Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tips on Saving and/or Buying Seed for Woodlanders and Ephemerals

Trillium sessile
Last week I wrote a post on growing native woodland plants and ephemerals from seed.  The link for that post is here:  In that post I discussed some tips for success when growing those particular plants but I really did not elaborate on which plants tolerate dry storage and which don't.  So this week I will give specifics on saving the seed of some certain plant species and how to keep them "fresh" for later sowing.  This also applies to purchased seed-do not purchase seed from the "fresh" list if it is packed and stored dry.  Chances are you will have delayed, minimum or no germination at all.  I have waited years for many a seed to germinate only to give up and throw them in the compost.  It wasn't until I started researching specific plant species that I realized it probably was not me. 
Arisaema dracontium

Most ephemerals and quite a few woodland species are what botany experts call "hydrophilic" meaning they are intolerant of dry storage.  So much of your success on growing these plants from seed is based on their storage.  In the seed trade you will find some seed sellers list that their seeds are either stored "fresh", dry/cold storage or dry storage.  For this reason it is important to know the species of the plant in order to know not only it's germination requirements but also it's seed storage requirements.  
Mertensia virginica

In order for seeds to be packed "fresh" they need to be cleaned then stored in moist medium (usually vermiculite or sand).  Here is how to pack your seeds when they need to be stored "fresh":
1.  Place your seeds in a strainer and run them under water to clean them.  If they are fleshy you will want to squish them between your fingers to remove the pulp.  Rinse thoroughly and remove debris.
2.  Remove them from strainer and place on damp paper towel.
3.  Put some sand or vermiculite in a container and dampen it.  It does not need to be soaking wet.
4.  Add your seeds and mix them with your vermiculite or sand:
5.  Label a plastic bag with the seed name:
6.  Add your seeds and close up.  I will usually store mine in the refrigerator until I trade or sow them unless the seeds require a warm-cold-warm treatment (if they do then I proceed with the warm treatment).

The following species should be sown when ripe or kept "fresh" for optimum germination (this is NOT a complete list-it is only a list of species I have dealt with):

Amenopsis (not native)
Anemone (some)
Aralia (some)
Caltha palustris

Cornus (some)
Hydrastis (Goldenseal)
Jeffersonia (Twinleaf)
Helleborus (not native)

Sanguinaria (Bloodroot)
Trillium grandiflorum


Some species of seeds can be stored dry but their viability will drop off quickly if not sown within a reasonable amount of time.  Some of them will have their viability drop off quickly.  Below is a list of species that can tolerate dry or dry/cold storage but remember that they can lose viability after a period of time:

Actaea (I prefer to store mine "fresh" for better germination)
Anemone (some)
Arisaema (I prefer to store mine "fresh" for better germination)
Arisaema triphyllum

Clematis (some)

Geranium maculatum

Thalictrum dioicum


Just know that when dealing with with any seed saving or storing it is best to do research on the species to ensure you handle them appropriately.  Research, research, research!  Also, if you are dealing with any of these species or any other ephemerals they are best sown immediately after ripening if at all possible.  Follow these tips and you can be successful storing and propagating them at a later date.

I hope this post has been useful for you-if you have any questions or comments just leave them below.

As always-Happy Planting!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tips on Growing Native Woodland Plants and Ephemerals from Seed

Geranium maculatum is easy from seed
Do you want to add native plants to your garden but find they can be a little pricey?  Most native plant nurseries can charge an arm and a leg just for a small division of a plant and rightly so.  Native plants-especially woodlanders and ephemerals-can take a long time to reach a size they can sell.  This means that they have a lot of time and money invested in their plants.  One solution to the high cost of acquiring these plants is through seed propagation.  For less than the cost of 1 plant you can purchase a pack of seeds (usually around 20) and grow them yourself.  Now I have to warn you-sometimes this requires patience.  It isn't like growing a pack of Zinnias.  You might not get germination a week after sowing but if you treat the native plant seed as required you will have success with seeds and will be greatly rewarded. 

