Ripening fruits of the Jack-in-the-pulpit are eaten by birds and mammals. Photo by Distant Hill Gardens
Growing Native Plants from Seed
Fall is here, and maybe you didn’t get quite as many plants in the ground as you wanted to this summer, but it’s not too late to boost your bird-friendly garden. With many plants setting seed and fruiting this time of year, now is a great time to think about growing some of your favorite native plants from seed. This can be an economical way to add new species, or to encourage future generations of your favorite plants. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
- Look for fruits or seeds that are fully ripe. Ripe seeds are generally brown, firm, and dry with seed pods that are only slightly opened. Ripe berries should come off the parent plant with just a light tug.
- Many natural areas prohibit collection of any plant parts, so be sure to get permission when needed.
- Take at most only one-tenth of a plant’s seeds so that enough remain to perpetuate the population.
- Check nuts, like acorns or beech nuts, for viability by floating them in water. If they sink, they’re alright to plant, but if they float, toss them out.
- Remove fruit pulp from fleshy fruits by soaking the fruits in water for a week and/or working the pulp over a screen. For fruits that have very small seeds (like raspberries), you can smear the fruits on a paper towel to remove the pulp, and scrape off the seeds once the pulp has dried.
- If you plan to store seeds until the spring, have some small paper envelopes, snack-sized plastic baggies, and sticky name tags on hand to keep your seeds either dry or moist (according to species’ needs) and properly labeled.
You can sow cleaned seeds in the garden immediately, which requires the least amount of effort, but you may have more losses due to seed predators. Alternatively, you can sow seeds in prepared beds or pots kept in a cold frame. Label the beds or pots with stakes so that you can identify the seedlings in the spring; some seeds take two or more years to germinate, by which time you may have forgotten what you planted where.
You can also store your seeds until spring; just be sure to provide the correct storage conditions to prevent dessication, mold, or early germination. Some seeds can be stored dry in paper envelopes, while others require a cold-moist stratification period in a dampened soilless growing media or sand, usually for one to three months. Different plants require different “wintering” treatments, so check the conditions required for each species in The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada. For woody species, refer to Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines: A Guide to Using, Growing, and Propagating North American Woody Plants. Both books are by William Cullina. If you don’t have access to these guides, you can also find good general propagation information and species-specific details in the Native Plant Database compiled by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The basic idea is to mimic the natural conditions that the seed would encounter if left to nature. In the spring, you can start seeds indoors, or sow directly in an appropriate location once the danger of frost has passed. If a seed begins to germinate while in storage, take it out and sow it immediately. Transfer it to the garden in the spring.
Growing your own native plants from seed can be a very rewarding way to establish your bird-friendly garden and ensure that the plants you grow will be adapted to your specific region. Get outside today, enjoy fall, and propagate some plants!
Front cover of The State of the Birds 2013 report. Download it!
The State of the Birds 2013
The State of the Birds 2013 Report on Private Lands is a collaborative effort of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, involving federal and state wildlife agencies and scientific and conservation organizations (including the Lab of Ornithology). This fourth report in the series celebrates how private land conservation incentives positively impact bird habitat. “Sixty percent of U.S. land is in private hands, making the efforts of farmers, ranchers and landowners critical when it comes to creating, restoring and protecting bird habitat,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The report highlights the positive results of voluntary conservation measures for birds, including those made possible by Farm Bill programs.
Individuals, families, organizations and corporations, including 2 million ranchers and farmers and about 10 million woodland owners, own and manage 1.43 billion acres collectively, roughly 60% of the land area of the United States. Private lands are used by virtually all of the terrestrial and coastal birds of the United States, 251 of which are federally threatened, endangered, or of conservation concern. Many privately owned working lands that produce a bounty of food, timber, and other resources for society also provide valuable habitat for birds.The State of the Birds 2013 Report on Private Lands
shows that private lands, including those in urban areas, have critical conservation value, and that landowners and managers just like you can produce meaningful conservation results for birds. Download the report.
Count Winter Birds for Science
|Mourning Dove at a feeder. Photo by Judy Howle.
Help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology learn about the habits of backyard birds by participating in Project FeederWatch. Anyone with an interest in birds and nature can participate in the project. Simply count the birds that come to your feeder, birdbath, or food plantings. The information you and others report online helps scientists at the Cornell Lab track changes in the numbers and distribution of birds across the continent.
“By watching and keeping track of the birds in your own neighborhood, you really can make a difference,” says project leader David Bonter. “The more people watching, the more we can learn about the birds that brighten the winter landscape.”
More than 50,000 people have participated in FeederWatch since 1987, and new participants are welcome to join at any time. The 27th season of Project FeederWatch begins November 9. Join today and receive your kit for only $15 ($12 for Lab members).
Change is in the Wind
The cool winds of fall are starting to blow, and they are bringing with them a new release of YardMap that introduces several of the features you’ve been asking for. You’ll get more control over your map, and find more information at your fingertips. Look for changes to roll out in early October, and don’t miss our next eNewsletter detailing the updates. In the meantime, enjoy this sneak peek at the new left-hand navigation bar.
Spotted Towhee dining on crab apples. Photo by Simon Richards via BirdShare
Bird Food Faves Revealed
If you’re wondering which plants will attract those elusive songbirds, we have your new favorite tool! Our “Which Birds, Which Plants?” feature will clue you in on the foods your yard birds love to eat, so that you can go plant them!
Sort options by region or type of food, then click on the resulting bird images to reveal the food preferences for that species. We’ve just added two new western species to the list: Spotted Towhee and Lesser Goldfinch. More additions are planned, but we also invite you to suggest a bird that you’d like to see featured here.
New Book for Bird Gardeners
Check out the new book Gardening For The Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard, by George Adams. We especially like the calendar for seasonal fruiting, which helps you plan for year-round fruits.
- Ask your question in our tech support community, powered by Get Satisfaction.
- Ask fellow participants your bird and plant questions in The Community, our social network for habitat stewards.
- Email us.