Growing Native Perennials Successfully From Seed

You can grow native perennial wildflowers from seed for vibrant, sustainable fencerows that are a pleasure to both you and local pollinators.

by Victoria Van Harlingen
PHOTO: Victoria/Unsplash

By the end of summer, your fence rows (those you don’t keep weed free) bloom with a variety of pollinator-friendly native perennials. Wildflowers such as goldenrod, white and purple asters, boneset, black-eyed Susans and ironweed all put on a big fall show. They readily attract many bees and, especially delightful, Monarch butterflies. 

You think back to spring and summer when those fence rows were just weedy and decide to actually plant a three-season pollinator garden. You check online and at your local garden center for the best native perennials for your area, but the prices are daunting. 

Not to worry. You can successfully grow a large variety of native perennial wildflowers from seed all while saving tons of money. And you’ll enjoy a really outstanding pollinator garden next spring, summer and fall. 

A Matter of Seed

Successfully growing from seed is important. And growing native perennials from seed outdoors is much easier than growing annuals under lights in your spare room. 

First you need some seed. You may have friends who can collect some seed for you from their established gardens. Or you can buy seed online.  

Some of the easiest native perennials to grow from seed are:

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  • cardinal flower
  • anise hyssop
  • butterfly weed
  • common milkweed
  • rose milkweed
  • hairy golden aster
  • hairy wood mint
  • bee balm  

Read more: Know these 3 invasive plants that look like natives.

Location, Location

You will also need a south-facing, well-protected prepared garden bed. (A raised bed is ideal).

You’ll also need to gather:

  • 2- to 4-inch plastic pots
  • good quality potting soil and seed starter mix
  • wooden sticks (and a pen for writing on the sticks)
  • some floating row cover with supports
native perennials wildflowers
Victoria Van Harlingen

Cold Is Key

You also need cold weather. Some seeds need a month of cold weather (low 30s) to successfully germinate. Others require two months or more, while some need none at all.

In November or early December, before the ground freezes, plant your seeds in the pots per the seed packet’s instructions. Make sure you sterilize your pots first in a solution of 2 tablespoons of bleach per 1 gallon of water.   

Fill your clean pots with a mix of two parts potting soil to one part seed starter. I put four seeds per 4-inch pot, two seeds in 2-inch pots.

Be sure to identify the seeds using the wooden sticks. 

Read more: Establish a corridor of wildflowers to attract pollinators to your neighborhood!

In the Garden 

Sink the pots in the prepared bed so the top of the pot is even with the top of the soil in the bed. Water carefully and gently, and cover with floating row cover weighted down with stones or boards (or whatever is handy).

The row cover needs a little support. Old fence wire bent to form a low tunnel works well. Don’t worry about rain, snow or frequent watering. You just need cold weather.  

Start checking for seedlings to emerge by the end of March in zone 5/6 (earlier or later per your planting zone). When their first true leaves appear, transplant your seedlings to prepared beds. This is typically late April or early May but, again, depends on your planting zone

You can mulch plants to help control weeds and moisture. You will also want to make sure your plants get regular watering all through their first year. 

Soon you will be rewarded with beautiful native perennials! Their blooms will attract bees and butterflies to your garden in spring, summer and fall.

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