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Is Fall Seeding Sucessful With Natives?

Question:

Does fall seeding work with native perennials and grasses? I’m in NJ.

Answer:

Seeding is a very economical way to grow native plants. Although most seeding is typically done in the spring, fall seeding can be quite successful, if you keep a few things in mind.

Not all seeds have the same requirements for germination. Many native seeds need some type of pre-treatment to successfully germinate. Your first order of business is to determine what your particular seeds need. There are excellent guides on the Prairie Moon Nursery website that can help you: How to Germinate Native Seeds and their Cultural Guide.

Many native seeds require an extended cooling period to germinate (stratification). In parts of the country that experience cold winters, fall seeding offers an opportunity to mimic nature by providing the cold period that they need. Since most germination will not occur until the spring, late fall seeding is also referred to as dormant seeding. However, some cool season grasses may start to establish during the winter, especially if the weather fluctuates and warms.

Here are some tips to increase your success for fall seeding:

  • Eliminate weeds in the seeding area as much as possible before you start, otherwise cool season weeds may overwhelm new seedlings in the spring. The best practice is to get weeds under control for a full growing season (sometimes two) before seeding, although few people have the time or patience to do so. Do the best that you can.
  • Select seeds that require stratification (a cold period) and that meet the conditions of your site (see the Prairie Moon Cultural Guide). Although warm season grasses can be seeded in the fall, spring is more favorable for successful germination.
  • Determine how you will be seeding. For large sites, a mechanical seeder such as a drill seeder or a drop seeder should be used. For hand seeding, note that native seeds can vary greatly in their size and weight – even distribution can be tricky.  Consider using a filler material such as moist sawdust or vermiculite and combine in a bucket with your seed mix for more even distribution.
  • Avoid simply spreading seed on top of the soil.  Good seed to soil contact is important for germination and reduces the chances of birds and small mammals feasting on the precious native seeds. A water-filled roller is useful to ensure proper seed to soil contact, or you can go lower tech and gently tread on the seeded area.
  • Plant seeds at the right depths. Some seeds require greater planting depths than others, but a seed planted too deeply may not germinate at all.
  • Mulch the seeded area to protect the seed and to retain moisture in the soil.   Straw that is weed-free and seed-free can work well, but don’t mulch too deeply.

Early winter seeding is another option. This is called frost seeding since you broadcast seed over frozen soil, after the first killing frost and before the first snow storm. Over the winter, the seed will settle in through the action of frost and make contact with the soil. Keep in mind that birds and other wildlife may feed on the seed before this happens.

Not all seeds germinate quickly so be patient next spring and beyond! Good luck!

from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Milkweed seeds
Photo credit: Flickr – Liz West