Starting Native Plants

ChiloquinNews article 6/13/2011

More and more, people are beginning to realize that natives make a wonderful addition to the garden.  Since they are growing all around us, most of us would rather try to start them ourselves than buy them, and anyway, it’s quite difficult to find them for sale. They are certainly not available at any of the big stores, and most nurseries don’t have them either. I found them earlier this spring online, and mail-ordered some that I know are difficult to start, but now even that company has closed down.

 I have had success with Penstemmon, Scarlet Gilia, Oregon Sunshine, Sulphur Buckwheat, Flax, Sildalcea,  Lupine, Yarrow, Pearly Everlasting, and bunch grasses.  I have not had success with Indian Paintbrush or Cow Parsnip and have had limited success with Mule’s Ears, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Fireweed and Mahala Mat.

Let me say right away, that for most plants it has never worked for me to plant seeds, and goodness knows, I’ve certainly tried. What I have found though, is that once I get a plant established, it is able to sow its own seeds with great success! The only exception to this is dwarf lupine, which I have been able to get started from seeds, if they are spread about in the fall, and winter over in the ground.

 For most plants I begin with seedlings that I dig and transplant. You have to be careful though. Don’t take too many and certainly don’t take any if there are not a lot about. You need to be able to recognize the seedling when it has less than 4 leaves.  Anything bigger than that will have a root that goes too deep, and can’t be dug successfully. The trick is to get the whole root in a trowel full of soil and move the entire thing to its new location without ever disturbing the roots.  When to do this is also important. It’s best to do it as early in spring as possible. It’s really too late now. You need lots of cool, rainy weather to help the seedling overcome the shock of transplanting. If you do it now, then you need to transplant to a pot, and keep it in the shade and well watered. Then you can plant it out in the garden in fall. Don’t plant anything out in the heat of summer.

 Since it’s not always easy to find seedlings, there are some plants that can be started from cuttings. Penstemmon, Oregon Sunshine and Sulphur Buckwheat fall into this category. If you can find a stem that you can take off right at ground level and perhaps get a few roots then that’s even better. Always start the cuttings in pots in a shady place and keep them well watered. Don’t put them out in the hot sun. Once they are well established then they can be planted out in fall, and the following fall they will reward you with seedlings of their own that you can then transplant to your heart’s content.

Don’t try to move annuals. They’ll just die and then won’t make seeds at all for their replacement. And if you should be fortunate enough to stumble across a wild orchid – don’t touch it! They are rare, and need to be preserved in their own habitat.

A wildflower garden can be truly beautiful. Most of these plants were self-seeded.

Seedlings sprouting in my wildflower garden this spring:

Penstemmon, Scarlet Gilia, Lupine, Flax, Oregon Sunshine. At this size they can be successfully moved.

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