Through seed propagation I have slowly increased my collection of plants including native plants over the last few years.  I do this by either purchasing seed from a reliable source or from collecting my own seed.  I have had both successes and failures with this-but at least I didn't have a huge amount of money invested in the failures.  As I stated earlier-growing natives from seed is not for the impatient.  While some native plants are easy and quick to germinate from seed such as Agastache or Rudbeckia others such as Lilium and Clintonia can take a very long time.  The key to growing Ephemerals and woodlanders is FRESH SEED or seed that is stored correctly.  
Uvularia spp. should be kept "fresh" or sown immediately
Lilium superbum took 5 years to bloom from seed

Rudbeckia triloba is very easy to grow from seed

One confession I do need to make-once in a while I will purchase a mature plant just for the possibility of getting seeds from the plant especially if my attempts at germination have failed.  I have done this with Asarum canadense or Canada Ginger.  I had tried a few times to have success growing Canada Ginger from seed with no luck.  So  a few years ago I purchased a couple of pots of it from my local Master Gardener's sale just so I had it finally.  No worries though-they were cheap:-))  Now I can get seed from my own plants or let them slowly spread on their own. 

Asarum canadense flower 
Once my native plants reach seed producing size I collect and save the seeds or plant them immediately depending on the species.  I find that native woodlanders and ephemerals do best sown immediately or if you want to save them keep them "fresh".  By this I mean that you clean them and then store them in damp vermiculite in the refrigerator until you plan on sowing them.  Below are some pics of how to sow immediately (direct sow) for best germination rates:

1.  Locate a plant with seeds that have ripened (different plant seeds ripen at different times).
Maianthemum racemosum (False Solomon's Seal) with ripened seeds
Arisaema tripyhllum (Jack in the Pulpit) with ripened seeds
 2.  Pull seeds off of the plant (note: use gloves-some plants have seeds that can be toxic/irritating to the skin).
3.  Squish seeds in your hands (with gloves on) to loosen the seed coat.

4.  Sow seeds in suitable location where you would like them to grow.  Be sure to pull back any mulch.
5.  Cover up with mulch and wait:-))
6.  You should have germination the following Spring or Summer.
False Solomon's Seal from the previous Fall
Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the Pulpit) seedlings sown last Fall
 If you have critters like squirrels you might want to protect the area until the plants are large enough to hold their own.  I have lost many a plant from squirrels digging or rabbits tasting and nothing is worse.

If you purchase seeds you can handle them the same way.  Just find a location, pull back the mulch, throw the seeds down and recover with the mulch.  If the seeds are viable you should have germination (in some instances it can take a couple years).  I have purchased Panax (Ginseng) seeds online and sowed them like this and had pretty decent germination.

Another way I have had success starting native plants is with wintersowing.  Wintersowing is a process of sowing your seeds in a container and letting nature take it's course.  It is very similar to Fall seeding except you use containers to give protection from animals and the elements.  I have been using this process since 2007 and have had wonderful success with it.  I will be doing a post on wintersowing in the future but if you want to know how to do it now here is a link to learn more:  You can also visit the Gardenweb Forum dedicated to wintersowing here:
Aralia nudicaulis seedlings that were wintersown
Variety of plants grown using the wintersown method

Now, if you don't have seeds but want to purchase them I suggest you purchase from a reputable source.  Most native woodlander and ephemeral seed is not treated correctly and when it is not your probability of germination drops dramatically.  I have ordered and received seed from plants such as Trillium and Uvullaria that was stored dry.  This seed had low if any germination at all.  If the source of your seed does not state whether it is packed fresh then ask them how it is treated.  Don't waste your money on seeds that aren't packed fresh-the dry/cold storage some seed sellers use is not enough to keep the seeds viable.  If you are looking for a reliable source I suggest  All of her seed is of excellent quality, gives planting instructions and is properly packaged according to requirements.  She also has an excellent variety of seeds that is totally drool-worthy. 
Stylophorum diphyllum that was wintersown

You might be asking yourself "How do I know how a certain plant species needs to be treated?"  I say find yourself an informative source to use.  My go-to book for this subject is The New England Wild Flower Society Guide To Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada.  It is a bit expensive but it has been an excellent source of information on almost all of the native plants I grow.  I purchased it off of a few years ago.   I also use an online source for information regarding all kinds of seed information.  The link is:  You can also use Google to find information on germinating individual species.  I find I get the correct information I need when using the Latin name of the plant when doing Google searches.

