The Differences Between The Seasonal Habits of Plants
Annual flowers bloom in the year they are started from seed/planted with many varieties being directly garden sown. Once annuals start to flower, they generally do so for an extended period stopping only when killed by the onset of cold weather in the fall.
Biennials are planted one year, grow through the year, overwinter as a plant, then grow on and flower during year two. When flowering is finished the plants produce seed before dying. It is advisable to initially plant biennials for two years in a row to enjoy continued flowering year to year.
Perennials are hardy enough to survive our winters conditions and come back from the same root every year. Most perennials started from seed (except those started early indoors) will not flower until their second season of growth. Unlike annuals which flower summer-long, perennials generally have a 2- 4 week flowering season, although some perennial species do flower for a much longer period.
Starting Seeds Indoors
The main reason for starting seeds indoors is simply to get a jump on the growing season. It is also a useful way of allowing yourself a chance to grow a greater selection of plants if you happen to live in an area with a short growing season.
Using a sterile seed starting medium, sow the seed at the required depth carefully following the packet directions. A good rule of thumb is to sow the seed no deeper than twice their diameter. Some seeds need light to germinate and are best left on the surface of the growing medium while others benefit from a light sifting of the medium over top (see packet for details). Mist the seed-starting medium lightly or water from the bottom. Keep the medium surface moist but do not over water. For most seeds, average room temperatures of 20C (70F) is suitable for germination to occur. Note: Wave Petunias enjoy a much warmer soil temperature of 30C (80 F) and must have their pelleted coating dissolved before germination will occur.
Once the seeds germinate, move the seedlings to a bright south or west facing window if not using grow lights. To help prevent seedlings from reaching for the light and becoming weak or leggy, keep the lights on for 14-16 hours per day at a height of 15cm (6") above the seedlings. After seedlings produce their second set of leaves, they can be transplanted to larger containers. Fertilizing can also begin at this time and for every two weeks thereafter. Use a half strength solution of 15-3-15 or 10-52-10 water soluble fertilizer. Grow on at cooler temperatures of 15C (65F) to produce stocky, healthy growth.
Germination of Tree Seed
Growing trees from seed can be somewhat tricky but fun. The seed of most tree species won't germinate immediately when planted because they are in a dormant state. Dormancy must be broken before the seed can germinate.
In some tree species, dormancy is the result of a thick, hard seed coat. The seed coat may be broken in a variety of ways and the process is referred to as scarification. Mechanical means, such as a metal file or coarse sandpaper, can be used to break the seed coat. Treatment with boiling water has also been successful for a number of tree species. In nature, the seed coat may be broken by microbial action, passage of the seed through the digestive tract of a birds or other animals, exposure to alternate freezing and thawing or fire.
Our seed is pre-stratified before we receive it, however, it can go back to a dormant state if is sits for several months. Thus, the seeds will not germinate until they have been exposed to cool temperatures and moist conditions for several weeks or months. Winter weather provides the necessary conditions to break dormancy. This is why a fall, outdoor sowing in a cold frame is the preferred method. Gardeners can simulate these same conditions (stratification) by placing the seed in a moist 50/50 mixture of sand and peat moss, wrapping the container in plastic and freezing solid in the refrigerator. Leave it here for 3-4 weeks, then bring back indoors under your grow lights. You cannot put the seed packet in the freezer and expect the same results. It is the combination of cold temperature and moisture that induces proper stratification.
Establishing Native Grasses and Wildflowers
We hope you enjoy our environmentally sensitive native seed mixtures for Wetland and Wildlife Habitats and Reclamation areas where conventional turf practices are impractical. They’ll add beauty and seasonal interest along roadsides, industrial sites, parks, wetlands, wood lots and are great alternatives to traditional lawn/meadow plantings. With their ability to adapt to their natural surroundings, superior drought and heat tolerance, our mixtures offer an attractive alternative in the landscape while reducing erosion and providing food/shelter for wildlife.
Meadows are defined by having moderately well drained soil, silty loam and clay like but fertile soils with moderate organic content. Examples are: old farm fields, vacant lots, roadsides.
