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  • Writer's pictureljmarkson

Native Plants to Winter Sow for Summer Blooms This Year

I thought I was done winter sowing in the first week of January when I planted 100 different native plant seeds and put the trays outside to sprout this spring. Most of the native plants I’m growing from seed are perennials that can take as long as three years to bloom which is fine for my ongoing effort to create biodiverse density in my small yard. This week I realized I’d like to have more native seedlings that will bloom the first year so I can share them in several ways.

  • It would be nice have seedlings that will have flowers this year and self-seed for next to give to anyone who takes free plants from my mini-nature kiosk.

  • When I meet anyone who is just starting out using native plants, I tell them about great local native plant nurseries and sales and somehow feel compelled to help get them started by also sharing a plant from my yard that I know they’ll have success with.

  • I’ve started to explore what native plants work well for container gardening. The trend shift from the clichéd and outdated thriller, filler, and spiller aesthetic to a more contemporary native meadow planter look is an encouraging sign. The following plants would look lovely in planters and may even self-seed. Bidens alba, partridge pea, and Stone Mountain daisy have done this in my planters.

  • I've also become involved in the Intown Atlanta Georgia Native Plant Society and ambitiously want to have seedlings to give to anyone who attends our spring or summer events this year. (Stay tuned for the roll out of the calendar of events!)

Now I just need to decide which seeds to plant…or maybe I’ll mix all the sun-loving prairie-friendly seeds and make little micro-meadow pots to share!

Native Seeds to Winter Sow for Summer Blooms This Year The list includes a shout out to a couple plants to put on your radar for next year because it may be a little too late to find seeds or winter sow them this year. I explain the reasons for each.

  • Bidens alba's ridiculously high germination rate makes it a perfect annual to winter sow for late summer blooms. It grows 2-4 feet tall and likes sunny average to dry areas. Like many annuals, it is unassuming until it takes off and starts blooming like crazy! This year a bidens alba patch in a protected area on the side of my house survived multiple light frosts and only turned brown after the first hard freeze. For more detailed information about this pollinator powerhouse see my post from last fall called Don't Overlook Bidens Alba as an Essential Georgia Native Pollinator Plant

Most of my bidens alba photos have pollinators on them! I'm not sure what kind of sulphur butterfly this is, but bidens alba is a host plant for the dainty sulphur butterfly.
  • Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is a sun loving annual that grows 2-3 feet in partially sunny areas with average or dry soil where it easily self-seeds. It’s also called sensitive plant because the leaves close-up when touched. Countless bees climb inside to pollinate partridge pea and birds eat the seeds. As a bonus, partridge pea is a host plant for three sulphur butterflies and one of the many plants the grey hairstreak butterfly uses as a host plant. The dried seed pods pop open when they’re ready to fling the seeds. I once had a fortunate and memorable fall moment walking by a field at the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center in Chattanooga when I heard an odd and distinct sound and realized as I looked closer the sound was coming from the dried partridge pea pods popping open! (You can see this in the video section of the blog). The seeds are fairly easy to find, and I bought mine at a local seed source called Botony Yards.

Buzzy bumblebees adore partridge pea. If you look closely, you can see the big golden pollen pocket on this little guy!
  • Golden or Plains tickseed (coreopsis tinctoria) is a short, 1-3 foot annual with vibrant yellow flowers and a reddish-brown center. It prefers sunny, damp areas but grows easily with less sun or moisture. I hope it self-seeds but won’t know until this year how prolifically since last year was the first year I grew it. Golden tickseed attracts small native bees and butterflies, and small birds like finches eat the seeds.

Cheery golden tickseed would make a great native plant for a patio container. Pollinators will thank you!
  • Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is a true native wildflower species you might see growing in a sunny abandoned urban parking lot or along a country roadside. If it wasn’t so common, it would be highly valued for the adorable, fringed daisy flowers. I have a hard time telling the difference between the annual and perennial fleabanes (Erigeron philadelphicus) so I’m not sure which is fortuitously growing in my yard. It is impossible to find seeds because fleabane is considered a broadleaf “lawn weed” by the same folks who make their money selling the poison that kills fleabane by advertising the environmentally toxic idea of a perfect monoculture lawn (sorry for the unavoidable mini rant!). I’m not including fleabane as one of the plants to winter sow because the seeds are not easy to find. I'm including fleabane on this list to encourage letting grow if you find it in your yard or asking a native plant loving friend let you collect some seeds from plants growing in their yard so you can add fleabane your yard ecosystem. Any native plant covered in tiny pollinating bees and butterflies when in bloom is welcome wherever it pops up in my yard!

