This month the Lower Shore Master Gardener group was treated to a talk on growing native plants from seed. Now is the time – January when there is not much to do in the garden. Now is the time to order seeds, pot them up and carefully set them outside to burst forth in a few months.
It’s a gamble. They’re not like the seeds you get from commercial nurseries that have a 90 percent germination rate. Rather, it’s nature where thousands of seeds are produced each year and some of them actually become plants. But you do it because you’ve gathered the seeds for free or someone shared them with you. Or, you’re growing hard-to-find varieties. Maybe you have scientific curiosity, or you like the idea of promoting genetic diversity. At any rate, it’s a fun project in January. Maybe you want to share the experience with children to peak their interest in botany. Just remember, like nature itself, the results are unpredictable and patience is required.
The Maryland Native Plant Society is a big help in deciding what to plant on the Eastern Shore and where to get seeds. I found that most native seed sellers serve the wholesale market and this covid winter has cancelled many of their native plant sales. But the Society’s list of native plant vendors included Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. They sell little packets for $2.00, just right for a small garden. I bought cardinal flower, blue lobelia, white phlox, monarda and New York asters. All are happy in wet gardens.
The seeds like to have a cold start as they do in nature and they like to forgo the competition of weeds. I bought seed starter mix, which is much finer and fluffier than standard potting mix, and sand. That’s all that’s needed to get the little guys on their way to sprouting. Now they’re in pots, moistened and protected by plastic from heavy rain which would drive them way too far into the soil. They sit on the driveway, waiting for the warm spring weather. And I wait too, hopeful in anticipation. I can cut a few limbs from overgrown dormant shrubs and take a look at winter flowering plants. Daffodil tips are pushing up and I see the hellebores are budding as is my glorious camellia “pink Perfection.”