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Growing from seed

Sources of native seeds

Small quantities


Promotional seed packets

  • American Meadows (Always obtain the exact species composition with botanical names to make sure they are actually native here.)

If you know of other sources we should add, email

Direct sowing vs. sowing in pots - Warning!

It isn’t easy to grow most native plants by sowing seeds directly in the ground. Careful ground preparation to achieve seed-to-soil contact is essential (and is more easily achieved by planting the seeds first in pots.) Viability time can be short in some cases. Many seeds have to be cold stratified - meaning given conditions resembling winter - for a couple months. Direct sowing into the ground makes sense for starting a large meadow where you can start with bare soil, especially if you can use a seed sowing machine. For adding plants to an existing garden or meadow, it is much smarter to grow the seeds first in pots then transplant. Otherwise, direct sowing will result in your little seeds mostly being eaten by birds and rodents and being overwhelmed by neighboring plants.


How to start native seeds in pots

Donna Murphy and Laura Beaty shared their experience with growing from seed in the propogation beds of the Virginia Native Plant Society - Potowmack Chapter.


Start your seeds in November or December so they will have enough time in the cold.

  • Prepare your pots, which could be long trays. 

    • Make sure the drainage holes are big enough. Good drainage is essential.

    • Add a couple inches of dead leaves to the bottom

    • Add potting soil. You could use a commercial mix, such as Organic Mechanics (carried by DePaul's and by Whole Foods, and can be ordered online). Or make your own by combining 1/3 garden soil, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 construction sand (coarser than play sand.)

  • Scatter the seeds on the surface, an inch or two apart.

    • Cover with a little potting mixture, only planting the same depth as the seed is wide.

    • Label the pots with the species.

  • Cover with wire mesh (hardware cloth). (Deer netting is not a good idea because birds and snakes get caught in it.) Weigh it down so the squirrels can't dislodge it.

  • Leave the pots outside in the weather over the winter.

  • After germination, wait until the plants have one or two sets of true leaves (as opposed to the initial cotyledon leaves) and look a little sturdy.

    • Carefully separate the roots

    • Transplant them into individual pots.

  • Grow them out for at least two more weeks until transplanting into the soil.

Saving seeds from your flowers

Your own garden (or those of your friends) is your source of free seeds. We strongly discourage collecting from the wild, since our dwindling natural areas need all the seeds they can get, and of course it is illegal to collect from public land without a permit.

  • Collect the seeds after they dry up, typically a couple months after blooming.

  • Clean thoroughly of all material other than the seeds themselves. Throw out any seeds with holes in them.

  • Store in paper bags (never plastic), with labels. Do not refrigerate. 

  • Label carefully with the name and date.


Shared with the permission of Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. See ASNV's upcoming programs here

For stabilization, restoration and dams

These species do not require a period of cold weather. It is still best to sow them in pots first.
Rudbeckia species (Rudbeckia hirta is popular for promotional events)
Lobelia species (requires light to germinate.)
Helianthus species
Oenothera species


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