Planting Native Seeds with the Rains

Perhaps the cheapest and easiest way to plant is to plant native seeds within or beside water-harvesting earthworks or rain gardens at the beginning of the rainy season. If there is enough rain (your basins filled and the soil is saturated) the seeds will germinate and grow. If there is not enough rain, they’ll lay dormant until conditions are right to grow. Planting within or beside water-harvesting earthworks that receive water that has runoff adjoining surfaces dramatically increases germination rates of the seeds and growth of the seedlings thanks to the extra water the captured runoff within the earthworks provides.

And as the in-situ-grown plants grow, their roots expand further than nursery grown plants transplanted from pots, because their root growth was never hemmed in by a pot. The more extensive the root system, the stronger the plant in wind and drought, and the more moisture it can access.

We give free native seed to those volunteering at our neighborhood forester events so they can plant their sections of the neighborhood – and we also help with those seed plantings as requested.

We also help with plant identification, have posted native wildflower signs in the neighborhood, and organize Work & Learn weeding parties so desired native wildflower and other plants dominate, reseed, and expand as opposed to undesired invasive weeds.

Find out more in our Planting Guide and Work & Learn stewarding parties

Wildflower seeds are sown in and around rain gardens with the ideal planting time at the beginning of the rainy seasons.
Photo: Brad Lancaster
Spring wildflower show thanks to planting of native wildflower seed in late fall.
Photo: Brad Lancaster
Plant with the rain, ideally at the beginning of the rainy season. Native desert ironwood tree seed was just planted 1 to 2 inches deep in saturated soil within this hand-dug basin in foreground beside mailbox. Photo: Brad Lancaster
Seedlings emerging from basin two weeks after planting. Photo: Brad Lancaster
Desert ironwood tree seedlings emerging within water-harvesting traffic-calming chicane two weeks after planting the seed with the rains. Note the dead tree in center of planting area. It was planted from a one-gallon pot at the beginning of the record drought, and the adjoining caretaker did not water it to get it established. An advantage of planting by seed (at beginning of rainy season) in-situ—where you want the tree to grow— instead of planting a nursery-grown plant is the in-situ seedling will grow much deeper roots that were never hemmed in by a planting pot, and if the rains are good—you’ll never need to irrigate the seedling. If rains are bad, you always have the option of giving supplemental irrigation. Photo: Brad Lancaster
The water-harvesting traffic-calming chicane where the tree seedlings were planted in locations where the trees will not grow to block the view of the traffic sign. Photo: Brad Lancaster
Some native plant seed with hard seed coats may be more likely to germinate if you scarify the seed coat just before planting. (The hard seed coat protects the seed and keeps it from drying out before conditions for germination become favorable). Here I scarified or nicked the side of the cat claw acacia tree seed’s seed coat with toe nail clippers—just nicking enough to see the light color beneath the seed coat. To increase my chances of germination success, I’ll often plant both scarified and unscarified seed in the same planting pot or planting area to see who comes up most reliably. Hard-coated seed I typically scarify includes seed from velvet mesquite trees, acacia trees, and palo verdes. Soft-coated seed that does NOT need scarification includes desert ironwood tree seed. Photo: Brad Lancaster

For some hands-on experience
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