Seeds of Symphyotrichum oblongifolium-aromatic aster

Growing Native Plants from Seed

In some ways, this is my favorite part of the gardening cycle–when I get to assess and plan for the next growing season. When there is a bit of extra time to sift through garden notes and photos to determine what may be needed to rebalance, enhance or start anew.

It's also time to finish processing seed from the fifty or so bags of plant parts that I've collected beginning with the first flowers in spring through to the asters and goldenrods of fall. If I did a good job, all bags will be labeled with scientific and common names, date of collection and location. If you are a fan of organization and the amazing beauty of tiny little seeds that contain a world of information—collecting and germinating for your home garden is for you. 

Seeds can be collected throughout the growing season —starting with the early bloomers such as wild geranium and sedges. Most seeds can be easily gathered when ripe by simply running your hand along the stem or by allowing the flower head to crumble in your hand. Gather these seeds up in a paper bag and let them dry for a week or two until ready to process. There are several methods to clean seeds at home. A series of screens that vary in metal threads per inch and a sheet are good tools to start.

Colanders from the thrift store can also do the trick. With graduated sifting, sorting and  tossing (sometimes enlisting the help of a soft wind) you should be able to remove chaff and filaments from the seed which will then get stashed and stacked neatly in recycled jars until germination treatments start next month.

There are many native plant species that are great for beginners to try growing from seed (check out for a Growing Native Plants from Seed class in January): black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia), purple coneflower (Echinacea), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus), false blue indigo (Baptisia), and asters (Symphyotrichum) to name just a few.

Some seeds need periods of cold under moist conditions, others need some level of scarification or scratching to help water permeate the protective outer coating, and others need cold dry conditions so that they will not rot before spring temps signal germination.

As I often say, seeds are brilliant! They know just what to do. They have adapted to be carried by the wind on tiny parachute-like filaments, they have developed protective coatings that allow them to float on the surface of water —sometimes to destinations hundreds of miles away from the parent plant, and have developed mutualistic relationships with animals that allow dispersal far and wide.

As I wind down this year, sometimes inundated by thoughts of big world events, it is a nice shift to look more closely at the small and more subtle beauty that is all around us—to appreciate a leaf lined with frost or seed head capped with snow. This winter when the snow flies, I will be tucked away in the greenhouse coaxing brilliant little seeds into germinating, appreciating the droplets of moisture that collect in the trays and the bright new foliage that seems to glow in the morning light, and anticipating another gardening season. 

This is the last article in this year-long series From the Ground Up published in Journal & Topics –I hope it was helpful in offering some new ideas about landscape, environment and ways to find joy in nature.

xo - Liz

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