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Sowing Native Plant Seeds in Winter - Wild Roots
Starting seeds inside isn’t something we have much experience with. We don’t have a green house, or much window space that isn’t occupied by indoor plants. We do have two curious young kids and a dog, all who share a desire to dig in dirt when boredom strikes. (The dog once toppled two trays of veggie seedlings placed so far out of reach that there is no way the cause was anything other than ill intent.) Even if we did have the perfect indoor spot for seeds, the hardening off and the warming pads seem like too much of a hassle. We’re just not those kinds of gardeners. Our goal is low maintenance, high environmental impact, and, of course, a beautiful result. None of the concerns or challenges mentioned above matter when it comes to sowing the seeds of native plants. Native plants, which give food and shelter to bugs, birds, and other beings, don’t need much to thrive. They don’t need to be babied. Their seeds stay dormant over the winter, then germinate at the right time in the spring. All you need to get started is seeds, dirt and some old plastic take-out containers with lids. There are many step-by-step guides to winter sowing on the internet (such as on WinterSown.org), but the idea is simple: Most native seeds need a period of cold stratification to germinate, and therefore sowing them outdoors (in their natural conditions) over the winter works best. You could plant them straight into the ground (direct sowing), but if you’re not sure where you want your plants yet, and you don’t want birds and squirrels to eat the seeds, use covered containers that might otherwise end up in the trash. Old milk jugs and clear take-out containers essentially create mini-greenhouses to protect your seeds from critters and get them to germinate a bit early and in higher numbers. If you have a cold frame or similar structure, that would work just as well, but requires a little bit more work. (I’ll cover the cold frame option in a minute.) We were lucky to have collected a fair amount of seeds last summer and fall. Some were from our own garden, some were even from the garden at my office in Center City. But most of them came from the seed exchange that took place at the Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s conference in…