Growing From Seed 101: Seed Sources

Growing From Seed 101: Seed Sources

Growing From Seed 101: Seed Sources

It’s December, and that means it’s the time of the year when seed catalogs appear in our mailboxes. They start trickling in around Thanksgiving and by New Years I have a small collection of these wish books.

Many people these companies to find seed for their vegetable garden, but did you know these catalogs also sell native plant seed? It’s also great that these seed catalogs appear just at the perfect time for winter sowing (don’t worry, I’ll explain this term).

Growing native plants from seed can be intimidating. People throw around terms such as ‘double dormancy’, ‘scarification’, ‘stratification.’ Don’t let these terms scare you, growing from seed is easy – all you have to do is pretend to be mother nature. In the wild, the prairie didn’t come from cuttings grown in a greenhouse, or that oak in the woods wasn’t sitting in a garden center. They all came from seeds.

This month I’ll be discussing growing natives from seed and using the winter sowing technique. So first, where should you purchase your seed?

(This post contains links to outside sellers. All reviews in this post are my own, I was not approached by any of these sellers for a review nor was I compensated in any way. This is just my honest opinion).

The best sources for native plant seed

As I’ve discussed, the best plants for  your backyard are ones that are already adapted to your local growing conditions. This is where you should start your seed search. Many states have local growers producing native plant seed. They are a bit more difficult to find than the large seed catalog companies, but they are my first choice for seed.

Plants are just like humans in that they follow the rules of genetics. They inherit traits from both parents. I live in Ohio and we can have cold winters followed by hot humid summers. I also have clay soil. Now let’s say that I am looking for a Yellow Coneflower for my prairie. Yellow coneflowers grow naturally from Ontario, Canada to Georgia. That’s a huge range of climates and soils!

Yellow Coneflower

Yellow Coneflower

If a seed seller who lives down the street from my house has Yellow Coneflower, they are my best bet. Their plants are growing in my climate and my soil type. Since they are growing, and doing well enough to make seed, they are adapted to my growing conditions. They shouldn’t struggle when my winters turn cold or the summer gets hot.

But say I find a seller in Georgia and I buy from them. Their plants are adapted to Georgia’s climate and soil. These coneflowers are accustomed to warmer, more humid summers and cool winters. Any seed that grows from these plants may have trouble with how cold it gets in Ohio. While the seedlings may not die, they will struggle to survive which means more work for me.

I’m not saying that plants grown in a different climate won’t survive if moved. If that was the case most plants in our yards would die. Plants that are locally sourced have a tiny advantage over other plants, allowing them to set roots faster, grow larger and survive any harsh weather conditions. They are less work for you because they are already expecting your local rainfall so you may not need to water them at all once established!

Plants that are locally sourced have a tiny advantage over other plants, allowing them to set roots faster, grow larger and survive any harsh weather conditions.

How to find local seed sellers

Google is your friend when it comes to finding native plant seeds. Many of these sellers are small. They do it for a hobby or the love of plants. This makes them a bit harder to find, but if you know how to search you can hunt them down.

First try a simple Google search with the term ‘native plant seed [your State]. This should get you some hits.

If I do this with my home state of Ohio my first result is “Ohio Prairie Nursery.” They are an excellent source for seeds from my state. The next site that Google suggests is “Ohio Governor’s Residence.” This site is a great find because they have compiled a list of Ohio Native Seed Nurseries into a nice spreadsheet. One simple search and I have already found what I need.

If you want to search more try the following terms:

  • ‘Prairie plant seed’ [your State]
  • ‘Wildflower plant seed’ [your State]
  • ‘Native plant’ [your State]
  • ‘Flower seed’ [your State]

You can try using your city name in the search also, but it may return less hits. Try your county too! The closer the parent plants are to your house the better.

If you prefer a more personal method of finding local seed sources, word of mouth is an excellent way to go. Many cities/counties have a park district or conservation district. A simple phone call to the headquarters of these government facilities can put you in touch with the right people. When calling, ask to speak to the park’s naturalist or botanist. Most park districts are small so they may only have a single naturalist or botanist. These individuals must split their time between all the parks in the system. Keep this in mind and if you cannot get them on the phone, leave a message or make an appointment to talk with them. Naturalists and botanists are great resources and love helping others learn about nature.

