Lomatium californicum seed tray

Basic Seeding Methods for the Native Home Nursery

Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds provides seeds for native plant research at universities, botanical gardens, commercial nurseries, non-profits, and other professional fields; however, our largest customer base is composed of those who are propagating native plants in a home or homestead nursery on a small scale. Many have never grown native plants from seed before, but we’re here to help everyone succeed at growing the native plants they love from the wild. Grow Native, Grow Wild!

Basic Seeding Methods for the Native Home Nursery

When it comes to growing native plants on a small scale or in a home or homestead nursery, there are many methods one can take to propagate the seeds purchased from Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds. Small scale, DIY native plant propagation can be a fun and productive way to add native plants in your landscaping, or to increase native plant diversity on your land. Whether you want to grow a couple plants, or hundreds of plants, the methods we highlight may help your project succeed!

Large, commercial native plant nurseries utilize high-tech equipment to propagate native plants: soil mixers, seed flat fillers, seeding machines, dibblers, conveyor belts, misters, fertilizer injectors, walk-in refrigerators, seedling heat mats, etc. Even without all this equipment, however, home nurseries can still grow some amazing plants! Using simple methods you can grow like the pros in an efficient and inexpensive way. Home nurseries can use available containers already on hand to propagate native seed, or can purchase or reuse specialized containers specific for the species you are growing. From a tablespoon of seed placed in a single gallon-sized pot, to a dozen seed trays or a few seed flats, any size seed project will get you on your way to growing native plants.

perliteThe native home nursery can use bulk soil from soil suppliers, or readily available bags of soil from nursery supply stores or garden centers. Keep in mind that many very drought tolerant native plants will need extra drainage in the soil mix in order to prevent the roots from rotting. Adding extra perlite or pumice to the mix can give you the extra drainage needed to successfully grow native drought tolerant plants in containers.

Many of you may have developed your own tried and true methods over the years that work well for you. Everyone does things a little different and these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg — there’s always so many more exciting ideas out there! Experimentation is the key to successful native plant propagation.

Nurseries can use a lot of plastic, and with serious issues with plastic pollution around the world, it’s best to clean and reuse as many nursery supplies as possible. While growing native plants for the benefit of nature, we should be very conscious of the amount of garbage produced. If you need to purchase new containers or seed starting trays and other nursery supplies, Stuewe & Sons in Tangent, Oregon is a good place to find what you need.

The following seed sowing methods and options should be taken after learning the specific seed germination requirements for the species you are growing. Each product page we feature has seed germination requirements listed below the species description. Our seed packets also come with seed germination requirements right on the packets. For more information about seed germination please check out the links on our Seed Propagation page on our website.

Sowing Many Seeds in Single Containers

This method uses a single container to grow many seedlings for transplanting. Any size container will work, depending on the plant species. Seed is sprinkled onto the soil medium with the expectation that many seedlings will emerge within the single container. The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, poultry grit or nursery grit, depending on the species. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. Very small seeds and those that require light to germinate should remain uncovered on the soil surface. 

Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed. Transplanting involves “pricking out” the seedlings after loosening the soil medium around them. This method works well for species with fibrous root systems that are easy to transplant, but is not recommended for taprooted species that can be more difficult to transplant.

Pros: Sowing many seeds into single containers and “pricking out” transplants saves space in the nursery and is less work up front. Many plants can be grown from seed originally sown into only a single container.

Cons: If seed is sown too thickly dense seedlings can be susceptible to “damping off” and other diseases. Transplanting and “pricking out” can be laborious and time intensive.

Label your containers as you sow seed in them. It’s good to put the seed source information on the labels, along with the sowing date and any other relevant information you want to keep track of.

Seed Trays

There are many types of seed starting trays, with varying size cells and soil capacities. Starting seeds in seed trays is probably the most familiar method of native seed propagation. In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into individual cells within the seed tray. If several seedlings emerge within a single cell they can all be retained for a fuller plug, or they can be cut and thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per cell ensures at least one seed germinates in each cell.

The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, poultry grit or nursery grit, depending on the species. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. Very small seeds and those that require light to germinate should remain uncovered on the soil surface.

Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed. 

Pros: Each plug can be easily removed individually and transplanted into a larger container. Damage to roots is unlikely during transplanting if done with care.

Cons: Seed trays can take up a lot of space in the nursery. Some taprooted species may require deep seed trays to prevent transplant shock and/or root deformation. Most seed trays are 2.5″-3″ deep, but taprooted species may do better in deeper trays, like 5″ deep.

Seed Flats

Utilizing seed flats is similar to sowing seeds into individual containers, however, flats are generally larger and more shallow. Seed is sprinkled onto the soil medium with the expectation that many seedlings will emerge within the seed flat. The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, poultry grit or nursery grit, depending on the species. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. Very small seeds and those that require light to germinate should remain uncovered on the soil surface. 

Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed. Transplanting involves “pricking out” the seedlings after loosening the soil medium around them in the seed flat. This method works well for species with fibrous root systems that are easy to transplant, and is not recommended for taprooted species that can be more difficult to transplant, but experimentation is always good.

