Growing Plants from Seed

Mule's Ears

A plant that is definitely not easy in garden culture is Mule’s Ears (Wyethia species) and there are several look-alikes—all native California sunflowers. I recognized a very large patch of Mule’s Ears growing on a south facing slope in the open space east of my house.

Some California Native Wildflowers to Grow from Seed

All of these native annual wildflowers are great for pollinators and other beneficial insects!

Clarkia unguiculata / Mountain Garland
The blooms of this native clarkia range from white, pale pink, salmon, and bright pink to magenta—all on the same plant. Flowers in full sun or partial shade. Clarkia grows in sandy, well-drained soils, but also thrives in clay soil. Spring blooms, 1-3 ft. tall, drought tolerant, moderate water for best flowering display.

Growing Milkweed From Seed

Milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies

Asclepias fascicularis
Milkweeds provide important resources for many beneficial creatures, including Monarch butterflies. The fine leaves of this native milkweed gives it’s a soft, wispy look. The plant isn’t long-lived, but reseeds itself readily. Summer blooms, 3’ tall, low water, full sun, dormant in winter.

Natives for a Meadow Garden

Some of my favorite annual wildflowers are the gilias, and the whole genus is pretty much deer-proof. I like globe gilia (Gilia capitata) with its round heads of small blue flowers; these grow wild on Mt. Burdell. I haven’t seen bird’s-eye gilia (Gilia tricolor) in the wild in Marin, but I sure love it in my garden. It does fine in the ground or in containers, and the intricate coloring of the delicate flowers is a true marvel. Even more marvelous is the turquoise pollen!

Transplanting Tips

If you are working with old seed you can do a simple viability test before sowing.  Use a damp paper towel, lay ten seeds onto one-half of the towel, fold the other half over, and keep moist. Watch for the development of the radicle; the number of seeds that germinate will give you a rough percentage of viabilty of your seed.

Creating a Meadow Garden

The days are still warm and we’re all hoping, once again, that this will be an El Niño year with ample rainfall and a good snow pack in the Sierras. The days are noticeably shorter, and the evenings are much cooler. The shorter day length is a cue to many native plants and seeds that the season of growth in California is arriving; now we just need the rains!

How Does a Seed Form?

The flowers of a plant are designed for the purpose of making seeds. If a flower is pollinated, then fertilization can take place, and a seed develops in the ovary of the plant. This is sexual reproduction, and ensures genetic diversity. As the fertilized seed develops, so does the fruit (pome, pod, or capsule, etc.) which surrounds the seed.


Helping Seeds Sprout

Some seeds have built-in mechanisms that prevent germination until ideal conditions are met. Even when perfect conditions are met, some of the ‘seed bank’ of a species will not germinate. They will wait, often camouflaged in the duff, as an insurance policy against a possibly disastrous growing season.


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