You may be enjoying the time off from working in your garden this winter, even while looking forward to spring. Did you know the cooler months are the best time to plant the seeds of many of the native wildflowers that support birds, bees and other wildlife?
Right now — from late winter to early spring — is an ideal time to sow some seeds. If you grow your native plants from seed, you can boost the genetic variation in local plant populations. This is important because having genetic variation helps plants adapt, giving them a greater genetic potential to respond to any changing environmental conditions, such as a warming climate. Most garden centers stock only cultivars of native species, plants selected for a specific, special bloom or colored leaf. Propagation for these cultivars is done clonally, by rooting small cuttings of a plant with the desired traits. This limits their genetic makeup to that of one individual plant. Cultivars are also frequently sterile, providing no sustenance to the wildlife that would normally pollinate and use them as a food or nectar source.
Make sure the seeds you choose are organic and local to the Northeast. Unless seeds are labeled as organic, the seeds may have been treated with pesticides, including neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in the decline of bees and other pollinators. One respected distributor of organic seed collections sold at many local garden centers is the Pollinator Habitat Gardens seed packets from John Scheepers. Also recommended: New England Wildflower Society’s native plants and seeds.
Growing natives from seed is much less expensive than buying plants, and once you get going, you can gather seeds from your own plants and expand your pollinator- friendly garden free of charge! Please note, plants or seeds should not be obtained from the wild without special permission.
Pollinator favorites to grow from seed to be sown outdoors include: Milkweed, Baptisia, Penstemon, Phlox, Aster, Goldenrod, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Joe Pye and many more. One great native, Anise Hyssop, is easy to grow, germinates quickly and can be started inside (unlike other wildflowers mentioned that need to be outdoors for a minimum six-week cold period to germinate). Hyssop is a pollinator magnet; its tall and long-blooming purple flower spires are crowded with butterflies and bees in summer. Interested in learning more about wild flower propagation? Harry R. Phillips’ Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers is an excellent book.
What time of year is a meadow most beautiful? Hard to say, but it just might be winter for meadows that are left un-mowed with their flower heads left standing to be outlined in the snow and catching that clear bright winter light. You can see the wind in the golden, flowing meadow grasses. The brown, russet, golden bleached-blond shades of a winter meadow have a special beauty and keep with them the promise of spring to come. Mowing your meadow in March or April (and leaving perennials’ stalks standing in your border until then) will help protect pollinators wintering in perennial flower stalks, and will offer protective habitat to ground nesting bees, birds and small mammals.
Good meadows to visit this winter in Wilton include Schenck’s Island in Wilton Center, Sackett Preserve (on Route 33 at the corner of DeForest Road), Keeler’s Ridge Meadow on Route 33 (just north of Linden Tree Road) and Slaughter Field (at the corner of Piper’s Hill and Whipstick/Nod Hill Road).
Don’t miss Doug Tallamy at the Wilton Library, March 27th at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Tallamy is the premier American naturalist garden speaker and author of Bringing Nature Home. A vibrant and passionate speaker, Tallamy has a wealth of knowledge wrapped-up in his book and in his seminars. This event is free, but you must register at: www.wiltonlibrary.org/events.