How to plant native seeds: Learning all the time

You should know I'm a learner with plenty of stubbed toes and scraped knees, metaphorically and literally. I was so happy to have my beautiful cold frame and so proud to put the seeds I prepared into it so carefully like a mother putting her newborn in a cradle.

And yet - and yet - it isn't cold you know. In fact it's been bloody hot. You would think I might twig to the fact that cold frames are for when the weather is cold.

I had misgivings. I felt how they would cook in there and put up all sorts of temporary shading while my brain struggled with cognitive dissonance. Thank goodness for the Santa Clara chapter of the CNPS Gardening with Natives forum. I hope you are lucky enough to have such a forum for your locale, where beginners and experts can learn and enjoy sharing their interest. They good folks set me straight.

This comes of learning from books instead of from practicing gardeners. Multiple books. Fragmentary knowledge put together wrongly. Also having more enthusiasm than brains.

Anyway, 14 kinds of seeds, gathered locally, are now planted in 6 flats, and I am hoping some will pop up their little green heads to drink from the sun by the time I return from a short trip we're embarking on, down the Big Sur coast for a long weekend.

I'll be calling my daughter every three hours to make sure she has checked on the babies and given them a little drink if they need one.

So below - the list, and then some pictures of the process.

Artemisia (not sure which)
Cynoglossum grande
Aquilegia formosa (columbine)
Heuchera micrantha
Tellima grandiflora (Fringe cups)
Dudleya (not sure which)
Chlorogalum pomeridianum (Soap plant)
Scrophularia californica (Bee plant)
Calochortus albus (Fairy lantern)
Smilacina racemosa (Fat solomons’ seal) [Update: now called Maianthemum racemosum]
Mystery berry (May be thimbleberry, not sure)
Mystery yellow thing (little perennial that grows here about with gray foliage)
Melica imperfecta (Coast Melic - grass)
Nassella lepida (native bunch grass)

The planting mix should be one third each:
Washed sand (salty sand not good!):

Perlite or sphagnum moss:

And native soil or potting mix. I went with native soil, and perlite - I would have preferred sphagnum moss but the only kind at the nursery where I was buying supplies (Home Depot, where we were getting supplies for the cold frame!) was fortified with MiracleGro, so there you go. Native plants don't generally want a rich diet - though I do have a mixture of things, and tried to sow like with like. Some like Fringe Cups come from more of a riparian source, and the riparian species typically grow in a soil that is full of humus as opposed to the thin sandy soil of our chaparral area.

UPDATE! - A few weeks later: I would advise against using native soil for seedlings! I don't know what is a "volunteer" seed from the soil, and what is the intended seedling! I think perlite and sphagnum moss and a bit of potting "soil" would have been better. And btw I'm seeing tons of the bunch grass sprouting - I think I may try sowing directly for those and see what happens. And a few scattered seedlings but not as much as I could hope for. I'm going to use the bunch grass on the disturbed North (but still pretty sunny) slope behind our house and see if it likes it there.

Here's my illustration of the ingredients:

and here it is all mixed up ready to go:

And here it is in the trays ready to receive the seeds:

I stored the seeds with their seed pods etc and some came out nice and clean, like Calochortus albus, the lovely globe lily (fairy lantern):

and like the pretty Aquilegia formosa, scarlet columbine:

And some came out very messy, like the mystery thing with yellow flowers and gray foliage - I don't actually know if there are any seeds there - I just smushed and crushed everything up and sprinkled it on the soil then lightly covered it all:

and some were very very tiny, and I mixed those with a couple tablespoons of sand to spread them out more evenly.

I put dividers between sections where I had only a few seeds - this is all a bit experimental this year. Next year I hope to be a bit more au fait with the whole gathering, preparing, and growing procedures.

So now comes the waiting... and watching.... I wish them all the best of luck and a good emergence!


This is a sterling post! Really enjoyed it, thanks for sharing the process. p.s. did you get some rain?
We had incredible thunder: have never heard anything like it since moving here. And sprinkles, very uneven downfall, but I'm hoping for more!! Alice
wiseacre said…
I just collected some Blue Flag Iris for my pond garden yesterday. I'll plant them the lazy gardener way by dropping them around the area. ..just following the example of the Yellow Flag (alas an alien) that provides mt with more than enough new plants to share.
Big Sur? After seeing this name, I forgot everything that I was going to write. One of the most beautiful places I've ever seen! And I've seen a lot. Please, say Hello to it from me. We spent a part of our honeymoon there.
Barbee' said…
Very nice post. Thank you for all the how-to instructions and photos. That is an impressive list of seed plants, too; good luck!
Chari + Matt said…
Just joined that Yahoo group myself in hopes of breaking out of the same fragmentary book knowledge.

And we had the thundercrackers and spotty rain up here in Lafayette, too. I remember a sweet booming and bolting storm in September 2001 when I moved here, but these two are about it!
Country Mouse said…
No - was no thunder our way, just a muggy hot day. I'm responding from our hotel in carmel to the comments - thanks all for taking a look. I think I forgot a few details like, keep them moist. I agree that following nature is the best way, but if I don't protect the seeds, all the critters will snuffle them out. I've left a patch of clarkias to reseed, and will be interested in seeing if they do. I also think it's probably best to let things germinate in the season they would in nature - I'm still trying to understand why we need to get the fridge involved for Holodiscus discolor (seafoam bush) etc, since these plants obviously do not put their seeds spontaneously into refrigerators and yet - there they are, procreating quite nicely! I think I read on the GWN forum that there is a name for the more natural approach - and I'll look into it.
Barbara said…
That looks great. I don't do much with seeds, though as you probably know Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has a large seed program. They used to have a tremendous amount of info on their website but I can't find it now. John Macdonald, a volunteer, photographed thousands (maybe hundreds but I think more) of seeds up close. It is an amazing body of work. They included how to germinate each seed. You might try to reach Michael Wall, head of the seed program, to see if it is still available. If I find it on the web, I'll pass along the link.
Barbara said…
Found the link - actually I contacted Michael Wall who gave it to me. Anyway it is Their focus is on harvesting, cleaning and storing seed. Though they do germinate it periodically to test for viability over time, there isn't much on this. Cool website anyway.
ryan said…
That's a nice list of seeds. You should get some good plants. I used to wonder why I needed to use the refrigerator, too. I read that it's because nature wants the seeds to last and germinate over a period of many years, whereas we gardeners want them all to germinate at the same time within a couple of weeks. We're not as patient, I guess. Same reason I use potting soil and kelp and fish emulsion to grow plants that grow in the ground around here without any of that stuff, I'm too darn impatient.
Country Mouse said…
Update: I would advise against using native soil for seedlings! I don't know what is a weed/extra seed and what is the intended seedling!! I see little seedlings popping up and I don't know whether to pull them or not (unless they show definite clover shaped leaves).

Also I finally got some sphagnum moss and had I had some I would have used it and perlite and some potting "soil" I think - for moisture retention. Perlite for drainage, moss for water retention, and whatever is in the potting soil for organic material I suppose.