CORVALLIS, Ore. — Interested in growing native plants from seed, or in seed production? You’re not alone.
The demand for native plant seeds is expanding as farmers, gardeners and landowners seek hardy plants to create hedgerows, shore up creekside banks and ponds to prevent erosion, to attract wildlife or for water conservation and durability, according to the staff at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Center in Corvallis.
Growing native plants from seed presents unique challenges and rewards, center staff and local conservation experts told more than 60 people who attended a recent workshop in Rickreall, Ore.
Most native grasses, sedges, rushes and forbs — or wildflowers — must be grown from seed; and, woody plants or shrubs can also be grown from seed, although dormant hardwood cuttings are also an option for some. A free guide to growing regional native plants is in a new 192-page book, “Native Seed Production Manual for the Pacific Northwest,” assembled by the Corvallis team, The manual provides seed production information on specific species of native grasses, forbs, sedges and rushes that grow in Western Oregon and Washington, based on two decades of native plant trials conducted in Corvallis and on federal lands.
While it is primarily geared toward large-scale seed production, the book also includes information that could be useful to a backyard grower. The book also includes several pages of discussion and photos about equipment needed for large-scale production. Plant Materials Center and other agencies staff summarized native plant production from seed as follows:
• Choose your challenges. Not all native seeds are created equal. Some are easy to grow; others, not so much. Some seeds mature uniformly, making gathering a cinch. Others mature sporadically. And, unlike seeds bred for specific agricultural purposes, native seeds have a broad genetic base. The variety of native growth responses will test your creativity and possibly your patience. Choose the seeds that make sense for your soil, plot size, equipment and temperament.
• Start with a reliable source of seed. Purchasing parent plants or seed from a reliable native plant nursery or nonprofit plant sale (soil and water conservation districts, watershed councils) are your best bet. If gathering your own seeds, be sure to identify the plant while the flowers or leaves are still intact. Extensive gathering on public property may require a permit. Private property — unless you own it — may require permission.
• Prepare your site. Be sure it is free of weeds, and protect it from predators. Most native grass or forb seeds are small, so should be sown shallowly. Native seeds are generally sown in the fall, before the rainy season. Western Oregon’s wet winters and dry summers are ideal for native seed production, which in many locations can be done without irrigation or special drying equipment.
• If growing shrubs or tree seeds in pots, consider the size of the 1- or 2-year-old plant. D40 pots and potting soil (as opposed to native soil) work well for most shrubs and trees; smaller plugs or cone-tainers work well for grasses and wildflowers. Potted seedlings grown in sterile media will need some type of fertilizer to produce vigorous, healthy plants ready for fall transplanting. Grow outside, but shade in the summer. Keep moist. Quit watering and fertilizing in late fall, before out-planting.
• Most seeds will be brown and crispy when they are ready for harvest. Hand-harvesting is most efficient, but some equipment could be considered. Depending on the ultimate use of the seed, some seed cleaning (threshing, conditioning and screening) may be needed. Seeds of most species can be dried, then stored in a cool place, and will be viable for several years.