Sowing Native California Plant Seeds in Early Springtime

Eight native California plant species in one box!
Spring comes to California sometime in the week following New Year it seems. By late February in my neck of the woods, spring is positively bouncing up and down, with blooms and germination and happy birds and bees everywhere. No wonder this is when we get family visitors from Minnesota - especially this year.

So I decided to follow nature and sow seeds when wild seeds are germinating all around me.

I'm off to a successful start in the greenhouse — in the seed box, there is at least one seedling in each section, just eight days after sowing! And I also direct-sowed some clarkia, too.

Nurseries might sow perennials in July, so that plants are ready for a fall planting. But I don't have nursery conditions. I've found that in mid-July it's just too hot up on our ridge for me to have much success.

BTW You can read about native plant nurseryman and propagation expert Dara Emery's seed sowing schedule in my earlier post: Dara Emery's Seed Sowing Schedule (And Stories from Reality).

I had seeds in large bags to prepare for storage and old seeds that needed to be sorted through, so I picked a few species for my north garden area, which has some quite sunny areas and some partial shade, and stays moist longer than any other part of the property.

California aster has abundant seeds - and they are very hairy.

Hairy seeds of California Aster, after rubbing through a sieve.

I just kept rubbing them through a sieve till the hairs separated, then walked through the garden lifting and dropping the seeds into a bowl till most of the hairs had lifted off in the breeze.

Some of what was left. (There were some more seeds but I had stored them before I thought to take a picture)

Maybe some seeds lifted off in the breeze too, but that's OK. I had plenty. Enough to share with the birds and maybe some will germinate in unexpected places. Aster can take over a garden, spreading into a large patch. I have space to spare, so that's not a problem for me.

I sowed far fewer seeds than in earlier years - eight species in a box instead of eight boxes. I've learned from experience. So far, it's looking good. Just eight days after sowing, I'm seeing germination in all species I sowed!

California aster seedlings

Course it remains to be seen if the seeds growing are the ones I sowed and not some strangers that blew in on a breeze! With the exception of the rosy buckwheat, they are all local natives gathered within a mile of my home (or grown from second generation wild plants in my garden).

  • Eriogonum grande var. rubescens, rosy buckwheat (nursery stock) – quite a few
  • Artemisia douglasiana, mugwort – a couple.
  • Symphyotrichum chilense, Pacific Aster  – quite a few!
  • Solidago californica, California Goldenrod – one.
  • Monardella villosa, coyote mint – a few.
  • Anisocarpus madiodes, Woodland Madia – a few.
  • Ceanothus papillosus, wartleaf ceanothus, from 2012 – a few. 
  • Dudleya caespitosa, bluff dudleya from 2012 (and 14?) – quite a few!

I'll be thrilled if I get lots of these plants. They are great for wildlife, especially for pollinators, and except for the mugwort, have pretty flowers too. 

I'd love to have a lot of the rosy buckwheat in our fenced-off garden - I just love the raspberry blooms, and so do bees and butterflies. And deer. 

We don't get buckwheat in my neighborhood. Naked buckwheat does grow a mile away and I've grown some in my garden. It reseeds right where I planted it but doesn't spread. So I decided non-local garden buckwheats are OK. Of course if I see any rosy naked buckwheat down where it grows wild, I'll have to rethink the idea!

Mugwort may not be so ornamental. It disappears half the year, too. But it's a nice green and smells amazing, and birds love the seeds too. It's also good for erosion control, so I'm going to try to get it established on the slopes of the north garden. It grows wild just up our road half a mile.

Then, there's the Clarkia. I harvest a lot - a LOT - of Clarkia rubicunda, ruby-chalice clarkia, our local native species. I've been growing it for about four years or more now, and I have a good population that reseeds wonderfully.

I have so much, in fact, that I'm thinking of reseeding my neighborhood. Unfortunately where I originally gathered the Clarkia seeds from (con permiso), the invasives are taking over - sticky eupatory and french broom and Oxalis pes-caprae. So sad! It's a steep slope with lots of poison oak, or I'd maybe try to do a bit of weeding. What am I saying -  I'm weeding full time on my own property!

So I decided to just sow some of them - my oldest seeds, from 2012, all over the place, especially along the path in the north garden. They are germinating!

Tiny Clarkia rubicunda seedlings along the bank above the path.

Slightly older Clarkia rubicunda seedlings 

Unfortunately deer and gophers eat the Clarkia, so I'm just hoping that enough grow so the browsers don't take them all.

This year, I've got major gopher holes and mounds in my fenced garden. And shallow tunnels humping up under my mulch paths. I squish them down whenever I see them. Sorry critter! Of course that isn't enough.

Where I usually have rampant Clarkia, things are looking very sparse and it can only be the gophers I think. Even I, sentimental as I am, am contemplating calling in the gopher guy, who humanely kills them with traps that cut their little heads off!

Well - I hope to post a few updates on the progress of these seeds, and maybe I'll sow few more this week. Wish me luck!