Naturalists and botanists are great resources and love helping others learn about nature. Click To Tweet

How do I know if the seller is safe?

In these days one cannot be too careful about personal financial information. You want to be sure that a seller is legitimate. Since most seed sellers are small businesses it may be difficult to find information on them. Luckily, once again, the internet comes to the rescue.

There is an amazing website called Dave’s Garden. They have a review section called The Garden Watchdog. It is a list of mail order companies that supply garden products. Once you have the name of your seed company, visit this site. Type the name of the company into the search box and then read the reviews left by other users. Most of the reviews on the site are very detailed, and you can decide if the seller is one you can trust. The site also maintains a list of the 30 most highly rated sellers. It is a great list to use to find quality sources of native plants.

Where do I get my seeds?

I know you have been waiting for it, my top native seed seller list. I do have companies that I use every year. I feel they sell quality products at reasonable prices. When purchasing seeds, I look for a seller who has detailed descriptions of the seed, what conditions it needs to germinate, fair and open pricing, fast shipping, and good germination rates. So without more delay, here are my top 5 native seed companies.

Rattlesnake Master grown from seed from Ohio Prairie Nursery

Rattlesnake Master grown from seed from Ohio Prairie Nursery

Ohio Prairie Nursery: This is my source for local native plant seed. I prefer purchasing seed packets for individual species, but they also have custom seed mixes for Ohio. I love their selection as they sell not only flowers but grasses and sedges. I have had great success with their seed. No print catalog. Highly Recommended.

Gardens North: I love this seller so much I usually order from her twice a year. This site is run by a single individual who really works to bring rare seeds that are adapted to cold locations to the public. Because of this, some seeds are in limited quantities, so order when you see something you like, don’t wait. She is based in Canada so you know her seeds can take a cold winter. She also provides detailed instructions on the seed package for germination. I have had great success with her seeds by following the instructions. She doesn’t have a print catalog, but has a newly redesigned website. Shipping from Gardens North does take a bit longer as the seed has to pass through customs if you are in the United States – but she always sends an email to tell you when your seed ships. Not all seeds are native plants, so be sure to read the descriptions as she notes the country of origin for the seed. Follow her on Facebook as she announces her new seed listings. Keep an eye out in the spring, in the past she has had a percent off sale! No print catalog. Highly Recommended.

Annual Sunflower grown from seed from Swallowtail Seeds

Annual Sunflower grown from seed from Swallowtail Seeds

Swallowtail Seeds: This is my favorite source for fun cultivars of native plants. They carry annuals, perennials, and vegetables. They also sell bulk seeds at great prices. I always purchase my zinnia seeds in bulk from Swallowtail. They sell native and nonnative seed, but do not differentiate so make sure you know what you are buying! Their shipping is fast and if your order is over $40, it is free (and who can’t spend $40 in seeds!). No print catalog. Highly Recommended.

Prairie Moon Nursery: When I need prairie plants, this is my second go-to place after Ohio Prairie Nursery (I always look local first). This seller is located in Minnesota. The selection is amazing and they sell seeds in packets or bulk. They also have a plant finder tool. It is helpful as it allows you to find specific seeds by your needs. You can search by bloom time, bloom color, height, soil type, and sun exposure. They sell eastern and western wildflowers and have an wonderful selection of shade plant seed. Prairie Moon includes detailed germination instructions. If you are on a tight budget, check this seller out first. Their bulk seed packets are a bargain and they also carry pre-made mixes. They ship fast and I have always been happy with my germination rates. Print catalog or online. Highly Recommended.

Royal Catchfly grown from seed from Prairie Moon Nursery

Royal Catchfly grown from seed from Prairie Moon Nursery

Prairie Nursery: This is another great source for wildflower seed located in Wisconsin. They tend to run a bit more expensive than Prairie Moon. They have a large selection of seed including: vines, shade plants, shrubs and native ferns. Prairie Nursery also has their own pre-made seed mixes. Print catalog or online. Recommended.

Now that you know how to find your seeds, read part 2 to learn how to winter sow your seeds. Have a favorite seed source? Tell me in the comments!

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