We are finally at the third (and best way) to grow native plants from seed. Direct sowing seed is the easiest and fastest way to have a prairie in your backyard. Miss the first post? Click Here!
Direct sowing in winter, or fall takes advantage of nature’s processes to prepare the seed for germination. It is the same theory behind wintersowing, you just don’t do it in pots. The most important part about direct sowing is that you use seeds of plants that are native to your area. These plants will withstand the cold in your area and germinate in the spring.
Direct sowing does require some prep in late summer or autumn. The season before the sowing, note where you want to grow your plants. Clear the area of any weeds, remove large rocks or debris but leave the soil layer intact.
There is no need to till the soil, in fact, leave the soil alone or you may make dormant seeds in the ground germinate along with your new plants. Mark the spot so you can find it later.
Hint: If you have a particularly weedy area, prepare the soil well in advance using the techniques I outlined in The 5 Steps to Make a Backyard Prairie.
In my zone I direct sow at the same time I wintersow. It is usually around Christmas into the middle of January. Direct sowing does require a bit of timing. Wait until the day before a significant snow (significant for your area). The timing of this first snow determines when you direct sow. For northern states, this may be much earlier than Christmas.
In Cincinnati we have a saying, if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes. This really sums up winter here in Ohio. Weather fluctuations can make the timing of direct sowing a bit problematic. You want the seed to sit on the soil, not wash away. Many snowstorms in my zone can easily become rain if the temperature fluctuates. So I wait until is really going to snow.
When you wake up to a winter-wonderland, grab your boots and your seeds. Tromp out to your prepared patch, take off those gloves and open the seed packs. Put the seed in your hand and then sprinkle on the snow at your prepared spot. Replace your gloves and then go inside for a cup of coffee – you’re done!
If you live where there isn’t snow – first off, I’m jealous, and second, you can still direct sow. Because you are using native plant seed, your seed doesn’t expect the cold temperatures of the north. It will be fine with your more mild winter. Wait until your first cold snap and throw the seed on the soil. Just be sure not to pick the day before a big rainstorm (seeds don’t swim well).
If you’re wondering how it can be that easy, let me tell you. When the seeds hit the snow they are warmer than the snow. They don’t have to be hot, but they were in your house, and in your hand. That bit of heat melts the snow and the seeds move down to the ground.
The snow protects the seeds, hiding them from hungry birds and insulates them from getting too cold. As winter progresses, the snow accumulates and melts, moving the seeds further down until they are on the ground. The freeze and thaw chips away at the seed’s protective coat, the moisture and temperature tell the seed that it is winter. This is what the seed package means by ‘needs stratification.’
By spring the seeds are snug to the ground. The fluctuating spring temperatures tell the seed that summer is coming. Eventually, the temperatures are just right and the seed germinates. Your new prairie starts growing at the time nature intends. It is watered by spring rains, warmed by a gentle sun and has months to get ready for the heat of summer.
Now that you know how easy direct sowing is, try it. There is still plenty of winter left! If you need some ideas as to what plants to try, check out my post The 10 Easiest Wildflowers That You Can Plant Now.