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Plant the seed how-to guide, Hamilton Native Outpost

Seeding Dates

Table of Contents

When is the best time to plant my seed?

Planting widows vary depending on what is being planted. Some plants’ seeds can be planted in only the winter and others can be planted in the winter or spring. These plants can be grouped into 2 general categories of plantings:

  1. Warm Season Grasses (except Eastern Gamagrass, which belongs in the second group)
  2. Diverse Plantings & Eastern Gamagrass Plantings

Warm Season Grasses (Except Eastern Gamagrass):

Warm season grasses can be planted from the onset of winter weather to the end of spring weather. Here in southern Missouri, we consider this window to be November 15th to May 30th. Other factors may influence planting dates within this range such as planned herbicide applications or other weed control measures. The seeds of these grasses do not require the cold of winter, however, it does not hurt their seeds. Planting too late in the summer runs the risk of either a summer dry spell during the early phase of establishment or that the plants will not be big enough to make it through winter.

If participating in a cost share program, the state agency will have recommended seeding dates that must be adhered to.

Diverse Plantings & Eastern Gama Grass:

The seeds of many native plants need to experience a cold, moist period before they will germinate. In order to get an adequate amount of cold and wet weather, here in Missouri, we recommend planting between November 15th and February 15th. 

This period breaks the dormancy of the seed, which could be described as waking the seed up out of hibernation.  The process of going through a cold, moist phase to “wake up” the seed is called stratification.  Most native wildflower (forb) species require this and some of the native warm and cool season grasses also require it. Requiring a cold, moist period is Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that the seed germinate in spring because, after all, spring follows winter.

Being planted early and exposed to the elements can also help with scarification, which is breaking the hard seed coat. Legumes are the most common species to need scarification.

By requiring seed to go through a cold, moist period, this is nature’s way of ensuring that germination only occurs under the right conditions, which increases the odds that the plant will survive. It also allows for the seedlings to naturally “harden off” as they emerge in the spring, and the seedlings are more likely to get a start in life with good soil moisture due to early spring rains.

Can I plant after it snows?

Many people opt to plant after a snow because it is easier to see where you’ve been and where the seeds have fallen. However, this only works if it is a soft snow that allows the seed to settle. If a hard crust has developed on the snow, you are better off to wait until the snow starts to melt so that the seed doesn’t blow away.

One last note, don’t miss a planting deadline while waiting for a snow. The snow is not a necessary element for a successful planting.

How do I avoid missing my planting window?

  1. Order early.
  2. Don’t put off planting until the last minute because fields often get saturated from the spring rain, making planting difficult if not impossible.

What if I missed my planting window?

  1. Wait until the next year to plant or postpone ordering. If you have already received the seed, store it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
  2. If the deadline has recently passed, it may be worth going ahead and spreading the seed. If this is the action taken, make sure to get very good seed-to-soil contact to speed up the process of the seed absorbing water.
  3. It is also possible to do an artificial stratification if the seed you are planting requires seeding during the winter. This can be done by wetting the seed and placing it in the refrigerator. See our Cold Moist Stratification Guide for more details.
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