Should I plant wildflower seeds prior to winter or in the spring?


I have a wildflower meadow and would like to plant more flowers. I have harvested quite a bit of Black-eyed Susan seed, as well as Mexican Hat and Coneflower seed from the meadow this summer. When should I plant the seed…prior to winter or in the spring? I have looked online and found both recommendations.


Jonathan Foster, Community Education Assistant

We salute your efforts at cultivating and maintaining a wildflower meadow! And extra kudos for collecting and saving your own seed, which is a fun, easy, and inexpensive method of propagation… but which does take a little effort on your part.

All three of the species you mention exhibit what is known as physiological dormancy, which means seeds will conserve their germination energy until after they have been through a prolonged period of cold (typically around three months, but it can vary from species to species). This is an evolutionary feature dedicated to preventing the seeds from germinating in the wild when the temperatures are still too cold for the growing plant to survive. So while you *can* sow them either in fall or spring, if you do the former, Mother Nature will happily and effectively take care of the chilling period for you. Spring planting will require “cold stratification” of the seeds (essentially refrigerating them for a similar period before sowing–easily doable, but again, a bit more effort) to break dormancy and be ready to germinate.

Fall planting will be much easier, so you should aim for getting your seed down late in the season, but before the ground freezes entirely. You can read more about the process, as well as why your efforts at wildflower propagation are so important, in this back issue of Umaine’s Maine Home Garden News (which you should consider subscribing to, if you haven’t already!).