Seed Prepping for Spring


by Cecil Hynds-Riddle, Director of Development

I don’t know about you but I am already looking forward to spring planting!

I’m new to Northborough, where my property includes a wetland and a small stand of pine woods. A new septic system turned my lovely native patch into a horrible, barren, compacted disaster! So, I am eager to plant shallow rooted natives that will (hopefully) leave my septic system to do its job, but bring in lovely habitat for wildlife friends.

To save money I am starting everything from seed, including three of my shade-tolerant favorites with different germination needs. Plant them along with me?


Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
This hummingbird favorite needs a 60-day period of “cold-moist stratification.” That means you can put cold soil into containers now, sprinkle the seeds on top and cover with a thin layer of soil. Then leave them outside to ride out the remainder of the winter.

If you’re reading this in March or later, put seeds in a zippered plastic bag with 2/3 cup sand and 4 tsp water, then leave in your fridge for 60 days. After that, plant in warm soil and watch them pop up before you transplant robust seedlings.


Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
This grass-like verdant delight makes a great lawn alternative, but can be challenging to establish. The Native Plant Trust recently found that a 12-week period of warm-dry stratification got the best germination results. So, mix the seeds with dry sand and keep them indoors until it’s warm out. Then plant them with a light covering of soil. Later, transplant robust plants to their final destination.


Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)
No pretreatment necessary! Easy peasy. Order seeds now and keep them in your fridge in their packets. Wait until warmer weather and sprinkle them on some prepared soil. After seedlings pop up and look sturdy, plant them out. Bees, birds, and you will love the tight clusters of white and purple daisy-like flowers that bloom late into the fall.

Keep in mind that sometimes seeds decide to wait a year or two to germinate, even with our best laid plans. So, keep faith and be patient.


For additional tips on sowing seeds that need cold weather in order to germinate, see Winter Sowing of Native Plant Seeds.