Another important thing to remember when trying to grow woodlanders and ephemerals is making sure they are sited correctly when planting them out.  You don't want to take the time to grow one of these plants from seed to only have it perish from being planted in the wrong conditions.  So make sure that when you do your research to find out how to grow the plant also get it's growing conditions.  You won't have much luck growing Panax in full sun and sand or a cactus in damp shade so remember "Right Plant, Right Place".
Mertensia virginica growing in shade in rich well-drained soil
 So for success just remember these tips for seed propagation of woodlanders and ephemerals:
1.  Buy from a reputable source.
2.  Do your research.
3.  Find a method that works for you and for the seed.
4.  Be patient!
5.  Right plant, right place

Seedlings from various plants I have direct sowed in the Fall

I hope I have given you the information you need to be successful at growing your own woodland plants from seed.  I know that if it wasn't for seed propagation I would not be able to afford to grow as many species of plants in my garden as I have now.  This information is also useful to expand the amount of existing plants you have without having to dig them up and divide them.  I find dividing my woodlanders a little bit too invasive for my taste and they can grow quite slowly so sometimes it is not an option.  If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below.   And as always-

Happy Planting!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reasons Why You Should Grow Thyme-It's Not Just For Herb Gardens

If you had to choose one herb to grow in your garden what would it be?  For me it would be Thyme.  I love it and can't imagine not having it.  There are many reasons why I love this plant-but the main reason is the fragrance.  Heck-that is really the main reason I grow herbs in the first place.  Thyme is highly aromatic that begs to be touched to release it's odor.  I just love walking past it and giving it a rub so that I can get a whiff.  I grow different varieties of Thyme in my garden-but my favorite is Common Thyme or Thymus vulgaris.

Thyme growing indoors in a sunny window
Thyme growing outside zone 5

Here are some reasons to grow Thyme in your garden:

Thyme is easy to propagate-you can either start this plant from seed or from cuttings. I usually grow mine from seed and never had an issue with germination.  I both wintersow and start them indoors under lights.

Thyme is easy to grow-all it needs is well drained soil and plenty of sun.  They do not necessarily need full sun-I have success growing Thyme in part shade in my gardens. It is also one of the easiest herbs to overwinter indoors.

Thyme is delicious-it works in all kinds of recipes and soups and works well with other herbs.  I especially like using it with garlic in recipes and in soups.  Just trim off sprigs with a pair of scissors when you need it.

Thyme has many varieties to choose from-not only is there common Thyme but there are lemon scented, orange scented, caraway scented, variegated, wooly, the list goes on.
Wooly Thyme

Thyme is a hardy perennial-grows in zones 4-9.  It might need to be mulched heavily in the northern part of the growing zone.
 Lemon Thyme in winter

Thyme works well with other plants-not only do I grow it in a container, I have it growing in my flower beds with my perennials.
White flowered variegated Thyme

Thyme makes and excellent ground cover-varieties such as Wooly Thyme, Creeping Thyme and Mother of Thyme are short and make excellent ground covers along walkways and edges.  They are also a great addition to Fairy gardens and Rock gardens.
"Twist of Lemon" Thyme makes a great aromatic ground cover

Thyme is deer and rabbit resistant-because of it's pungent odor it is rarely ever bothered by critters in my garden.
Silver Thyme

Thyme is insect and disease resistant-I personally have never had an issue with either on my plants.

Thyme is attractive to pollinators-especially bees.

Thyme is evergreen-even in the northern zones.  It provides winter interest in your garden and you can enjoy Thyme all year as long as it isn't covered in snow.
Thyme in winter

Thyme is easy to grow in a container-I have a pot of it on my front steps all summer and then I haul it in when it gets cold. 

Thyme is drought tolerant-in fact the flavor intensifies with a little neglect.

Thyme has health benefits-it has been touted as an anti-septic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, etc. and is used in aromatherapy.
 Lemon Thyme

So, I hope I have given you enough reasons why Thyme would be a wonderful addition to your garden.  There are so many wonderful varieties to choose from that you might have a difficult "thyme" picking just one!  If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them in the comment section:-))  Until next time-

Happy Planting!

Friday, November 28, 2014

DIY Concrete Candle Holders from Pringle and Coffee Cans

Concrete candle holders made from Pringles cans and a coffee can
Concrete isn't just for sidewalks or garden decor-it is an extremely versatile medium that can be used for a ton of different projects.  Even those for the inside of your house.  Not only is concrete versatile  it is extremely easy to work with once you get the hang of using it.  I tell everyone it is a lot like Jello-you make it, put it in a mold, wait for it to firm up, then unmold it.  It is that easy!  I personally prefer to make my own concrete-but it is entirely OK to buy it in a bag or bucket.  That's why they sell it:-))  One thing I have to mention is if you are making smaller projects make sure the product does not contain large gravel or rock.  You can sift it out if you can not find any without.

