I recently took some columbine flower seeds, wrapped them in a wet paper towel, zipped them into a plastic baggie and tossed them in the fridge drawer next to some broccoli we were eating for dinner.
This process, called stratification, is just one tool in gardeners' belts to get a head start on our gardens.
It might sound strange, but if you're interested in attracting brilliant monarchs or swallowtails, stratification can head off the disappointment experienced by gardeners who happily sprinkle native flower seeds outside in the spring, carefully water them and ... get zilch growing that year.
Many native flower and grass seeds require a cold (and possibly wet) period of a few weeks that mimics a natural winter to "wake them up" and prepare them to bloom during the coming spring. Sometimes the seeds even need to be rubbed with sandpaper or gently cut open (called scarification) to help the tiny plant inside get growing.
It varies from species to species, but many of our native plants won't respond to only the warm embrace of their first spring.
If you're interested in learning more about how to encourage native seeds to sprout, Prairie Moon Nursery shares its encyclopedic knowledge of more than 600 flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees native to the Midwest for free at prairiemoon.com.
Native plants are critical to maintaining Ohio's native pollinators, birds and other wildlife.
If you are concerned that native plants are too plain, you are in for a treat. Native plants can be stunning, and because they are very comfortable with our soil and water patterns, they are easy to care for.
These plants return almost effortlessly every year. Local nurseries have sections devoted to our natives, so these plants can be easily and affordably located.
Concerned that those seeds strewn in the mulch might just become a feast for the birds before spring has even sprung? A common practice to outwit the birds is to start seeds indoors, which can give many plants a needed head start.
It might seem intimidating to grow seedlings indoors – heat mats and pricey grow lights could be the start of a headache – but if you have a sunny window and some paper egg cartons, you've got almost all you need.
Seeds even may be grown in repurposed plastic milk jugs, which allow enough light to germinate seeds but provide enough insulation to shelter them against the cold.
One good investment is seed-starting soil, which will provide the proper density and all the right nutrients seeds need for a great beginning.
Do note that not every plant responds kindly to a rude transplant from the sheltered indoors to the harsh outside. As always, taking the time to carefully research your seedlings and seeds is essential. I guess that's exactly what Midwest winter months are for.
The best part? When you're done with those milk jugs, you can recycle them – along with your Styrofoam, electronics and paper – at the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission's eighth annual Earth Day celebration from 10 a.m. to noon April 25 in Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park in Hilliard.
Maggie Willis is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.