Fleabane is a lovely native flower that attracts a variety of small pollinating insects.
  • Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) is 2-3-foot-tall orange and yellow annual or short-lived perennial depending on where it is grown. Firewheel is native and naturalized throughout North America. I learned through experience that firewheel loves sunny, dry areas and will die out and not self-seed where there is poor drainage. It is a nectar plant for bees and butterflies but not a host plant. The little finches in my yard love picking at the seedheads. The firewheel I winter sowed at the beginning of January is already sprouting so it will be ready to bloom this summer!

Firewheel easily germinates and blooms the first year to add color and bring pollinators to the yard.
  • Stone Mountain daisy (Helianthus porteri) is a sunny yellow 2-foot annual that is rare but grows abundantly in rock outcrops in the Piedmont region of Georgia and Alabama. At its namesake Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta there’s a yearly fall festival called the Yellow Daisy Festival. In my yard I’ve noticed Stone Mountain daisy grows easily in sunny areas with average to dry soil. A friend gave me three tiny little seedlings a couple years ago and when they flowered, I collected the seeds plus let them self-seed. I now have three patches of Stone Mountain daisies and yearly seeds to start new plants. You may be able to find Stone Mountain daisy at native plant sales or seeds from a native plant growing friend. The germination rate seems high, and you only need one plant to start your own patch! When it blooms, Stone Mountain daisy attracts a wide range of small pollinating bees, butterflies, and other tiny flying insects.

Stone Mountain sunflower easily self-seeds to create patches of pollinator heaven for small insects.
  • Jewelweed (impatiens capensis) is an annual with charming little orange flowers. It can grow 2-5 feet in difficult shady damp areas where it is rare to find any other flowers blooming. Hummingbirds and other nectar seeking pollinators love jewelweed because its nectar has a high sugar content. It is hard to collect the jewelweed seeds because the seed pods burst and fling seeds everywhere if you touch them when they’re ripe. No worries because if you plant just one jewelweed it will self-seed with abandon so you will have it in your yard for years to come. You can find the seeds where native plant seeds are sold, although they tend to sell out quickly and the directions indicate they require a more involved preparation before you can winter sow them. If you live in the Atlanta area, message me in early in the spring and I’ll be happy to give you a pot of seedlings when my backyard is covered in them!

Jewelweed's nectar is so high in sugar that it's common to see bee butts sticking out of the flowers!
  • Seedbox (Ludwigia Alternifolia) is a 2-3-foot-tall perennial that prefers growing in slightly damp sunny places but does okay in average, partially sunny areas. The name comes from the seedpods which looks like tiny seed boxes! Little pollinating insects including bees and wasps are drawn to the mini sunshine yellow seedbox flowers. I planted seedbox for the first-time last year and the seeds both germinated well and flowered in the summer. I’ll see this year how well seedbox self-seeds. Seedbox has multi-season interest as the fall leaves turn a vibrant red.

Seedbox is an unassuming native plant that blooms profusely the first year, offers fall leaf color, and is loved by small flying pollinators.
  • Clasping coneflower (Rudbeckia or Dracopis amplexicaulis) is an annual native that grows about 2-feet tall in sunny, average to dry soil. Bees and butterflies are attracted to clasping coneflower and small birds including goldfinches eat the seeds. I’ll learn how easily it self-seeds this summer because last year was the first time I grew it! The name clasping coneflower comes from the leaves clasping around the stems. I try to take photos of all the plants in my yard throughout the year, but when I just looked through my files, I couldn’t find a clasping coneflower. (The one below is from Larry Allain, the U.S. Geological Survey.)

The annual clasping coneflower gives summer blooms the first year from seed. The seedheads are one of the first to be eaten by little finches.
  • Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) is a 2-4’ foot perennial that grows in sunny, dry areas and gifts me with stunning clear blue flowers from late summer into fall. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to it. Blue sage is native to Georgia coastal areas, yet it flowers the first year for me in Atlanta.

Blue sage is one of the plant the rare American bumblebee visits in my yard. Oh, and the hummingbirds also love it!
  • Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinia) is a tender perennial or annual depending on where you live. It’s visited by native bees and butterflies and seems particularly attractive to hummingbirds. The dried seeds are eaten by seed eating birds including yellow goldfinches. This year one scarlet sage plant in my yard defied Mother Nature and bloomed until the beginning of January when we had our first hard freeze!

The funnel shape and red color of scarlet sage are hummingbird magnets!

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