Growing Native Plants from Seeds is Fun

Wow, I can grow native plants and you can, too.

Growing your own native plants from seeds is rewarding and fun. Try it yourself and you will see what I mean.

My spouse and I have been living on the California Central Coast in the midst of a native Monterey pine forest for just over a decade. When we arrived here during a hot dry summer, the soil was parched and invasive plants were encroaching on all sides.

For years, our focus was mostly on performing remedial tasks like spreading tons of wood chips to rejuvenate the soil and filling up our green waste container umpteen times with invasive plants like Italian thistle, Ice plant, and French broom.

During that time, we bought a few native plants to try in our yard but I did not know much about them. Trying to grow my own plants from seeds did not even occur to me.

About a year ago, I realized that I was at the point where I wanted and needed to learn more about the plants, trees, and grasses that are native to where I live.

3 Arroyo Lupine, 1 Tidy Tips, 1 Purple Needlegrass Plants Grown from Seeds
Arroyo Lupine, Tidy Tips, and Purple Needlegrass that I grew with seeds from the California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo chapter seed exchange in 2017.

The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden seemed like a good place to learn about native plants so my spouse and I visited the Garden. At the Chumash Kitchen events that we attended, I was delighted to have an opportunity to learn about native plants from Chumash people whose ancestors have been living here for thousands of years.

For a native plant novice like me, joining the California Native Plant Society seemed like a good idea so I became a member of the San Luis Obispo chapter. My spouse and I attended our first meeting a year ago last October. That is where I met Marti and the real fun began.

Native Plant Seed Exchange

When we arrived at the San Luis Obispo Veterans Hall for the meeting, there were several folding tables set up containing bowls, cups, and bags filled with native plant seeds. I spotted a box with little brown envelopes and another with tiny pencils. Some people were pouring small amounts of seeds into envelopes and writing on them.

We did not have any seeds to share so we were standing there not sure what to do when Marti approached me. Marti, the seed exchange organizer, assured me that it was not necessary to bring seeds to participate and she encouraged us to select some seeds to try growing for our yard.

Approaching one of the tables, I realized that we might have some difficulty identifying the seeds because the containers were labeled with botanical names. Sigh.

Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus)Scanning the table, my spouse noticed one that said Lupinus succulentus. Aha, surely that must be a lupine. Every year, I admire the small bluish-purple flowered lupines that grow on the surrounding hillsides and I was excited by the prospect of growing some myself.

We asked someone and learned that yes, the seeds were Arroyo lupine. We carefully put some seeds in an envelope and labeled it.

Moving on, I found Marti’s seed stash. I was pleased to see that she had attached pictures to her seed packets and included their common names. I recognized the photo of the tidy tips (Layia platyglossa) a lovely white-rimmed yellow wildflower that grows by the thousands on the Carrizo Plain during the spring. We carefully poured some itty-bitty seeds into another envelope.

With help, we identified three more species of seeds to try including California buckwheat, coffeeberry, and purple needlegrass.

Growing Native Plants from Seeds

You can sow native plants seeds directly in the soil. However, I could not imagine how I would ever identify seedlings from the seeds I got at the seed exchange among the thousands of other seedlings that appear in our yard each spring. I decided to use pots that I had saved from previous native plant purchases. My spouse made plant markers for me using materials left over from another project.

Why I waited until January to sow the seeds remains a mystery. I placed the pots on the deck outside of our dining room so I would remember to water them periodically.

After weeks and weeks of checking the pots every few days and watering them when they seemed dry, nothing was going on (at least that I could see).

2 Arroyo Lupine, 1 California Buckwheat, 0 Coffeeberry Seedlings Grown from Seeds
Arroyo Lupine and California Buckwheat seedlings that I grew with seeds from the California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo chapter seed exchange in 2017. The Coffeeberry did not germinate.

The day I spotted the first tiny lupine seedling poking its head through the soil, I was almost giddy with excitement. Other seedlings soon joined it. Watching the plants grow, develop buds, and then unfurl their flowers was fascinating.

There is something magical about growing a native plant with your own two hands. Perhaps it is because it connects us to a time when people lived in harmony with the rest of nature.

Collecting the seeds proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated.

Lupine seeds grow in pods that turn from green to brown as they ripen and then the pods burst open flinging their seeds away from the plant. The trick was to harvest the pods before that happened (I was mostly successful). The tiny tidy tips seeds were hard to discern from dead flower bits.

Only one of the California buckwheat seeds germinated. It grew into a small plant that seemed ready to graduate to the yard this fall. I am not sure how deer feel about eating buckwheat so I was nervous about planting it in the yard. In the end, I planted the buckwheat in a small fenced-in section of our yard (a former owner had a dog).

California Buckwheat Plant I Grew from a Seed Planted in the Yard
This small California Buckwheat is the first native plant that I grew from a seed and then planted in my yard.

