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Wild Seed Project: Returning native plants to the Maine landscape

Seeds & Sowing

When do I plant seeds?
Fall, winter and spring are the best times to sow native seeds. In Maine, the yearly cycle for seed ripening and germination is different from common garden and vegetable seeds, many of which originated in tropical or Mediterranean climates. With our native species, many seeds need to have a winter period of cold moist temperatures to break dormancy and germinate. Not all native seeds need a cold period to germinate, but all seeds can be outdoors in the fall or winter. This is the easiest way to sow native seeds!

Can I just toss the seeds outdoors where I want them to grow?

In nature seeds are dispersed in this random way, but typically 1% of the seeds a plant produces germinate and grow to maturity. When you sow native seeds in pots or in a prepared seedbed, you can experience very high germination success. This is also an inexpensive way produce a lot of plants.

How do I sow native seeds?
Seeds can be sown in pots (or a prepared seedbed) and placed outside in a shady location. Read below for detail instructions:

Which seeds are easiest for beginners?

Aster, beardtongue, bee-balm, bellflower, coneflower, milkweed, ironweed, mountain-mint, and wild strawberry are good seeds to begin with. Choose species with the germination codes A or B.

Which wildflowers can be naturalized in existing meadows, roadsides and orchards

In Maine, Eurasian grasses often dominate meadows, especially if mowing has been frequent. These exotic grasses grow differently than our native species – exotic grasses spread from their roots to make tight mats whereas native species form in clumps, leaving room for wildflowers in the spaces between. The mat-forming habit of Eurasian grasses makes it difficult for native wildflowers to fit in. Therefore it is important to choose the tougher native wildflowers to reestablish in these areas. Here are some species to try:

Black-eyed coneflower, blue vervain, tall white aster, New England aster, smooth blue aster, foxglove beardtongue, milkweeds, mountain-mint, ironweed, goldenrods, wild strawberry.

These species can be planted into the existing meadow as small plants, or may be successfully established by seed if an abundance of seed is sown.

To establish a native meadow from seed, there are excellent directions available as a downloadable PDF file on the Prairie Moon website.

How do I propagate ferns?

Ferns are ancient plants that evolved before flowering plants and reproduce by spores rather than seeds. In nature, fern spores often germinate in moss, in rotting logs, or in damp exposed soil in shady locations such as by a stream. Fern spores can be propagated indoors under lights or in a greenhouse.

See Growing Ferns from Spores under How to Grow Natives From Seed.