Start the New Year Off with Native Plant Seeds

Joy in a tiny package.

An easy tranquil way to start off the New Year is to sow some native plant seeds in pots on your patio or out in your yard.

Readers who live in places with snow on the ground right now probably scoffed at the title of this post and clicked the back button. I understand. However, I live on the California Central Coast where late fall and early winter are appropriate times for planting native plant seeds.

Giving native plants a place in your yard or garden adds to the beauty and biodiversity of your neighborhood and connects you to where you live. Once you try growing native plants from seed, you will discover that it is a fun and rewarding experience.

I am a native plant enthusiast and novice (amateur). This is my third year growing native plants from seed.

Becky the California Buckwheat in Full Bloom - October 2019
This California buckwheat that I named Becky is the first native plant that I ever grew from seed.

Our home sits on a small mostly wild patch of land in a Monterey pine forest. Each year, as soon as we receive even a minuscule amount of rain, thousands of itty bitty grass and plant seedlings immediately sprout covering our yard in vibrant green fuzz.

Imagine trying to identify native wildflower and plant seedlings in that crowd.

That is why I use pots for germinating seeds and growing plants until they seem ready to graduate to the yard. This method is helping me learn to identify the plants at various stages of their lives from the time they push their tiny heads through the soil to when they are mature and ready to bloom for the first time.

After reading this post about growing native plants from seed, I hope you will want to do it yourself.

Growing Native Plants in Pots

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to encourage other native plant novices to try growing plants from seed so I made a point of keeping things simple.

The stuff you need to begin growing native plants is minimal and you may already have most of it on hand like containers, potting soil, and materials to make plant markers. You will also need seeds, water, and a place for your pots to reside outdoors. Mother Nature will provide sunlight and hopefully rain.

Let’s talk about seeds first.

Seeds

If you read my October post entitled Go to a Native Plant Society Plant Sale and then actually went to one, you may already have the native plant seeds you need to get started. If not, you can buy native plant seeds at some nurseries, during public days at wholesale native plant nurseries, and online.

Native plant societies, botanical gardens, and master gardener programs usually have members who are experts and are happy to provide advice on what to plant where you live. Or just pick seeds that appeal to you and try them.

My native plant journey began three years ago at a seed exchange hosted by the California Native Plant Society chapter in San Luis Obispo (CNPS-SLO). I recounted my experience as a rank amateur at a seed exchange in the post Growing Native Plants from Seeds is Fun.

This year our native plant seed collection consisted of seeds we obtained at the fall CNPS-SLO seed exchange and several packets my spouse bought at the December chapter meeting. We also had an opportunity to collect native plant seeds during a volunteer day at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near our home. That day one of the perks for gathering seeds for the Ranch was that we were allowed to collect some for ourselves, too (you always need permission to collect seeds on someone else’s land).

Containers

Look around your home and garage for any kind of containers that will not disintegrate when they are wet and that you can poke holes in the bottom of if they do not already have holes.

3 Arroyo Lupine, 1 Tidy Tips, 1 Purple Needle Grass Plants Grown from Seeds
These are a few of the California native plants that I grew from seed the first year (left to right) arroyo lupine, tidy tips, and purple needlegrass.

The first year I scavenged around our garage and came up with some dusty 1-gallon plastic pots that had previously held plants from the nursery. They already had holes in the bottom.

This year I decided to buy some small reusable galvanized steel pots (top photo) that I hope will make it easier to separate the seedlings once they are ready to move to larger 1-gallon pots to grow and mature. The pots have open bottoms but the trays are sealed so I asked my spouse to drill a hole in each one to allow excess water to drain out.

Soil

Chances are you will have a bag of potting soil tucked into the corner of your garage or sitting on your patio so use it. An advantage of using potting soil is that it will be free of seeds unlike soil you might dig out of your yard.

Not long ago, I read that adding perlite to potting soil can help aerate it which might benefit the seeds so I decided to try it this year. We had some leftover perlite from soaking up water from a leak so we mixed it with potting soil to create a 50/50 mix.

Plant Markers

Any material that you can write on and stick in a pot will probably work for a plant marker. This is so you will know what is planted in which pot.