Expanding My Native Plant Horizons

Last summer, I did some research and made a list of native plants that might like our yard meaning they are drought and deer resistant.

When the California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo chapter newsletter arrived in my email inbox in September, I was pleased to see that Marti was again orchestrating a seed exchange for the October meeting.

That night when I saw Marti, I thanked her for organizing the seed exchanges and told her how much fun I had growing native plants from seeds. Maybe someday I will have some seeds of my own to share.

This time I knew what to do. I have learned a few botanical names but I am still baffled by most of them. Fortunately, Marti had included photos with her seed packets again and several people were helpful in deciphering labels. I selected seeds for several of the species on my list.

Native Plant Seed Packets, Plant Markers, and Seed Propagation Book
Getting ready to plant my first five pots with native plant seeds from the 2018 California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo chapter seed exchange.

I am committed to getting my seeds planted before the rainy season (I hope we have one). So far, I have planted the first five pots and labeled them by washing off the markers from last year and writing new names on them. This year I am planting some seeds in my yard and marking their locations. I want to find out if I can recognize the seedlings and to observe how they fare in the wild.

Growing your own native plants from seeds is fun and rewarding but it does take time and attention. If you do not want to wait for seeds to grow, then purchase established plants. You can still have fun watching them grow and enjoy observing the bees, butterflies, birds and other critters they will attract to your yard.

Do not assume that plants on display in the front of your local nursery or home improvement store garden section are native to your area. In my experience, the native plants are usually stuck in the back somewhere so ask for them. Search on the Internet for native plant nurseries that sell to the public or have certain days when they are open to the public. Keep an eye out for notices about native plant society and botanical garden plant sales.

Good luck with your native plants. I can hear Earth smiling.

Reader Note: Most of the resource links and books below relate to California native plants. To find resources for other states type “native plants and your state” in your Internet search window.

Featured Image at Top: 8-Month Old California Buckwheat that I Grew from a Seed.

Related Posts

Resources

Books

  • Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California – by Jan Timbrook, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2007
  • Gardening with a Wild Heart: Restoring California’s Native Landscapes at Home – by Judith Larner Lowry, University of California Press, 1999 (read my Goodreads book review)
  • Growing California Native Plants: Second Edition – by Marjorie G. Schmidt and Katherine L. Greenberg, University of California Press, 2012
  • Native Treasures: Gardening with the Plants of California – by M. Nevin Smith, University of California Press, 2006
  • Reimagining the California Lawn – by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien, Cachuma Press, 2011
  • Seed Propagation of Native California Plants – by Dara E. Emery, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 1988
  • Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources – by M. Kat Anderson, University of California Press, 2005 (read my Goodreads book review)

Minimalism for Couples – Buying Less Stuff

You have the power to change your shopping and buying habits.

Your spouse or partner returns from getting the mail carrying a cardboard box and says, “Delivery for the minimalist.”

No, you are not a failure as a minimalist. Acquiring less stuff in our consumerist society can be challenging but you can do it and so can your significant other (if he or she chooses to).

At some point, months or years from now, you will have divested yourself of the things that do not fit in your life as a minimalist and hopefully your spouse or partner will have participated. If you do not want to end up back where you started, you need to plug the incoming stuff pipeline into your home or at least reduce its diameter.

The two main sources of incoming material goods are things that you and your spouse or partner buy, those that you give each other, and gifts from other people.

Unless you and your spouse or partner were able to immediately cease acquiring stuff once you decided to minimize you will likely need to change your shopping and buying habits and at least evaluate your gift exchanging philosophy.

This is the second post of a two-part post. The first post Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff dealt with minimizing even in the face of apathy from your spouse or partner while attempting to engage him or her in the process. This post addresses acquiring fewer possessions now and forever after, a formidable yet rewarding undertaking.

I hope these two posts will help you feel empowered to be a minimalist making your own choices and changing your own behavior even if your spouse or partner is not on board, yet.

Consumerism Takes a Holiday

Even though I did not recognize it at the time, our minimalist journey got a jump-start in 2013 just as the Christmas shopping season was getting underway. Any enjoyment I used to get from shopping and wrapping gifts was crushed under the rampant display of consumerism everywhere and my concern about the enormous environmental impact that our society’s constant quest for more stuff is having on Earth.

Little Blue Car Overloaded with Christmas Gifts on Top
Photo Credit iStock/Sergey Peterman

My spouse was feeling the same way so we agreed to opt out of exchanging gifts. We told our family and friends that we loved them but we did not intend to give gifts and did not wish to receive gifts either. We do still give to Toys for Tots and occasionally give or receive gifts. This feels right for us.

I am not saying that minimalists do not exchange gifts. What I am suggesting, is that you and your spouse or partner at least discuss your views about exchanging gifts and perhaps consider making a change.

