Seed-planting guide for natural gardens

On episode 5, season 4 of the Cottage Life Podcast, gardening expert Lorraine Johnson shares the benefits of native plants for your cottage garden. Listen to the show below, and then the rest of the season here.

Think of it as new plants for free—an endless supply at the drop of a seed. Propagating your own plants from seeds you’ve collected around your cottage saves you money, helps preserve the rich community of native species in your area, and provides an incomparable measure of satisfaction and accomplishment. Each self-raised plant feels like the most miraculous personal success—a green-thumb pat on the back. Indeed, it’s easy to feel kind of smug when all those seedlings are lined up in their pots ready to be launched into full adulthood in your cottage garden, and they’re ready because of you.

As with any aspect of native plant gardening, the key to propagating seeds from the wild is to mimic their natural process: They ripen on the plant, drop, and grow. Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that, but, essentially, you can think of it as “ready, set, grow.” 

Ready, set…

During rambles in the woods or meadows around your cottage, note the wild plants you’d like to grow in your garden. Observe their flowering times (e.g. bloodroot in spring, meadow rue in summer, asters in fall) and mark their locations with a stick or even a twist-tie wrapped around the stem so you can find them easily and return for their seed.

After flowering, plants begin to form their seeds—in seedheads, pods, capsules, or fruit—and many are ready to harvest approximately one month later. Check for these clues to ripeness: When pods or capsules, say of butterfly milkweed or columbine, start to turn yellowish-brown, look dry, and begin to crack or split

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