Another material I found in our garage the first year was corrugated plastic scraps from a previous project of some sort. I trimmed the pieces and wrote the plant names on them with a permanent marker (some of the names faded or washed off after several months).

Each year I wipe the markers off, write new names on them, and stick them in the pots. As insurance, I also make a list (left to right) of what pot holds which seeds.

Location

Select a location on your patio, deck, stair landing, balcony, or some other place outdoors where your pots (and later seedlings) will receive sun and hopefully rain. Picking a place that you see often as you go about your daily life may help you remember to check your pots to see if any seedlings have sprouted, supplemental water is needed, or they are ready to be transplanted.

Pots Planted with Native Plant Seeds on Wood Deck
We have a lot of critters roaming about our yard so we put our pots at the end of the deck outside of our dining room.

For extra protection, my spouse made metal mesh covers to deter raccoons, turkeys, squirrels, birds, and other wild neighbors from digging in the pots looking for seeds to eat. (We did not have covers the first two years so perhaps this extra measure is unnecessary.)

Water

Native plants are considered native to where they live because, over time, they have adapted to the climate, terrain, soil, rainfall, and wildlife of a specific area or region.

Generally, I try to allow rain to water my seed pots and seedlings. However, a pot is not a natural habitat for a plant so in our drought-prone area I keep an eye on soil moisture and add water if needed.

Journal (Optional)

Last year I started a native plant journal. The idea is to keep track of which seeds germinate and grow best so I can repeat what works and change what does not.

The first entry for this year’s batch of seeds is a list of the seeds we planted and a U-shaped diagram of what seed is in which pot.

Planting and Growing Seeds

If this is your first year trying to grow native plants from seed, start small with just a few types (species).

Make sure you have everything you will need before you get started and do your planting on a day when you do not feel rushed.

This year, we planted our pots over the course of several hours on a day near the end of December.

Native Plant Seed Planting Materials on Wood Table
Our seed planting materials included seed packets, containers, potting soil, perlite, plant markers, a permanent marker, buckets, garden trowels, and a watering can.

After my spouse mixed the potting soil and the perlite together in a bucket, I spooned it into the pots, moistened the soil, placed a few seeds on top, covered the seeds with soil (about ¼”), sprinkled the pot with water, and wrote the plant name on a marker that I stuck in the tray.

We planted several pots of each type of seed. Once a tray or larger pot was finished, I placed it in its new home on the deck. Once all of the pots were filled, we spread the remaining seeds in our yard outside of our home office window.

It began to gently rain about ten minutes after we finished our planting. That seemed like an auspicious sign to me.

Arroyo Lupine, Tidy Tips, Elegant Clarkia Sprouts in Ceramic Pot
The arroyo lupine, tidy tips and elegant clarkia wildflower seeds I sprinkled in this ceramic pot are beginning to sprout.

Three years ago, when I saw the first tiny native plant seedling poke its head above the soil, I felt giddy and joyous. There is something magical about growing a plant from a tiny seed with your own two hands. I felt connected to the rest of nature and it reminded me that I am part of nature.

See, it is simple to grow native plants from seed. Now it is your turn to give it a whirl.

Featured Image at Top

These tiny arroyo lupine seedlings sprouted a few days ago in the galvanized steel pots on the deck outside of our dining room.

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Thanksgiving – Gratitude

Saying thank you is easy and free.

This Thanksgiving I am sending someone I love a handwritten thank-you note and doing something that you may find silly (or maybe not).

In years past, I used to write Thanksgiving posts about topics more easily tied to the environment like consumerism and green actions that you and I can do. Then there was the year my family saved me from writing about food waste.

Nowadays at Thanksgiving, I find myself pondering the interconnectedness of humans and the rest of nature or how I can put forth my kindest self every day. That is the person that I, you, and everyone else needs to bring to the table if we are to heal ourselves and Earth, the place we all call home.

This year gratitude is on my mind.

I believe everyone appreciates being appreciated. I know I do. Showing gratitude by saying “Thank you.” is easy and free. Yet, sometimes in our society, it seems like we are all so busy, rushed, and frazzled that we forget who and what we have to be grateful for or to thank the people in our lives.

Maybe all we need to get back on track is a friendly reminder and a little practice.

