Success with Native Seeds

Timing is everything!  The following is speculation based on decades of observation & decades of seed starting.

I would suggest you look to acquiring your seed in the fall, fresh seed sown same season yields the absolute best results.  Most of the native seed has to cycle through its program before it is triggered to germinate.  The seed usually drops in the fall after a warm cycle, to go through a couple months of cold, to germinate at warm. Seed stored (I believe) goes into a deeper dormancy if that program is interrupted. If you get the seed in the spring, that was harvested the previous fall, I find that it still wants to go through that warm, cold, warm cycle again. Now that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as the seed is stored in cool dark conditions, and mine is replaced yearly with fresh, so you would think that once you get it in the ground, soil, in spring exposed to spring fluctuating temps it would be triggered to grow. I’ve found over and over again that unless you sow the seed fresh same season, the seed ‘wants’ to wait until that programmed cycle is complete. There are of course exceptions, but with the harder to germinate seed, I’ve been finding my theory is coming true.

This is frustrating period. It’s harder to keep pots going for years, tags go missing, pots get wonderful layers of moss in my area, not to mention the slugs and mice smorgs. Seeds do have a way though, which fascinates me to no end. I’ve got a couple pots of ??, with growth in them, that are not weeds, but no tags. This is year 3 for them and now they are growing. Great but what are they?? I keep long lists of seed sown so I may be able to track it down that way. In these pots is seed acquired from a seed exchange (’19), the seed was received in January and did not get sown until early March ’20. The seed did not go through its program properly, so stayed dormant until that was met, all through ’21, and now germinated this spring of ’22. Timing is everything, and so is patience.

Short lived seed, even more important that you get that seed same season. Thalictrum, clematis and sweet cicely come to mind. Both thalictrum and sweet cicely have to be sown in the same season as harvested. Excellent results in germination if done, zero germination if not. Clematis is slightly more forgiving but fresh seed sown on time yields the best results. I’ve spent a pretty penny over the years on clematis seed and gotten very little out of it. Mastering the germination of native clematis occidentalis has been wonderful. And now I have too many! The burden of abundance. 🙂

Floating Seed for Germination


Papery seeds truly do benefit from starting in water.  Seeds like hippeastrum, albuca, agapanthus, in fact quite a few from the Amaryllid family.

Simply put your seeds into a container that is holding water.  I use plain tap water, tepid.  If the seed is viable, and keep in mind that a lot of amaryllid seed has a short life span, you should see a root within 2 weeks.  Keep an eye on them of course, but you will, because it's just so exciting to be able to do this.


I've started seed in dirt, soil less mix, and so on, this is by far the best way.  I've lost more to mold and critters any other way. There is no mess either!  

The above pictured seeds are from a hippeastrum.  I've let mine sit in water until there is a 1' long leaf above the water.  You can just lift out your baby bulb and plant them up.  Too easy.  


Growing bulbs in water

About 2006 I was given an offset of "Duncan's Grandma's hippeastrum".  I didn't have time to pot it up or whatever reason I had for doing this, I propped the golf ball size bulb on top of gravel in an olive jar, filled it with water and set it aside.  

Well here it is 2015 and said bulb is still in the same jar.    

But in my defense, it is still alive and has an offset of it's own.  The roots are obviously healthy, in spite of my neglect.  I doubt that it will bloom growing like this but it has been a fun experiment.  I really should pot it up.


What should I plant my bulbs in, baby or grown  

I have had the most success with 1 part coir, 1 part good quality compost, 2 parts small gravel (7 mm I think), it's been a while since I've purchased any.  I don't use peat moss in the house plants anymore, fungas gnats can be the bane of your existance.