Wet Meadows & Riparian Sites
These are characterized by soils with high clay content or saturated sand. Examples are: road, ditches, retention basins, pond areas, wetland edges.
These are dry areas containing sandy, shale-like clays with very little topsoil. Examples are: abandoned building sites, steep road cuts, naturally rocky hillsides and fields. Upland sites need a little extra TLC - these will benefit from the addition of organic matter to improve soil fertility and from the addition of lime and fertilizer as per soil test results.
You must loosen leaf litter to establish seed-to-soil contact and be careful not to disturb tree/shrub roots. The addition of topsoil/organic matter to improve soil fertility is important. Lime/fertilizer should be added per soil test results. Pre-planting weed control is very difficult.
Moist, clay-like soils with high organic matter and impervious layers that prevent drainage. Examples are: wetland restoration sites, flood plains, ponds, retention basins.
There is no doubt that re-establishing or creating new native plant ecosystems can be very difficult. We cannot stress enough that taking steps before seeding to limit competition from invasive, exotic or undesirable vegetation during the establishment period is the single most important factor in the success or failure of your project!
Conduct a soil test prior to sowing to determine if the soil pH is within an optimum range of 5.5 to 6.5 for maximum nutrient uptake. If necessary, lime can be added to raise soil pH, agricultural sulphur can be added to lower soil pH.
Just prior to seeding, loosen the soil to 2.5cm (1”) in depth. Create microsites within the planting area by sculpting in minor ridges and hollows that can trap moisture. This will help improve germination of the native seed, especially in those areas that tend to be very dry projects, a few months to even the year before scheduled planting, start the process of eradicating existing vegetation by making several repeated treatments with a low persistence glyphosate herbicide.
Where practical, a close mowing two weeks prior to spraying is beneficial in that it stimulates plant growth and helps ensure that the herbicide does an effective job. A light cultivation to 2.5cm (1”) deep between spray applications will stimulate dormant weed seed in the soil into sprouting. Heavy cultivation at any time is not recommended.
Sowing the Seed
Evenly drill or broadcast the seed by hand or with applicators across the prepared area. Two half-rate passes made at right angles to each other will produce a more even job than one full rate pass. When hydro seeding these mixes, we suggest that the recommended application rate be increased by 50 to 75%. Where practical, roll the soil after seeding or otherwise press the seed into the soil to ensure there is good contact at the seed/soil interface. Do not attempt to cover the seed with soil as rain, frost and snow will work the seed into the soil. If you do wish to use protective mulch, a thin layer of clean straw (free of weed seed) can be applied over the seeded area.
Mixes are designed to be planted at 25 kg/ha (23lbs/acre) or 250g/90 sq. M (1/2lb/1000 sq. ft.)
Seed annual ryegrass or oats as a nurse crop and for erosion and weed control at 22 kg/ha (20lbs/acre).
Nurse Crops for Native Plantings
We highly recommend mixing the seed with a nurse crop. In the short term the seed of the nurse crop helps bulk up the mix making application somewhat easier. In the long term, the nurse crop germinates quickly to help cover and protect the native seed mixes during their germination and establishment periods.
Annual rye or oats makes a suitable nurse crop as it helps suppress weeds before disappearing from the planting. Canada Wild Rye, a cool season early succession native grass can also be used as it establishes quickly and helps suppress weeds before gradually disappearing from the planting. It is not advisable to use winter wheat, ryegrass or fall rye because these are aggressive species that often persist within the planting. There is some thought that they also release toxins that interfere with the growth of other plants. It is highly recommended when applying nurse crops to resist applying them at a rate higher than suggested. When nurse crops are applied at a higher rate, they can actually outcompete the target plants preventing them from becoming established which of course is the exact opposite of what is intended.
Time of Planting
The seed from most native species will have improved germination rates if the seed goes through a cold stratification (a process that helps break seed dormancy). With this being the case, we recommend that planting should be done in the fall between early October to late November. An early spring sowing is suitable, however keep in mind that germination rates can be lower and/or initially slower. If is important to note that regardless of the time of sowing, if moisture is lacking during the germination period, seed can remain dormant and not germinate until conditions are suitable.