This year for my Thanksgiving post I knew I wanted to write about gratitude and to encourage readers to take a specific gratitude-related action. But what?

Then a few weeks ago, I was reading Elizabeth Kubey’s “Kids’ Corner” column in the fall issue of Flora, a quarterly magazine published by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) of which I am a member. Even though my kids are grown, I always enjoy reading Elizabeth’s column. It is filled with educational and fun activities and she has a delightful kid-friendly writing style.

Flora-V3N1-Kids-Corner_Letter_Elizabeth-Kubey-LR-300x388

The “Kids’ Corner” fall column had several activities for kids to learn about chlorophyll and photosynthesis. The item that caught my eye was entitled Thank-you plants! It involved asking kids to write several thank-you notes. One thanking a native plant, one as if they were a native plant thanking a part of the ecosystem, and perhaps one to a family member. Photo —Elizabeth Kubey/CNPS.

I instantly thought, “That’s it. I want to share this idea in my Thanksgiving post.”

Since it was Elizabeth’s idea, I contacted her to thank her and ask her permission to share her idea and to use the thank-you note. She agreed.

I Used to Write Thank-You Notes

One of the many things that my mother taught me as a kid was how to write a handwritten thank-you note. My brother and sister learned, too. We were expected to write thank-you notes when someone had given us a gift even if we had thanked the gift giver in person. I do not remember if there was any wheedling involved, but she probably had to remind us to write them, at least sometimes.

I carried the thank-you note habit into adulthood writing thank-you notes for birthday, wedding, baby, and holiday gifts and occasionally for another reason like thanking an interviewer after a job interview.

There was always a box or two of thank-you note cards in a desk drawer at home.

Once, when I was preparing to leave a company that I had worked with for a long time, I wrote a thank-you note to every employee. That was over 300 thank-you notes.

Now, I have mostly fallen out of the habit of writing thank-you notes. The demise of my thank-you note writing may have coincided with the decision my spouse and I made in 2013 to stop the practice of obligatory gift-giving and receiving as part of our effort to live more lightly on the planet.

And yet, there are many, many people and things to be thankful for that do not involve exchanging gifts. Can my lapsed thank-you note habit be resuscitated and reimagined? I think it can.

Thank-You Note for a Person

To me, Thanksgiving seems like an ideal time to write a handwritten thank-you note.

My Thanksgiving Thank-You Note Card and Vase with Artificial Fall Flowers
I wrote my Thanksgiving thank-you note inside this card.

I hope you will join me in writing a thank-you note sometime during this week to a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or anyone for that matter thanking them for, well, anything.

You and everyone else may have a lot going on this week such as preparing to host a Thanksgiving feast at your home, getting ready to travel, or cramming five days of work into three days. Some of you may be steeling yourself for working on Black Friday.

So, let’s keep it simple and agree that we will not agonize over writing a thank-you note. We will write from our hearts without worrying about spelling, grammar, and punctuation (at least not too much).

If you do not have a box of thank-you note cards stuck in the back of a drawer, no worries. Any kind of card will do and you can easily pick one up at almost any store including a grocery market.

The thank-you note that I wrote is winging its way to my mother; however, she will probably not have received it before reading this post.

Thank-You Note for a Plant or Animal

Now for the silly part that I mentioned earlier.

I am an enthusiastic native plant novice who enjoys growing native plants from seeds and giving native plants a place in our yard.

The first native plant I ever grew from a seed was a California Buckwheat which I named Becky. I am one of those people who anthropomorphize plants and animals. It helps me appreciate and connect with other parts of nature.

Even though Elizabeth’s Thank-you plants! is not related to Thanksgiving, I do not think she will mind if you and I appropriate her format to thank a fellow member of nature.

My native plant thank-you note is for Becky. As you can see I kept it short and sweet. Protected by a plastic bag it is mounted on a bamboo stick left from our Monterey pine seedling growing project. I placed it in the yard with Becky. This will remind me to thank the plant every time I pass by.

If you would like to join me in this endeavor, I feel certain there is a plant or animal living near you that would love to receive a thank-you note.

For good measure on Thanksgiving, I think I will go hug a few trees.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Featured Image at Top: Thanksgiving still life with thank-you note card – Photo credit iStock/CatLane.

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