Molds for concrete projects are really easy to find.  Many household containers can be used.  I stay away from items that can not be easily cut away if the concrete gets stuck.  Nothing is worse than struggling to release your piece.  Plastic is usually my first choice-but I will give just about anything a try.  With this project I chose some Pringles cans and coffee cans-which are not really cans at all.  They are cardboard sides with a metal bottom.  The metal bottom is important-it prevents the weight of the concrete from sagging and making an uneven bottom on the finished product.  Here is a pic of what I mean:
Bottom of coffee can
A bottom like this will not work for a stable bottom-it will sag when filled with concrete:
Bottom of a bread crumb container

There are many different containers that you could use for this project-just raid your recycling bin.  You will also need molds for the inside-something a little bit larger than the candle you want to use.  I used small condiment containers and a lid from my cooking spray.  Here are some containers and interior molds that could be used:
Here is what you will need for this project:
1.  A concrete mix or recipe  (A good "recipe" for this project: 1 part portland cement/3 parts sand/
1/2 part water-I use a cottage cheese container as measurement )
2.  Good quality mask
3.  Gloves
4.  Bucket or tub to mix in
5.  Empty Pringles cans and/or coffee cans
6.  Mold release spray-I use cooking spray. 

To start this project you need to spray the molds with the mold release and then wipe it off.  You do not want a heavy coating of it-it will cause excess air holes if excess is not wiped out. 

Next you need to mix your dry ingredients in your tub or bucket-if you are using a mix just pour it in (don't forget your mask and gloves!).  After your dry ingredients are mixed start adding water.  Start with half of the amount then add more slowly as you mix to get the consistency you want.  It should be almost like peanut butter.

After you have it mixed it needs to sit for about 10 minutes to hydrate.  Don't worry-you have plenty of time before it hardens:-))

After 10 minutes you can begin filling your molds-don't fill it all the way. 
Tap the sides to release air bubbles:
I like to firmly tap it on the ground to make sure the concrete settles and to release even more air bubbles:
After you have tapped it fill the interior mold with some sand or rocks (for weight) then set it in the center and press it down into the concrete.  Do not push it all the way-leave it sticking up a little so you have something to grab when you pull it out.

Here are the three I filled for this project:
Let them sit for at least 24 hours to set before you unmold them.  Trust me on this:-)) 

To clean up fill your tub or bucket with water and let it set until the sediment settles on the bottom.  After it has settled you can pour the water off then scrape the sediment up and put it in a bag and dispose of it.  Never dump concrete or the sediment down the drain.  It will ruin your drains.  

When the concrete is set pull the interior molds out (it is easier when the rocks or sand are dumped out).  Here I used a pair of pliers:

Now take a pair of scissors and snip the top of the mold:
Then take your hands and start pulling the paper off:

For a smooth finish on top you need to sand it.  I just use a sheet of snadpaper and rub it until it is smooth:

Rinse the concrete off-try to get rid of the sand from rubbing it with sandpaper.  Your next step is an important one.  It is the "cure".  In order for concrete to cure properly it needs to stay wet and the temperature should stay above 55 degrees.  I always try to water cure my items-it is the easiest and best way to accomplish a good cure for smaller items.  This will take a week.  I just fill a plastic tub with water and place the items in changing the water daily.
After a week pull them out of the water, rinse them off and let them dry. 
When they are completely dry you can paint decorate them if you would like.  I spray painted mine with gold spray paint.  Here is what I did:

I then coated them with a concrete sealer and let them dry.
Here they are all done:-))
I really love the way they look-perfect for holiday decorating or for a nice handmade gift.  You can paint or decorate them any color you would like.  Here is a pic of three I made using brown dye in the mix:
If you are concerned about them scratching your furniture you can cut a piece of felt or cork and glue them to the bottom or you can use the lids from the cans. 

I hope you give this project a try!  As with all of my projects you can tailor them to suit your taste and style.  If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below.  Until next time-

Happy Planting!