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Missouri residents can get the Missouri Conservationist magazine mailed to their house, just for the asking. It not only has great articles about nature in general, but also nice articles on butterflies. You can subscribe at

Non-residents can view the current and past issues by going to the same link.

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Late Winter Seeds

One of the tests I am doing right now is to see if late winter seeds that I collect March 1st still have the ability to germinate.

Echinacea pods with lots of seeds
80 seed pods collected March 1st.
Seeds and Fluff Extracted

I have now planted ten seeds inside under lights and the rest of the seeds were planted outside on March 1st.

March 10 – 3 inside seeds have germinated.

Echinacea collected and planted March 1st

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Seed Starting Tips

Here are the basic steps I use with almost all seeds.

  •  I use the 36 per tray plastic cells in a 1020 tray. Usually available at nurseries. Also get the clear tops. I find that the 72 size cells are too small to get good root growth.
  • I cut out one cell so that I am left with 35 cells. I water from the bottom through that hole.
  • I put this 1020 tray in a heavy-duty plastic tray. I buy those from It prvents leaks. The 1020 trays are usually made of cheap plastic.
  • I use my preferred potting mix as a base – BX Pro-Mix with some Osmocote. You can find this at either a nursery, Walmart or Menards and some smaller hardware stores. Any Pro-Mix product should be fine.
  • Make sure the mix is well watered before you add the seeds.
  • I put 1 to 3 seeds on top of the mix. It depends on how expensive the seeds are and how many I have.
  • I top the seeds with a light layer of vermiculite.
  • I spray the vermiculite with water.
  • I label each cell with the date, seed name and number of seeds. I use vinyl blinds that I have taken down. These are easy to cut and label with a pencil.
  • I also put in about 1/8 inch of water in the bottom of the tray in case the mix needs to absorb some water.
  • I cover the tray with a plastic clear top.
  • I lower my Lithonia T8 shop lights to within 1/2 inch of the plastic top.
  • I keep the lights on 24/7 to keep it warm.
  • When the seeds are well germinated, I take off the clear top.
  • I also use a rotating fan on the seedlings.

Most of the seeds I grow need about a soil temperature of 70 degrees. That’s what Shaw Nature Reserve uses and what has worked well for me in the past.

Note – I used a Laser Infrared Thermometer to get the soil temperature.

In the past I have used heating mats to achieve this temperature, but I noticed a difference this year since I have started using different lights.

I now use and recommend, Lithonia Lighting, 4-Light Grey Fluorescent Heavy-Duty Shop Light. They use T8 bulbs. I now uses these bulbs close to the seed trays with a plastic cover. LED light bulbs have 1800 lumens/bulb. The traditional T8 bulbs put out 2600 lumens/bulb. I prefer the traditional bulbs because they put out more light.

As you can see from the picture, there isn’t much difference between trays with or without bottom heat. In fact the bottom heat tray seems to have poorer germination. I did notice that the bottom heat trays got up to 97 degrees while the trays with just the 4 bulb lights got up to 77 degrees. I eventually turned off the bottom heat since it seemed to be to high.

I probably won’t use my heating mats in the future since my new lights put out enough heat to get seeds to germinate.

My Favorite Potting Mix – you have to add Osmocote.
The final product
Fans help with strength and fungus
Tithonia Lights with Shelving

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Separating Milkweed

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is one plant that lends itself to separating after growing a year or two.

We recently had a nice day for cleanup and pulled up some milkweed by mistake. This actually turned out to be good since this gave us an opportunity to divide some of the clumps.

In most cases there are natural divisions which are easy to pull apart. In this one picture I ended up with five plants from one clump.

Another advantage of dividing plants is that swamp milkweed is a short-lived perennial in our area and this gives you more plants to grow.


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Testing Old Seeds

If you have seeds leftover from previous years, rather than throwing them away, test them out now and save yourself some money.

I like to test them out by using conditions similar to what I normally use. I put in three seeds in each cell and mark each with the name of the seed and the date. I cover the seeds with a plastic lid to keep things moist and also use a shop light to keep things warm inside.

If the seeds germinate, then you know you can use them this year.

I used some vermiculite I had, but you can use any good potting mix. I don’t plan on keeping these plants – they are just letting me know the germination rate.

Note – I am also testing some new seeds from

Test Results

  • Kale – 3 days
  • Marigold Cracker Jack – 3 days –
  • Zinnia – California Giant – 3 days –
  • Tropical Milkweed – 7 days –
  • Maltese Cross –
  • Dames Rocket –
  • Purple globe amaranth – Toms – 3 days – almost all seeds germinated.
  • Tomatoes – 4 days
  • Zinnia – small gold – 4 days. – one seed germinated.

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Inexpensive Butterfly Seeds

The even have some hummingbird and bee mixes which have hundreds of seeds for the same $1.00!

While some seeds can be quite expensive, here is a source I am testing out that seems very inexpensive –

Each packet costs $1.00.
I just bought five packets for $7.75 which includes postage.
They even put in a free package of lettuce seeds.

The marigold and zinnia germinated in 3 days.

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Lantana – Back Eight Years in a Row















Most lantana will only last a year in cold climates. In St. Louis, I have kept mine alive for eight years with very little help.

Note that Miss Huff appears to be a stronger and more hardy plant than Star Landing. Star Landing is a bit more colorful. These are the only two varieties that I have found which will come back in my area.

Both of these plants are hard to find locally. I got mine from

Here are some tips on growing hardy lantana.

Don’t cut back the lantana until some time in April. I usually cut them back to about six inches. Pull back any mulch at this time to let the plants warm up….Then – be patient. They take until late May to show signs of growth.

In the fall, save your leaves and mulch the lantana with a good layer of leaves to help protect the plants.
The plants against my basement always come back. Lantana appreciates the extra soil heat.

The eight plants at Whitecliff Park also came back this year without any extra help. They do however have great southern soil exposure.



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