Submitted by Candy Venning
November… aka; ‘here we go into the darkness’, but does it really have to be that way?
Knowing that everything needs a rest, maybe even ourselves, from the glorious growth of our forests and gardens and that birds are on their migratory journey, can at first administer a slightly bereft feeling, as though being left behind. However, I found it interesting to note that last year I walked more often in winter – perhaps to take more in through eyes now missing the flowers (but still there are green mosses and lichens). Details in the texture of tree bark, pebbles, branch structures and seedheads…wait, speaking of seedheads! (I was boring myself for a minute there).
It’s time to ready your pots for winter sowing your native plant seeds – I’ve done this as late as February and still had good results – not so easy with frozen bags of soil – also it’s hard to find bagged soil in winter so buy now to have a bag handy. You can also re-use the leftovers from your potted annuals, urns or hanging baskets, the threadlike roots of annuals will turn to mush and shouldn’t affect your seeds. (And if you do this now you won’t have to drag frozen pots in your house to defrost so you can make a huge mess in your kitchen like I have done).
Why grow native plants in pots at all? There are a number of reasons, mostly for the same reason you’d grow anything else in a pot – so it can be labelled, so you know what it is/ what it isn’t and so you can protect it in it’s tiny and vulnerable stage. Providing some ideal conditions is a way to get the best results vs scattering in the garden where it may be walked on, eaten, mixed with unwanted seeds (via birds, neighbours or just dormant in your soil), peed on, etc. (hey, I don’t judge, a lot of stuff happens in a yard). Growing from seed also ensures you’ll not be getting any jumping worms (a transformative and unfortunate invasive species now spreading across north America).
Many folks use 2-litre pop bottles, or plastic milk jugs. I happen to have a lot of Clamato jugs (don’t judge). Cut in half, hinged with duct tape, discard the lid and punch some holes for drainage – these will stay outside all winter. The reason to use jugs is the protection that the upper part of the bottle provides against wind born seeds and digging critters, mostly squirrels. Come spring, it’ll become important to regulate the temperature, so the plants don’t sizzle in their tiny greenhouses. If you happen to have somewhere that squirrels don’t get to (rare) then you can simply grow in pots or grow in pots and add a protective mesh frame over them all to stop squirrels.
I’m pretty new to winter sowing yet had great success with Black Eyed Susan, Swamp Milkweed/Asclepias incarnata, Aquilegia canadensis /Native Columbine, and a really beneficial native that attracts all kinds of insects; Pycnanthemum / Mountain mint (not the same as mint used in Mojitos, don’t judge).
The lists of native plants for your area as well as support groups on Facebook and Instagram make it easier than ever to source seeds and winter sow – give it a try!