Stratifying the Natives

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”
— A.A. Milne

All winter long, there have been gallon jugs of soil sitting outside my house. The jugs used to carry water or milk, but some colleagues and I got together for a “Prop Party”, and filled the used jugs partway with a leaf-litter based soil, and planted native seeds.

These seeds were gathered from local ecotypes of native plants. The Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum) we planted is the one that has been evolving for centuries in this region. Therefore, it has evolved with this specific climate, and with the area’s pollinators. This Joe-Pye weed is therefore a strong candidate for best surviving the soil conditions and the weather found here, and should require only the most minimal maintenance. Additionally, area pollinators will make good use of it as food source and host plant.

Other seeds gathered and planted at the Prop Party were boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), blue-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia), sweet white violet (Viola blanda), pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), and meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum).

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So these jugs have been sitting out in the snow, rain, and bitter cold. Are the seeds ruined? Of course not! These plants have evolved in a temperate climate, and this means the seeds have not only got to be tough enough to survive the winter, most of them require it! Without this cold period, the seeds will not germinate. They’ll stay all tucked up inside their seed coats because they are certain that “winter is coming.” If they emerge, and then winter hits, they die! So they’re going to wait for that icy cold period, and THEN they will emerge when temps warm up.

This is where my grow-lights come in. I can, of course, wait until spring hits, and then up-pot my little seedlings and transplant them to the places I want them to live. But, by bringing them in early, and giving them warmth and consistent daily lighting, I’m giving these guys a head start.

Ideally, I would have brought them inside in February, but I didn’t have my set-up ready for plants. It’s up now, so this weekend, I’ll be bringing everyone in, and the germination races will begin. First to germinate gets high praise from me!