Seed to Plant – Shaw Nature Reserve

I took a course at the Shaw Nature Reserve on the process they use to collect seeds and all the steps to finally potting up the plant. Here are a few notes from that class.

Seed Collection

  • Collect seeds when they are ripe and are ready to fall off the plant.
  • Put the seeds in a cardboard box or paper bag and let them dry for a couple of weeks. Don’t put them in a very hot sunny location. Temperature + humidity should not go over 150 degrees.
  • There are many ways to get the seeds out of the flower head – crushing with wooden mallet, stepping on them.
  • They then use various size screens to sift out the seeds.

Cold Stratification.

  • October 1st is when they start this.
  • In general, they keep seeds in the refrigerator for three months, so they can then plant the seeds around January 1st.
  • They use a mix of 2/3 peat moss and 1/3 fine sand – not construction sand.
  • They moisten this mixture a lot until it is dripping wet.
  • They put the seeds in a zip-lock bag. Mark on the bag the name of the plant and the date.
  • Grab a handful of the mix and squeeze out the excess water and put in in with the seeds. You may need another handful to have enough to cover and mix well with the seed.
  • Seal up the bag and mix it well.
  • After 45 days check the bags and look for mold. If you see some, break up the mold in the bag with your hands.
  • Put this in the refrigerator – not the freezer.


Some seeds need a way to break that outer coat. This is mainly for legumes. You can either put them between two pieces of sand-paper or try putting them in boiling water for 24 hours. Then do a 2 week cold-stratification.

 Sowing Seed

  • They use PRO-MIX BX W/MYCORRHIZAE as the seed starting medium. Note- I have found this at “Worms Away.” You can also find this at Bayer’s Gardens.
  • 2016 – they have started using a product from Here’s what they told me, “Promix has 2 species of fungi so we decided to add more. We buy a powder from bio organics that has 18 species. It is really working well. Plants are really growing well.”
  • Wet this mixture first as it is very dry.
  • For new seeds they use new trays or ones that have been cleaned with 10% bleach.They want to keep disease to a minimum.
  • Place it in a shallow tray. They don’t want a deep tray so that it is easier to heat.
  • Press the soil down a little, but don’t make it tight. Make sure that soil is below the lip of the container.
  • Take the seeds and peat moss out of the baggie and put them on top of the soil.
  • Cover the soil with a light coating of soil. Small seeds may not any covering at all.
  • Water everything.
  • They then use a temperature controlled heat mat. They keep it at 70 degrees. They use 70 degrees for ALL the seeds – Scott W. Note – my lights with the plastic cover keep the soil at 74 degrees. When I use the heat mat, the soil temperature goes int0 the 80-85 degree range which my Tropical Milkweed seems to like.
  • They water 3-4 times a day from the top using a watering can. They use well water. Note – this seems like a pain – I prefer using the plastic lid and watering from the bottom.
  • When there are true leaves, that’s the 2nd set of leaves, they transplant.
  • They transplant into a mix from the St. Louis composting, but are not excited about it as it is irregular in size and quality. Note – I will probably use the same Pro-Mix.
  • They also put 2 to 4 plants together instead of trying to break apart individual plants. They say that the plants do better this way. It certainly makes it easier to transplant. They said they did a test with some plants and that the group of plants did better than the individual plants. Note – this would be an interesting test.
  • They also add Osmocote to the top of the soil mix, about a hundred pellets per pot,  but said they are going to just add it to the soil in the future.
  • The pots they use when transplanting are not cleaned, but are just reused old pots.
  • They use a fan for air circulation.
  • They said that they also use liquid fertilizer, but I’m not sure why since they also use Osmocote. That might be an interesting experiment and try different combinations.
  • They have lights on from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Purple and Common Milkweed need larger pots.
  • Tuberosa is fine in a smaller pot.


Other Resources

Book – Growing and Propagating Wildflowers – William Cullina


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