Pros: Sowing many seeds into seed flats and “pricking out” transplants saves space in the nursery and is less work up front. Many plants can be grown from seed originally sown into a single seed flat.

Cons: If seed is sown too thickly dense seedlings can be susceptible to “damping off” and other diseases. Transplanting and “pricking out” can be laborious and time intensive.

Small Pots

Much like a many-celled seed tray, placing many small pots into a tray and sowing seeds in them can also be a good way to grow individual plants without crowding. Any size small container can be used for this method. Do you have a lot of 4″ pots around from purchasing plants from nurseries or from veggie starts? Put them to use growing native plants!

Sow one to a few seeds per individual small container. The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, poultry grit or nursery grit, depending on the species. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. Very small seeds and those that require light to germinate should remain uncovered on the soil surface. 

Pros: Small plants can be grown directly into a container that can then be transplanted directly into the ground or upsized into a larger container. Root damage and transplant shock are minimized.

Cons: More soil is needed upfront to germinate seeds in individual small containers. This method takes up more space for germinating seeds than seed trays.

Pony Packs

Lupinus albicaulis seed tray
Seeding pony packs with native seeds

People that buy vegetable starts in the spring end up with a lot of extra pony packs that can then be reused to grow native plants.

In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into individual cells within the pony pack. If several seedlings emerge within a single cell they can all be retained for a fuller plug, or they can be cut and thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per cell ensures at least one seed germinates in each cell.

The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, poultry grit or nursery grit, depending on the species. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. Very small seeds and those that require light to germinate should remain uncovered on the soil surface.

Transplanting is normally done when two to three true leaves have developed. 

Pros: Each plug from a pony pack can be easily removed individually and transplanted into a larger container. Damage to roots is unlikely during transplanting if done with care.

Cons: Pony packs may be too shallow for some taprooted species that require deeper seed trays to prevent transplant shock and/or root deformation.

Tubes

Most home nurseries don’t have tubes on hand, however, if you find yourself with tubes you’ve bought from other nurseries, or were given tubes by someone to reuse, they are a great way to grow species that require a deep container, like taprooted species, or other species that are difficult to transplant.

In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into individual tubes. If several seedlings emerge within a single tube they can all be retained for a fuller plug, or they can be cut and thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per tube ensures at least one seed germinates in each tube.

The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, poultry grit or nursery grit, depending on the species. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. Very small seeds and those that require light to germinate should remain uncovered on the soil surface.

Pros: Great for taprooted species that need a deeper container for taproot growth. Individual plants can be grown in each tube, witch can then be easily planted in the ground or transplanted into a larger container when ready. Damage to roots is unlikely during transplanting if done with care.

Cons: Tubes require special trays to hold them, which can take up a lot of space in the nursery. Tubes and their trays can be expensive to purchase brand new.

Ellepots or Jiffypots

Ellepots and Jiffypots are examples of premade miniplugs or small-volume, mostly biodegradable containers that you can purchase for starting seeds. Products like these have fully or mostly biodegradable wrappers  and the entire plug can be transplanted, eliminating transplant shock and preserving healthy root structure. Take note that not all products like these are eco-friendly. Jiffy pellets (a type of Jiffy pot) have nylon mesh that is photo degradable that can break down in several years, but it is still a plastic product.

In this method either a single seed or several seeds are sown into Ellepots or Jiffypots. If several seedlings emerge within a single pot they can all be retained for a fuller plug, or they can be cut and thinned to a single seedling. Placing more than one seed per pot ensures at least one seed germinates in each pot.

The seed should be lightly covered with sieved potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, poultry grit or nursery grit, depending on the species. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. Very small seeds and those that require light to germinate should remain uncovered on the soil surface.

Pros: Ellepots and Jiffypots come premade and are easy to work with. After roots fill out the pots the entire pot can be transplanted without transplant shock.

Cons: Special trays may be required to hold Ellepots or Jiffypots, and the product is expensive and needs to be shipped to you unless you can purchase them at a local nursery supply stores. This method isn’t for everyone and a small trial run should be made before investing heavily in Ellepots or Jiffypots. Also, make sure the soil mix is right for the species you will be growing. Jiffy pellets are primarily composed of peat moss, which is beneficial for some species but not for others.

Sowing seeds vs. germinates (i.e. sowing sprouts)

Depending on the species being grown, some people prefer to germinate seed prior to sowing the seed. Seed germination requirements are followed to trigger seed germination and then germinates are individually planted into containers. This ensures that each container will have a viable plant, without the risk of germination failure, wasting less soil and creating a more uniform planting. This method is definitely not necessary, but it may be worth a try if you are unsure about the germination success of a certain seed lot, and you just want to be sure each container has a viable, germinating seed.

Pros: There is a higher seedling establishment rate and less soil wasted on “blanks” or seed that doesn’t germinate.

Cons: It is more work up front to germinate seeds ahead of sowing.

Nursery Manual For Native Plants: A Guide for Tribal Nurseries

Seed Germination and Sowing Options

For more detailed information on seed germination and sowing options you may find the following link helpful:

https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_series/wo/wo_ah730/wo_ah730_133_151.pdf

Happy Planting!

If you have any further questions email us at klamathsiskiyou@gmail.com

Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds