Returning Native Plants to the Maine landscape

Sowing seeds in January, Grandpa studies the instructions on the Wild Seed Project packets

Growing wildlife habitat promotes the presence of pollinators, which in turn supports the cultivation of the food we grow. Upon our arrival in Maine, we began an assessment of our property from a wildlife habitat perspective. Observations unfolded over the first season as we focused on renovating the barn and building a greenhouse. As an historic property, we are graced with established trees and many native shrubs that were planted over the century and a half this land was tended. However, the bulk of our property is like so many around here; large lawns that are kept mowed. Essentially this is like a vast desert for pollinators! So we decided to begin restoration with restoring meadows and open woodlands with pollinator friendly native plants. The reason we focus on native plants is because they have evolved with the wildlife so that the rhythms of both compliment each other’s needs through the seasons.

Talking with local folks who have restored and maintain open meadow habitat, we took the first step of returning natives to the landscape simply by growing out our grass. Most natives are perennials and will happily grow out and produce seed if given the chance. Things here grow so well, in fact, that it is nearly impossible to sow seeds directly in the ground without them being taken over. To augment the collection of native plants already present, germinating seeds in pots to introduce as plugs into established meadows is key.

Most wildflower seeds need a period of cold to germinate. While seeds may be fooled in a refrigerator, really the best approach is to follow the natural cycle and sow them outside. The Wild Seed Project has full instructions on how to germinate wild seeds. We had success by storing them under the cedar tree, facing west so that they were warmed by the afternoon sun as spring emerged.

When sowing seeds, they can be crowded. The seedlings may be transplanted into larger pots after they have germinated, or directly planted into a bit of cleared ground as long as we make sure to weed them out as needed when they are young. They will take a couple of years to become established enough to produce seed.

Native plant nursery under the cedar tree. The vast green desert of mowed lawn can be seen beyond. Over the winter, we had a screen over the box to protect the seeds from wildlife. As spring emerged, we started taking plants out to adjust to their future home.
Germination! Tiny seeds flourish.
In addition to sowing packaged seeds, we picked up a few red oak seeds that were germinating like mad in 2017. Placing the germinated seeds gently into the ground to grow in a new tree nursery, we plan to distribute the young trees to help return a native canopy to areas that need it.