to pass through the gizzard of a relatively large bird like a grouse or a turkey, or they may be shoreline plants that have evolve to roll about on a beach, being abraded by the sands and gravels. Frankly, I hate dealing with these fussy seeds. There are some seeds on this list that require scarification but they are all species that I have had success with by using the much easier boiling water method to soften the seed coat. (Basically, put the seeds in a cup, pour boiling water over them, let cool and soak overnight, and drain off the water in the morning.)
The commonest germination technique for native seeds is cold, moist stratification. Essentially, the seed needs to experience winter. This prevents it from germinating on an unusually warm afternoon in December. You can either use the outdoors or a refrigerator. If you do use the outdoors, best to place your pot in a snow-covered place out of the late-winter sun (which can be very warm). The only at-all-tricky species on my list are White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) which needs a longer than usual cold period, and Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum), which responds much better to fluctuating outdoor temperatures than to “winter” in a refrigerator.
Visitors to the nursery this past summer were impressed by the fine clump of Downy Wood Mint (Blephilia ciliata)(pictured above) in front of the hoop house. Had I any plants for sale, I could have sold dozens. But every single last pot of Wood Mint that I had in the hoop house failed to overwinter. Every last plant of Wood Mint that I planted in the garden wintered just fine. There are some plants that, in western Quebec, well north of their native range, are just like that. They are hardy in the garden but just not hardy enough to overwinter in pots, even when well protected. (The lovely Wood Poppy is another problem child this way.) Fortunately, Downy Wood Mint is fast and easy from seed. Like many plants in the Mint family, it is attractive to small bees. It also has the advantage of being moderate in height and having a long period in bloom, nice features for the flower border. Despite the ‘Wood’ in the common name, this is a plant for places that are more sunny than shady. And, although it is related to Mints and the plants expand a bit after flowering, the roots do not run about all over the place the way true mints (Genus Mentha) do. (Downy Wood Mint is on the Seeds list and I should have seedlings available for sale next summer.)
With so many other tall yellow daisies for late summer to chose from, the rather gangly Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) was never a big seller and I dropped it from my nursery list. I just had to tell folks that Tall Sunflower was the better looking plant. However, if the main focus of your garden is to provide for birds (and, yes, there are lots of birding enthusiasts for whom this is the main reason to garden) then Wingstem is a serious contender for inclusion. (Do also consider Tall Sunflower, as well). The flat, winged seeds of Wingstem are arranged in a rather different pattern than those of most of the yellow daisy clan — more of an accordion file than a tightly packed cone. They are eagerly sought by Goldfinches. Although the yellow daisies of Wingstem are rather small for the height of the plant, if bird-watching is your aim, plant a clump of Wingstem where it is easy to see from the sunny spot where you sit to drink your coffee or tea on September mornings. After several years off the list, Wingstem is again available in seed.