Native Plants

Propagating Natives

Summer is the time to enjoy mature native plants. Most are at their peak and it is the ideal time to start window shopping for plants that you want in your yard. Once they start to mature, you can collect seed or take cuttings to propagate them. And it is easier than you think! It’s also fun!

Growing from seed has the least impact on existing populations and can provide you with the most satisfaction. When the seed head or fruit is fully developed and mature (dark-colored seeds with seed head about to burst), harvest them from friends’ gardens or from crown lands. If they are not fully ripe, leave them as they are underdeveloped and won’t germinate. Avoid collecting from parks since all plants are protected. Take only 10% of the seed in a patch to allow for other consumers – such as insects, birds and wildlife – as well as leaving enough for the plants to reproduce.

Many books state that growing from seed can be difficult and that there are long dormancy periods. Not so for most of the common species. Simply collect them (for berries separate the flesh from the seeds by mashing and sieving) and dry them on a tissue for a few days at room temperature. Then plant immediately in pots, flats or the ground or wait for fall to plant. By planting immediately, you can avoid the longer dormancy some seeds go into when dried out. Some species will germinate in the fall and start actively growing in the spring. A few species need two winters to germinate, such as roses and trilliums.

To store seeds, dry them thoroughly and place in airtight labeled containers (ideally with dessicants – the little bags found in pill bottles) and place in the lower part of your fridge. Germination rates of stored annuals is very low so plant them the first year you collect them. Some quick success plants are Fringecup (perennial), Oregon Sunshine (perennial), Saskatoon berry (shrub), Red Osier Dogwood (shrub) and maples. All do well in full sun and well-drained mixed soils. Trade your favorites with other native plant gardeners. You will need to be patient for some of the lily species as they can take 3 to 7 years from seed to flower-but they are worth it!

For some species, such as vines, cuttings are the easiest way to propagate. They can be taken from the stem tip, from where a branch joins the stem (heel) or the root.

Take care to select plants at the correct stage of growth depending on the species- soft wood (early spring), or greenwood (late summer) or hardwood (fall/winter) stems. High air humidity is essential for cuttings during root establishment. Placing them in a clear plastic bag helps. Plants like Honeysuckle and Trailing blackberry are best taken as greenwood.

Match young plant placement in your yard to their natural growing conditions, looking at light and moisture levels and soil conditions. Try to duplicate their ideal soil conditions in nature by experimenting with different soil combinations: organic material, mineral soil, sand, vermiculite etc. Keep soil moist but not wet unless the plant loves water!

For detailed propagation tips, a great handbook to have is American Horticulture Society Plant Propagation Edited by Alan Toogood, available through Malaspina University College Library. Go have some fun with native plants!