WOFR Propagation Work

| Colorado Native Plants, Native Plant & Seed Swaps, Propagation

by Peggy Hanson

Under the great leadership and organization of Wild Ones member, Pam Schulz, the Propagation Committee has had an amazing inaugural year. Pam has set up monthly workshops since the inception meeting in November 2021. Members have benefitted from the technical guidance of member Jan Midgley and Harlequin nursery staff in learning methods of propagating native seeds. Sometimes it looks like a 6th grade science experiment in the kitchen! It’s so much FUN! Despite the photo of all women here, we have several active Wild Ones’ male members who just didn’t make the photo shoot.

May 7 propagation workshop
May 7th Propagation Workshop. Photo courtesy of Peggy Hanson

Now that COVID restrictions have been loosened, we are thrilled to gather in person and get our hands dirty sharing experiences. It is gratifying to see that a 1.5cm seedling already has a 15cm root – just as we have heard from the experts, native plants often have many times the mass under the surface than above the surface. That increased root mass, even at a young age, allows them to survive and thrive in our dry climate.

The Propagation Committee’s mission is a bit of citizen science. Through trial and error we add to our chapter’s propagation database. Ultimately, we hope to empower amateur gardeners to grow those hard-to-find native species that cannot be found in the commercial nurseries. And we hope to make more native plants accessible to all.

long roots showing early propagation success on Berberis fremontii
Photo courtesy of Peggy Hanson

What does committee work entail? 

  • Learning about various seed treatments that improve germination rates such as stratification and scarification1 including which species need it and which ones don’t.
  • Trying our hand at salvaging those baby volunteers in our gardens – and learning (quickly) how very deep you need to dig to avoid damaging the roots!  
  • Experimenting! One committee member is trying indoor grow lights, others milk jugs and others the plastic bag method. Another experimenter is testing the germination rates between commercial seed and seeds obtained from the seed swap.  
  • Data! We are learning about the essentials of record-keeping to obtain good metrics on germination rates, transplant success, stratification methods, labeling methods, etc. so we can relay best techniques. Pam is a particularly organized leader and assists us by providing clear resources like seasonal sowing lists and templates taken from Jan’s propagation manual.  

The committee was ambitious this year. While we aren’t far enough into the season to measure our propagation successes, the Committee’s species spreadsheet of propagation results is becoming quite lengthy as participants’ results unfold—so far 162 species were attempted! 

The joy of continuous learning.  We’re always learning something new when we meet. For instance, did you know that members of the Asteraceae family cannot produce a fertile seed unless multiple SEED-GROWN plants are involved? In other words, aster plants from cuttings cannot successfully fertilize each other, nor the parent plant! So, if you have a lone aster in your yard and collect the seed, chances are those seeds will be sterile unless there is another seed-sown plant in a neighbors’ yard. This is good to know before you try to germinate them! Jan typically plants 5 seed-grown plants of one species to ensure fertile seed.

CO tansy aster showing beautiful blooms
Xanthisma coloradoense, Colorado Tansy Aster. Photo by Peggy Hanson

Fruits of our propagation efforts – where do all our propagated plants go?  

The Denver Plant Swap & Give Away June 12 at EarthLinks! See the events listing above for more information and join us as a volunteer or “shopper.” You needn’t bring a plant to take a plant – there will be extras. Tell your friends! This is a great way to introduce natives to a landscape without financial investment.

One of three demonstration gardens in which Wild Ones actively participates:

  • Greenverein at the Turnverein in Denver (South side of 16th St, East of Clarkson)
  • Depot Prairie Park in Englewood at 3001-3099 S Fox Street
  • Ekar Farms at Denver Academy of Torah, 6825 E. Alameda Ave, Denver

Offerings at Wild Ones events and other events at which our chapter has a presence. 

While the spring season propagation window is closing, it’s never too late to try your hand. There are species to be propagated in all seasons. You may have to wait several months before you see those cotyledons appear, but the delayed gratification makes it all the sweeter. 

Interested in joining the propagation committee? Please contact us at [email protected] with the subject line: “Propagation Committee.” The WOFR Propagation Committee is mostly comprised of amateur member-gardeners with a passion for native plants; between Pam’s organization and Jan’s guidance, we can all dip our toes into the exciting world of propagation, of playing a part in helping a tiny seed germinate – a native seed that can have untold benefits to improving the ecosystem in which it is planted.

  1. Stratification and scarification are simply replicating nature to help a seed break dormancy. Some plants require cold temperatures for a certain time frame (stratification) like experienced in winter in the wild; some require scarification to break down the seed’s hard outer shell (like the digestive juices of an animal that ingested it in the wild). ↩︎

Curious to learn more about transforming your garden into a habitat with Colorado native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees? Check out our native gardening toolkit, register for an upcoming event, subscribe to our newsletter, and/or become a member – if you’re not one already!