If this seems like a draconic approach to minimalism, consider asking yourself the ten questions I raised in the Free Yourself from Christmas Consumerism post. If you still do not want to address gift giving and receiving or if talking about it is distressing your spouse or partner, then do not do it, at least not now.

Repair Instead of Replace

Repairing things to extend their useful life used to be routine until inexpensive and often low-quality consumer goods became ubiquitous encouraging you to buy new things instead of fixing them. For instance, why take the time to stitch up a fallen hemline on your t-shirt when you can toss it in the trash and buy a new for under $10.

Everything you use in your daily life has an environmental footprint. When you treat material goods as disposable, you end up wasting a lot of the energy, water, resources and people power that went into making and transporting it. The cost of harming people and the planet is not included in the purchase price of the products you buy.

Focusing on the environmental consequences of acquiring new things changed the way my spouse and I evaluate damaged or broken items. Now, we determine if we can repair it ourselves, pay someone else to fix it, live without it, or if we want to buy a replacement for it.

For example, after at least two decades of use, our card table with four matching folding chairs was pretty beat up. When the foam in the seats started deteriorating, we decided to have the tabletop and chairs reupholstered and my spouse painted the frames.

From the narrow perspective of dollars and cents, this solution was more expensive than buying a new table and chairs. However, we felt good about refurbishing our table and chairs instead of buying a new set because a lot of the original materials were reused and we supported a local craftsman who owns the upholstery shop about a mile from our house.

Fortunately, for you and us, repair is making a comeback. Organizations like iFixit empower people to repair their own stuff (especially electronic devices) and repair cafes are popping up where you can go to get help repairing things.

To Buy or Not to Buy

Overcoming the gravitational force of consumerism has been difficult for both me and my spouse but we are making progress on buying less stuff. You can only change yourself so that is what I have been working on.

In 2017, to get a grip on my own shopping and buying habits, I thought it would be fun and informative to track my purchases for a year. I shared how I did it and some insights I gained about my own behavior in the post entitled Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy.

Below are a few examples of things my spouse and I have bought or did not buy recently and why we made the choices we did. Minimalists are not immune to advertising and the desire to buy stuff.

Waterpik

Last year just before going on a trip, I saw a Waterpik that came with a mini travel-size unit on a store shelf and stood there for several minutes considering buying it even though I had a Waterpik sitting on my bathroom counter at home. I felt very virtuous when I did not buy it. However, the story did not end there.

Standard and Travel-Size Waterpik with Carrying Case

A month or so ago, when the water tube broke inside the wand of my Waterpik, the travel-size version flashed through my mind but my spouse fixed the old one so I still did not buy a new one.

A week later, the repaired tube broke spraying water all over my face and the bathroom. I had had enough. I went online and bought the Waterpik model that came with the travel-size unit I had been coveting. Hmm, it is small but I might have to leave something else out to fit it in my luggage. Oh, why did I buy an extra thing I do not need?

My spouse repaired the old one and is now using it.

Olive Oil Dispenser

A couple of days ago, my spouse accidentally knocked over the ceramic olive oil dispenser we kept next to the stove and the top broke off in a way that was not repairable. We discussed buying a replacement but fortunately, our inner minimalists whispered that we could just pour olive oil out of the bottle (duh).

Today, our minimalist selves would not have bought this item in the first place.

Compost Pail

Eight years ago, when I began composting fruit and vegetable scraps, I bought a 1-gallon stainless steel pail that we keep on our kitchen counter and empty into the composter bin outside every day or so. I did not realize that stainless steel is not an ideal choice for a compost pail because it eventually gets little rust pits and starts leaking.

My spouse prolonged its life with some epoxy on the bottom but eventually smells began to adhere to the pail. Strictly speaking, the compost pail still works and making stainless steel has a significant environmental impact so it seemed wasteful to buy a new one.

The thing is that the pail smells mostly of bananas, which I ate a lot of when I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Now I cannot stand to eat bananas. Every time I lift the compost pail lid the smell reminds me of that terrible time in my life. A few days ago, I decided that the old pail had served us well but it was time for a new one. My spouse agreed.

After doing some research, I selected a ceramic model with a removable plastic liner and ordered it online. When the new compost pail arrives, I am putting the old one in the recycle bin.

The above examples may seem minor to you. But chances are these kinds of day-to-day buy or no buy decisions will help you and your spouse or partner live happily, with fewer possessions that add value to your life, or will lead, you right back to where you started.

If there is one thing I hope you take away from this post, it is that reflecting on why you are trying to live happily with less stuff is the greatest deterrent to acquiring more stuff and later regretting it.

I leave you with this final thought.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” —Mahatma Gandhi

(I used to have a wall hanging with that quote on it, sigh.)

Featured Image at Top: Internet Shopping – Keyboard, Miniature Truck Filled with Boxes, Earth Globe – Photo Credit iStock/cybrain

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