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Saving Seeds Can Be an Easy Way to Grow Pollinator Habitat

By Rae Powers and Corin Pease on 5. January 2022
Rae Powers and Corin Pease

Update on projects undertaken by Xerces' team of restoration ecologists, entomologists, plant ecologists, and researchers.

The Xerces Society manages the largest pollinator conservation program in the world. We work with people from all walks of life to create habitat for bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects—and hundreds of thousands of acres of flower-rich habitat have been planted. We also offer certifications: Bee Better Certified for farmers and food companies who are committed to supporting pollinator conservation in agricultural lands, and Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA for cities and colleges dedicated to making their community safer for pollinators.

With staff based in more than a dozen states, and offering a diverse array of expertise, it can be challenging to summarize the impactful work being done. We compile updates from pollinator team members into regular digests. In this edition, Rae Powers shares her no-fuss, low-stress approach to seed saving and Corin Pease tells how pollinator demonstration gardens can spark inspiration.

Saving seeds can be an easy way to grow pollinator habitat

Rae Powers

Although the weather in Nebraska has been decidedly odd, the native plants in my yard have been keeping me on schedule this year. Starting with collection of golden alexander seeds (Zizia aurea) in July and ending with a late stripping of the Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) clumps in my front yard, the rhythm of tending a native landscape is a familiar, comfortable ritual that grounds my year. 

I am a haphazard collector, often grabbing seed from a few plants on my way into the house after errands or collecting the remnants of seed heads with a small percentage of seeds left that have been mature for a long while. (Hey, just allowing for natural dispersal in my yard space, right?)  This casualness follows through seed storage, stratification, and growing out seedlings. I have neither the space nor time to provide ideal conditions for seed storage. There are a couple bags of seed in my fridge that didn’t get planted out this spring, and my seedlings have survived in a household with a curious toddler, a high energy herding dog, a vindictive cat, and an erratic watering schedule.
 

A common home office scene in the fall with containers of native seed collected from plants in my yard cluttering every surface. I find that most collected seeds will dry in my house once the central heat is on (low humidity) and I spread them out for the first few days. Some species with a berrylike fruit (e.g. Jack-in-the-pulpit, rose, or western snowberry), I soak in water to soften the fruit and handpick or sift out the seeds before spreading the seeds to dry.  Once sufficiently dry, I store in paper lunch bags to save space. (Rae Powers/ Xerces Society)
 

All of this is to convince you that you can absolutely collect, store, stratify, and grow out native seeds in your region! It is an enjoyable process that can provide you with relatively low-cost plants. I am quickly increasing the quantity of the species that I have in my landscape, moving some species from the front yard to back yard, creating larger, more attractive swaths of single species, and trying new spots for plants that didn’t thrive in their initial planting spot. Even more rewarding, I’m able to share seeds and plants with friends and family.  Last winter, I shared seed packets containing several species with friends, and communicating about their species preferences and porch pick-up was a really nice way to connect during the pandemic. This year, I’ve committed to helping a friend convert her small front yard to native plants, which has leant a new focus and energy to my seed collecting. 

So, dive in to native plants: Check out some native plant sales this spring and begin a native plant adventure in your own space. Convince your friends and neighbors to adopt a few plants from you in a couple years. Find the joy in growing plants that evolved in region, your local pollinators will thank you!

 

Pollinator Demonstration Garden at the Hood River NRCS Office

Corin Pease

Demonstration gardens can be a great opportunity for people to learn about pollinators and the importance of pollen, nectar and nesting resources. Native plantings are especially important because they are adapted to the local climate, require little maintenance, and are usually the best sources of nectar and pollen for native pollinators. Since native plant species are often unfamiliar to land owners and agricultural producers, demonstration plantings can also help show people which native plants do well in their area, what they look like, when they bloom, and how they grow (size, appearance, competitiveness, etc.).
 

Penstemon flowers at the Hood River NRCS field office demonstration garden ( Emily Huth/ NRCS).
 

That’s what inspired Carly Heron and Emily Huth of the Hood River County NRCS field office to establish a new demonstration garden in collaboration with the Xerces Society. Working together, we selected plants that provide floral and habitat resources to pollinators and obtained them from the local Soil and Water Conservation District.  Importantly, the team also developed an educational sign to point out some of the garden’s key plant-pollinator pairings.

This project bloomed for the first time this spring and will hopefully continue to serve as a resource for the public in Hood River County and as inspiration to conserve pollinators on their properties.
 

To help with visitor education, the Hood River NRCS demonstration garden includes an educational sign of key plant and pollinator pairings.

 

Further Reading

Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Program.

Read all of our Pollinator Conservation Program Digests!

Find out how you can help Bring Back the Pollinators.

Download a copy of Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.

Authors

Corin provides technical assistance to growers and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Planners on pollinator and natural enemy conservation on farms in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a master's degree in integrated pest management and a bachelor's degree in environmental biology from the University of CaliforniaDavis. Corin’s experience spans agriculture, entomology, and integrated pest management (IPM).

Rae is a Nebraska native with a bachelor's of science in environmental studies and a master's of science in ecology from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her previous environmental work has focused on the function and diversity of the prairie ecosystem; researching the impacts of restoration, management, and soils; and experiencing the joys and trials of native plant production.

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