In the northeast, winter’s dreary cold can almost make us forget the glorious spectacle and fun of summer. A close connection to the land and growing things starts to feel like a distant memory, but many gardeners and nature lovers overcome this by engaging in winter seed sowing projects. There are several styles of winter seed sowing, including the uncomplicated free throwing version demonstrated by my farmer friend in the photo above, with Eupatorium dubium seeds. There’s really no wrong way to do this method of wildflower seed sowing, as long as seeds are spread early enough in the season to allow the process of stratification (and/or scarification)- the freezing and thawing to crack the tough perennial seed hull- to complete. When spreading seeds freely outside in the winter, we are always careful to limit our species choices to wildflowers native to New York state, because native plants begin the process of habitat restoration by supplying food to our native wildlife.
Another, more controlled method of winter seed sowing is a simple project utilizing the clear plastic containers that spinach, kale or salad greens come in. Some people also use milk gallons and clear soda bottles. This works by creating a modified greenhouse effect: the environment inside the plastic container warms up and accentuates the sunlight each day, even though it is many times smaller than the greenhouses used in commercial nurseries. Holes must be cut into the tops and bottoms of each container for ventilation and drainage purposes. A fine layer of soil or other light organic potting material is layered with seeds and hope.
It’s exciting to know the quiet process of seed germination is happening on our back porch through the snowy, icy dark months of the year. Our favorite plant species native to Saratoga are represented including Vernonia noveboracensis (NY Ironweed), Asclepias incarnata (classic Monarch butterfly larval host plant, Swamp Milkweed), Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset), Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinalflower) and Eupatorium maculata (Joe Pye Weed). A project like this has no guarantee on success, in fact it feels a lot like a crap shoot. Regardless of the outcome though, winter seed sowing projects are fun. They enlarge our imagination’s space for daydreams of nature, and they make spring feel that much closer.