When to Sow Your Seeds
After a successful harvest at TLC's seed sharing day in October, a conversation started about the pros and cons of spreading native seeds during certain seasons. So when is the best time to sow?
Many recommend a late fall/early winter dispersal of seeds. Spread seeds in the freezing cold....are you crazy?! Think about it. How did nature ever manage before people intervened to manage these ecosystems? In the case of the prairie, many seeds would ripen and distribute throughout fall and winter, thereby going through an entire winter season experiencing a few processes to encourage germination success come spring:
1. Stratification: How does nature do this? During the winter, the combination of cold weather and ice followed by occasional "warm" days causes a freeze/thaw cycle in the soil (a.k.a. moist stratification, which increases germination success by breaking down chemical inhibitors in the seed when conditions are right). This can lead to the seed itself being worked deeper into soil crevices as well. It can also encourage scarification....
2. Scarification: Many seeds also have tough outer "coats" that benefit from various natural processes, including being stomped/chewed by wildlife, or rubbed against materials in the soil (a.k.a. scarification, or making a small cut in the hard seed coat to enable the absorption of water). The combination of freezing and repeated exposure to moisture softens the seed coat and dissolves the germination-inhibiting chemicals when conditions are right.
To best mimic these natural processes, sow your seed in early winter right before a snowfall. This also leads to your seed being covered by a protective blanket of snow, which can minimize its chances of being swept away by wind, water, or other erosive forces. However, if you're like most busy homeowners, you'll spread your seed when you have time! No matter which season you choose to spread, just getting your seed out there will give it a fighting chance. For more information on the specific pros and cons of seeding in fall, winter, and spring, read this Prairie Moon Nursery article.
Have ideas for future topics you'd like to see covered in your monthly email? Contact Sarah Michehl, Community Engagement Specialist, at smichehl@conservemc.org and let us know!