Native Seeds, Seeds, and More Seeds

During my limited free time this week, and as a method of stress reduction, I collected seeds and ordered seeds for native plants. This is a great conservation activity with school aged kids.

Seed Sources for Ordering

Over the last month, researching native prairie seed sources has occupied some of my time. If you live in the upper midwest, some great sources are:

Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona, MN

Shooting Star Native Seeds in Spring Grove, MN

And, Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA.

Monarch Caterpillar at Seed Savers Exchange on Butterfly Weed. © Carrol Labuzzetta, 2019.

If you read my blog frequently, you know had a driveway project going at the end of summer. When cutting into the earth, on a slope, one has to prepare for erosion. Many precautions were taken to prevent erosion and guess what….it still happened! And, in case you are thinking we did the driveway project ourselves, we didn’t. But, one thing that was very successful on preventing erosion was the planting of oat seeds. As you know oats are a grass/grain, they grow quickly, and send down deep roots to help hold the soil in place. Where the oats grew, there was significantly less erosion.

But, on this ridge top, we are also planning to have much less lawn. Yes, we’ll have a patch surrounding the house. But, the rest will be seeded to remain the beautiful remnant prairie it is. After speaking with several sources, it was determined that late fall seeding for our purposes was best. Late fall equates to around Halloween.

This is not our first rodeo with seeding a prairie. We made a small prairie patch behind our barn that gave us a great trial run and ended up being very beautiful this year. Planting a prairie takes patience, but it is so worth it! When we planted the prairie patch behind our barn (that abuts to a subdivision), I chose a dry prairie wildflower mix from Seed Savers Exchange. The location of the pocket prairie, as they are also known, is full sun. It is also flat and contains clay type soil that has been amended over 15 years with compost and sawdust, as well as some topsoil. It is where we used to grow pumpkins when the boys were young and one year we even had corn and beans, for a true 3 sisters garden styled after the Iroquois Indians my husband and I learned of growing up in Western New York.

For our remnant prairie ridge top, I returned to Seed Savers Exchange as our seed source, due to the success of our pocket prairie patch. But, as I read the seeds included and the conditions of drainage for both native grass and wildflower seeds, I determined that we probably needed to try the Mesic seed mixes because of the drainage our sloped site will afford the plants. The Mesic grass mix contained more types of native grasses than the dry mix and the Wildflower Mix was very similar to the Dry mix, but still included some of my favorite prairie plants. My husband calculated how much we needed…enough seed to cover approximately 10,000 square feet!

Enough seed? Our order of native seed mixes for wildflowers and grasses from Seed Savers Exchange. © Carol Labuzzetta

Seed Savers Exchange recommends mixing the brass and wildflower seed for the best coverage. So, we ordered enough native prairie grass seed to cover 5,000 square feet and enough native wildflower mix seed to cover 5,000 square feet. Shipping took place quickly and we received the seed only 3 days after we ordered it. I was excited to have it arrive!

Collecting Seed

Each year since 2014, I’ve collected milkweed seeds. My impetus that year was to involve my garden club students in gathering common milkweed seed pods to send to Monarch Watch in Kansas for redistribution to places that needed milkweed seed. It was a great service learning project. And, it also got me hooked on collecting seed.

Rose milkweed pods behind our barn. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2020.

For the past six years, I’ve collected common milkweed and rose milkweed seeds, both available in my yard. I let them overwinter in my garage. After the overwintering – which counts as cold storage or stratification – they can be sown the following spring or anytime there after. Since I was engaged in several professional conferences in 2015-2018, I also packaged the seeds and gave them to attendees at my sessions on gardening with kids and monarch conservation. I was amazed at how quickly the seeds disappeared!

Packaged milkweed seeds from my yard. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015.

In 2019, I led a seed collecting venture for local middle school students through our local land trust. We gathered on one of the public nature preserves in early October and collected many paper garbage bags full of native seeds, including milkweed. These were delivered to The Conservancy on my last day of employment with the organization. It was a fun and optimistic activity. The students enjoyed it immensely!

Whorled Milkweed. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

Finally, this summer, I noticed that I had whorled milkweed growing on a berm in our front yard. I am transfixed by these delicate plants – so different looking than common milkweed. I watched them flower and then was fascinated when the seed pods developed. They are long and slender and SMOOTH – so unlike the sharp, bumpy, plump common milkweed pods.

Whorled milkweed pods. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021

I’ve been slowly collecting the whorled milkweed pods as they’ve started to dry and open, attempting to catch them still lined up like soldiers before they are taken away by the wind. I’m pleased with what I’ve been able to gather but there is more! And, you can be sure these will be added to our new remnant prairie patch next spring, along with the rose milkweed, and common milkweed I’ve collected. It will bring a piece of this yard to our new one – on the ridge!

Ridge top. Fall 2021. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

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