Gardening with Robin
~~ Transplanting Winter-Sown Natives ~~
Winter Sowing Update
Last winter, volunteers from the Friends of the Lunenburg Library and the Lunenburg Community Pollinator Habitat worked with Library staff to offer winter sowing seminars, one for children and their parents, and one for all ages. Participants chose from three different native flowering seeds: the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and Northern Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa). They planted the seeds into milk jugs partially filled with moist planting medium, sealed up the sides, labeled the jugs, and waited until spring for the seeds to germinate and grow when the time was right. I hope by now, June, that all the participants have seen seedlings successfully growing in their containers.
When the seedlings start to look crowded, touch the top of the milk jug, dry out too fast, or the leaves are starting to turn yellow, it is time to transplant your seedlings. You can transplant them directly into the garden or into pots for easier nurturing over the summer.
Transplanting Directly Into the Garden
Just this week I transplanted my milkweed plants from their milk jug, some into pots to allow them to get a little bigger and some straight into the soil where I want them to form a milkweed patch. Milkweed and bergamot are vigorous plants and may get large enough to plant directly in the garden; however, young perennials need more care until they are established, so you will need to check on them a few times a week. Make sure to give them some water when Lunenburg is going through a dry spell; they haven’t had time to develop deep roots. Keep them weeded so that they are not competing with other plants while they are trying to get established. Also give them some initial protection from other challenges you might have in your garden: hungry wildlife, strong winds, active pets, and children playing with errant soccer balls. Because these are perennials, it is important to choose a good spot for them because if the plants have what they need, you will enjoy their blooms for years. At the end of this post, I have included the replanting instructions we used in the winter sowing seminars.
Transplanting Into Pots for the Summer
Many native perennials are slower to grow, preferring to establish a good root system first. If your native perennials are still small, it might be easier to transplant them into pots, tend to them over the summer, and plant them in their permanent place in the garden in the fall. Plants in pots can be kept where you can more easily keep a close eye on them to protect them and give them the attention they need until they are big enough to survive out in the garden. When I transplant native seedlings into pots, I gently divide them into clumps of seedlings rather than trying to separate each individual plant. When I add new soil around the clump, I keep the seedlings stems at the same depth that they were in the original jug, putting the new soil under and around the clump. Whether I am transplanting them into pots or directly into the soil, I use compost as my soil medium. High quality compost gives native seedlings the nutrients they need so that I don’t have to give them fertilizer. Generally, once native plants are well established, they won’t need any additional fertilizer.
One of the youngest participants, Josie, planted wild bergamot seeds
in her half-gallon milk jug and look at those little plants now!
Josie’s photo of bergamot in jug >>
Here are Sophia’s wild bergamot seeds. Her seedlings are off to a healthy start as well!
In both cases, the plants are still small, so they haven’t transplanted them out into pots or
the garden yet. They look like they are doing fine and do not need to be transplanted at this time.
<< Sophia’s photo of bergamot in jug
Above are photos of my milkweed seedlings: Some still in the jug, some moved into pots, and some planted into a new garden bed I made over the winter.
My Northern Blazing Star seedlings are still quite small and they are not
crowded, so I have kept them in the milk jug until they grow a bit larger.
When the seedlings are still this small and fragile, I water them from the
bottom by temporarily placing the entire milk jug into a container with a
half inch of water in the bottom and let the soil soak up the water slowly.
My photo of Northern Blazing Star seedlings >>
If you participated in our winter sowing project and want to share photos of your seedlings in their jug, pots or in the garden, please email them to Marabeth Balboni (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she will post them here as well as the Library’s Facebook page. I look forward to seeing photos of your seedlings!
Wild Bergamot - Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa):
- When: Transplant after the seedlings have their “true” or second set of leaves and no later than when the leaves begin to touch the top of the container.
- Light: Plant in full sun (at least six hours a day).
- Soil: Tolerant of many soils, sandy, clay, or rocky
- Water: Soil can be either dry or moist, but plants should be given water in drought conditions, especially in the first year. They will not thrive in boggy or flooded soil.
- Spacing: 1 foot between plants at a minimum. If you are planting for pollinators, larger patches of the same type of flower will be more attractive than single plants scattered throughout the yard. These are perennials, so choose a place where they can remain a bee balm patch for years. The patch will expand slowly from underground stems (stolons) and when there are too many, extra plants can be dug up and transplanted to other areas.
- Height: Up to 4 feet tall. If they are planted in an exposed windy area, they may need staking.
- Flowers are light purple. They probably will not bloom until the second year. If you remove spent blooms during the season, it will encourage the plant to create more during the season, but if you leave the flowers and allow them to go to seed, you will provide good food for winter birds.
- Wildlife: Attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, and native bees for nectar and is generally not attractive to foraging deer.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca):
- When: Transplant after the seedlings have their second set of “true” leaves and no taller than three inches or beginning to touch the top of the container. Be gentle, milkweed roots can be sensitive.
- Light: Plant in full sun (at least six hours a day).
- Soil: Tolerant of many soils, sandy, clay or rocky.
- Water: Moist. Do not let the young plants dry out.
- Spacing: 1 foot between plants at a minimum. If you are planting for pollinators, larger patches of the same type of flower will be more attractive than single plants scattered throughout the yard. These are perennials, so choose a place where they can remain a milkweed patch for years. Milkweed grows from seeds or spreads by its roots, but it does not compete well against other plants.
- Height: Between 3 and 6 feet tall. If they are planted in an exposed windy area, they may need staking.
- Flowers are white, pink, or light purple. They may not bloom until the second year. Watch for the seed pods to develop after they bloom!
- Wildlife: Attractive to butterflies and native bees for nectar and is generally not attractive to foraging deer. It is also a host for the larval stage of the monarch butterfly.
Northern Blazingstar (Liatris scariosa):
- When: Transplant after seedlings have their “true” or second set of leaves but no later than when the leaves are beginning to touch the top of the container.
- Light: Plant in full or partial sunlight (at least four hours of sunlight a day)
- Soil: Prefers sandy soils, dry grasslands or sunny woodland openings
- Water: Soil moisture should be average to dry, rain water should soak in with no runoff. Drought tolerant after its first year.
- Spacing: 10 to 12 inches between plants. When planting for pollinators, larger patches of the same type of flower will be more attractive than single plants scattered throughout the yard. These are perennials, so choose a place where they can remain for years.
- Height: Two to four feet
- Flowers are purple and bloom in August to October
- Wildlife: Attractive to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Deer will eat the foliage of this plant, particularly when it is young.