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Winter Seed Germination

It’s still winter but many native species are eager to get a jump start on growth by germinating during some of the coldest months of the year. It’s February and the nights are getting down into the low 20s and we continue getting dustings of snow off and on at our backwoods homestead at 2,200′ elevation in the Siskiyou Mountains, but little seedlings are still emerging during these cold, wintry conditions, roused by the necessity to get roots established quickly before the summer drought season arrives. 

Some native species have seeds that germinate in the fall with early fall rain, and the seedlings remain small and don’t put on any above ground growth during the winter, waiting for a quick spurt of growth in the spring. Winter germinating species, on the other hand, start to germinate as the first tinges of spring arrive, when buds on dormant trees and shrubs start to swell, and the earliest blooming wildflowers are emerging from frozen or rain soaked ground on sunny winter days.

Shortspur seablush (Plectritis congesta) germinating in early February 2023

Some of these native seeds have germinated in winter only after some necessary duration of cold-moist stratification, while others may have germinated more than a year after the seeds were initially sown, having chose not to germinate the first year, but rather wait until the following winter. Some annual species that don’t have any pretreatment or cold-moist stratification requirements will also germinate during the cold winter months, getting a jump start on growth because they need time to grow, flower and set seed in one growing season.

Here at Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, we pride ourselves on growing most of the native species we sell seed for in order to test seed germination and understand the growing requirements in the nursery setting or in the direct seeding environment. There’s no better way to understand native seeds than to collect, clean and grow them! Growing native plants from seed is a satisfying and joyful endeavor like no other. It helps one get to know native plants better, how they grow and how they function in the larger ecology of the region. In this case, it helps us understand which species will germinate in the fall, winter or spring, or which species will grow whenever the hell they want to — because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that we always have more to learn, and native plant seeds will surely surprise you! We love having a small nursery to test out seed germination, seedling growth, and general growing requirements to help better serve our customers and answer questions they may have about our seeds.

The following is a photo essay of the native seeds germinating in early February 2023 in the Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds nursery.

Amsinckia menziesii-Menzies’ fiddleneck

Plectritis congesta-Shortspur seablush

Prosartes hookeri-Hooker’s fairybells