A Note on Cold Stratification of Native Seed
When seed is sown in the fall, this cold stratification occurs naturally though the winter. Seed can be cold stratified without planting outdoors using two methods. In the cold/dry method, which is preferred by most native grasses, simply place the seed in a protective container and set it in a refrigerator or unheated building for 2 months during the winter. In cold/moist stratification, which is preferred by most wetland forbs (a forb is a flowering plant) sedges and rushes, mix the seed with a moistened soil-less medium in a container, seal the container shut and place it in a refrigerator for 2 months. Seed can also be planted in small pots or trays using a moistened soil-less medium. Cover the containers to keep the medium from drying then place them in the refrigerator or in an unheated building or cold frame for two months during the winter.
Establishment and General Maintenance of Native Plantings
The establishment of habitats from native plant seed mixes does not happen overnight. In many cases it will take 2 to 4 years for the full extent of the planting to express itself. Why is this the case? First many native plants are warm soil plants and their seed will not sprout nor will their yearly growth start, until the soil warms up – which can be as late as mid June. Secondly for their first year of growth, prairie plants are like icebergs. While you will see a small amount of top growth, most of the growth occurs in the soil where these plants put down an extensive root system – in some cases up to 3m (9’) deep! It is this extensive root system that makes prairie plants so drought resistant. It is also this deep, extensive root system that allows them to mine the subsoil for nutrients and cycle them upwards and conversely introduce large amounts of organic matter downwards – two processes that have tremendous long-term benefits for the health and fertility of the upper soil horizon. The last point to keep in mind is that some species are early successional and establish during the first 2 to 4 years from planting while some species are late successional and do not establish until 3 or more years after planting. Note – When undesirable vegetation reaches 30 - 45 cm (12 - 18”) height, mow to no less than 15 cm to prevent weed seeds from developing seeds. Generally, native plants will grow more root systems than tops the first year. DO NOT MOW WITH A LAWN MOWER as mowing too close encourages weedy growth.
A Compost Pile
Make a simple compost bin with wire fencing or build a wooden bin with removable front doors for easy turning of the pile.
A properly made compost pile will get hot ... about 160F ... hot enough to kill weed seeds and most disease organisms in addition to pasteurizing the soil.
Start by composting garden refuse, vegetable scraps from the table and dead leaves/grass clippings. Chop finely as possible, keep slightly moist and turn the pile every few days to help the process. Do not add meat scraps or fat to the mix or you'll attract rodents you don't want around the garden. After each turning add a layer of compost/soil to add necessary micro-organisms that are essential for composting.
One of natures best kept secrets. Have you ever walked into the woods and seen very little undergrowth? It's not just the canopy of trees overhead causing this, it's the dead/dried fallen leaves that choked out the vegetation floor. Mulching material that can enhance your garden by doing the same plus holding moisture for the desired plantings can include, straw, back/wood chips, lawn clippings, crushed gravel/sand or plastic mulch. Lay it down thick where possible to stop weed seeds from germinating and hold that valuable moisture when the summer months are hot/dry. Usually 5cm (2") is enough but in this case more is better. A 10-15cm (4-6") layer of mulch will give added protection all season long.
The crown of the plant is where roots/shoots meet and it is at this point where you divide the root mass for propagation. Divide multi-stemmed plants by slicing a knife through the roots or gently pull the stems apart. Thicker root masses may require a shovel or hatchet to break them apart. Plants that form runners can be divided by cutting off a runner and transplanting it into a small pot. Those plants that produce offshoots can be propagated by removing an offshoot and replanting it.
Floating Row Covers
Get a jump start on the season by getting your plants out to the garden early! A floating row cover or homemade cold frame can protect your seedlings from early frost and turn it into the earliest harvest ever. Another great idea is to use plastic bottles that might otherwise go to the recycling bin. Cut the bottom off these jugs, (milk/juice containers, pop bottles) and cover individual seedlings to keep them warmer on sunny days and protect them from late spring frosts.