Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fall: The Best Time to Sow Native Plant Seeds by Donna Duffy

Tradescantia occidentalis, Western Spiderwort, photo by Donna Duffy

There are many benefits to using native plants for Colorado home landscapes. They are naturally adapted to our various climates, soils and environmental conditions. When correctly sited, they make ideal plants for sustainable landscape. Native perennials require less maintenance such as watering and fertilizing when the planting site mimics the plant’s native habitat.

Gaillardia aristada, Blanketflower, photo by Donna Duffy

 In Colorado, native plant seeds can be planted from early to late spring, but preferably in the fall. Native plant seeds in Colorado need a period of stratification – the process of treating stored or collected seed prior to sowing to stimulate natural winter conditions that a seed must endure before germination. Some seed species undergo an embryonic dormancy phase, and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken. The time taken to stratify seeds depends on species and conditions; though in many cases, two months is sufficient. If native seeds are planted in late fall in Colorado, the process of stratification occurs naturally over the winter.

 The Horticulture and Restoration Committee of the Colorado Native Plant Society (CONPS) has compiled a list of nurseries known to sell Colorado native plants and seeds. Remember, it is generally illegal to individually collect native plant seeds from public lands in Colorado. Following are Guidelines for Obtaining Native Species from CONPS:

  • Check with local nature centers or experts for recommendations. 
  • Read labels on “wildflower” mixes to verify that they don’t include noxious weed species. Click here for a complete list of Noxious Weeds in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Agriculture. 
  • Ask for plants/seeds by their scientific name as common names may vary. 
  • Buy from reputable nurseries; ask about the origin of seed and plants. 
  • Seed/plant gathering from public lands is typically prohibited (this includes the National Park Service). Special use permits are available from the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

This fall, consider adding some native plants to your home landscape! For a list of landscape natives; check out CSU Extension’s Fact Sheet on Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Landscapes. Happy planting!