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Dormant Seeding

Spring is most often associated with sowing seeds, mainly because it is standard in farming and gardening practices. But, if you are a prairie restorationist you have probably bundled up in winter clothes before seeding. Exposing seeds to winter’s punishing weather helps set the stage for successful germination come spring. This method is known as “Dormant Seeding” or “Frost Seeding” and it is becoming the preferred method for seeding most native plant species.

The 'Dormant Seeding' Method

Many native plant seeds, especially forbs (flowers), require a period of stratification before breaking dormancy. Stratifying seed can be done mechanically using several methods, the most common using sand paper. However, hiring Mother Nature to work for you has become recognized as the most effective method. Sowing seeds just before or during winter allows the snow, sleet, freezing rain, etc. to work the seed into the ground and the frost and thaw processes will then insert the seed into the proper depth in the soil. In May when soil temperatures begin rising the seed then “breaks dormancy.” Some of our more conservative species may require this to happen over the course of two or more winters before dormancy is broken.

Another great advantage of dormant seeding is the increased ability to recognize where the seed has been sowed. This is helpful in maintaining equal coverage across the seeding zone and also allowing the seeder to see what species have been put where (see the picture below).

 
The seeding mosaic

The seeding mosiac

 Timing is very critical with this process. Ensuring that this is done ahead of a snowfall will decrease the chances of predatory theft (Birds consuming it) and blowing wind carrying it away. It also assists in the compaction of the seed as its weight will push the seed into the snow. Sometimes your seeding window will be just a day or two or a few hours, so you must be ready to go when that  time comes.

Truly a road commissioners nightmare, a winter that provides many freeze and thaw cycles, provides optimum conditions for a dormant seeding to be successful. Although every winter should provide enough temperature fluctutuation to stratify the seed, I am starting to believe that some winters are just better than others. Any opinions out there? 

Like many of the processes involved in prairie restoration we are emulating the cycles and timing of the long-term past, which is what dormant seeding is modeled after. Seeds drop in the fall and germinate in the spring; this has been happening in prairies for millions of years. There are certainly situations and species specific situations for which a spring or summer seeding can be advantageous, but a winter experience is still needed to provide the seed with the opportunity of a full and happy life. Much like being a resident of the Midwest… 

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