Dara Emery's Seed Sowing Schedule (and Stories from Reality)

Lovely oily seeds of western columbine, Aquilegia formosa

It was back in 2009 that I tried for the first time to grow western columbine, Aquilegia formosa, from local seed, using a prescribed seed mixture as explained in this post.

That lot failed.

So did the next year's lot.

Last year I didn't try - till in September, I read that putting seeds in the fridge a few days was helpful, so I tried again, using seeds gathered in 2010 and some gathered in 2012. The 2010 seeds germinated - this spring! I did not record when they germinated, but I potted them on May 17th.

One of about a dozen - first success in germinating western columbine!
Note record keeping on label -- Need to put in a spreadsheet!
In his classic small book, Seed Propagation of Native California Plants, Dara Emery gives us his seed sowing schedule based on his experience at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. He itemizes the last date you can sow seeds to ensure (generally) that you can plant out when fall rains arrive. He doesn't itemize the earliest sowing times so I'm not sure when those are.

Dara Emery's Seed Sowing Schedule

  • By Mid-March: Most shrubs and trees 
  • By July 1: Dudleya, Eriogonum, Heuchera. Min night temp 60-65F: desert shrubs and cacti
  • By July 15: Most herbaceous perennials, Mimulus aurantiacus
  • By September 1: Coreopsis maritima
  • By October 10: Lupinus
  • By October 15: Iris, Arctostaphylos, Dendromecon
  • In Late October: Annuals: 

I bolded his general rules, and listed his exceptions, and used chronological order. In the book, the above is written as if he just wrote it down as the thoughts occurred to him and didn't have a decent editor. So I've organized it like I might have if I had been his editor.

The bulk of the book is a massively useful table with "recommended treatment" for seed of each species. In another section he explains the treatments - ranging from ice to fire to scarification by acid.

BTW, after many Google searches I have to conclude that this little book is out of print - I recommend you snap up a used copy ASAP, because it's an invaluable resource.

The other must have book for propagators is Growing California Native Plants by Marjorie Schmidt - now available in its second edition, much prettier than the first.

But I confess that - though I refer to the books always - I also just sow seed on impulse, as I did with the columbine. And as for growing media, I try to think about how things are happening out in the real world, and how I can mimic that or just do it -- because the seeds I grow are all native where I live and locally gathered. More organic material for woodland plants, more sand for chaparral plants - like that.

Around here, Western columbine grows at the edge of the woods and in dappled shade.

So I potted up the seedlings in a little richer mix than, say, blue witch, Solanum umbelliferum, which grows in the lean chaparral soil.

Right now I use organic potting mix in place of pure peat. It contains peat but also other things, so -- less peat. If I could get on board with composting -- WHEN I get on board with composting -- I'll switch to compost.

In case you don't know: peat is a non renewable resource that is basically "mined" from bogs where it took a long long time to form, from sphagnum moss that's inhibited from rotting, due to anaerobic conditions. It's mined a lot faster than it forms.

I hope these little plants thrive and I can plant them out with the rains in fall. With luck, they will reseed and spread, appearing each April to June, and disappearing till the following year. They are said to be deer resistant. Not sure about bunnies, but where I'm going to put them is not a bunny haven.

I plan to grow them on the neglected north slope, the woodland side of our property - and I'll have more to say about that part of the property other posts.


Sadly, I have yet to have a Western Columbine survive for very long. When I've transplanted mine, they almost immediately lose their leaves, perhaps due to shock. Occasionally some will then push new leaves, but none have then survived through a winter. Doesn't seem to matter if I plant them in fall, or spring. Maybe my gophers are stealing them!
Country Mouse said…
Sigh! Well we'll see how it goes - I'll also try all approaches. Thanks for the heads-up!
Jason said…
Good luck with your columbine! And good for you sticking to it until you achieved success. Eastern columbine seems to be much easier to grow from seed.