Annual weeds – argh!

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Planting seeds

ARNSORseeds.webFall is the best time to put established plants (ie in pots) into the ground.  Hands down, no contest.

Plants will need to be watered for a few weeks to help roots make connections with the soil around them and in fall we typically get rains that help moisten the soil sufficiently to allow roots to establish in the soil before winter freezing which prepares plants for rapid growth in the spring.

Fall is also the best time for planting seed of many species of native plants.  This mimics what happens in the wild where seeds naturally fall from plants onto the ground during the heat of summer.  If not eaten by insects, birds or small mammals and if they land a site that can maintain moisture, they will germinate.  Some seeds germinate in early fall and remain green underneath the protective blanket of snow.  Others need to undergo periods of cold, moist stratification and respond to changes in light and temperature before they will sprout in the spring.

Some native species prefer spring sowing, especially asters, grasses and some dry land species.  These species typically require warm temperatures as well as moisture for germination.  Many of these species are found on the open plains.

cluster of Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamhoriza sagitatta) seeds and ruler

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamhoriza sagitatta) seeds

Montana species best for springtime planting:

a cluster of Blanket Flower seeds

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata) seeds


Montana species best seeded in the fall:

Whether planting in spring or fall, seeds may be sown either directly onto a site or into containers for planting out after seeds have germinated.
Each method has its advantages:

CAMROTseeds.webDirect sowing:

  • only have to plant once
  • less materials (no seed starter or pots to use)
  • cheaper (in terms of resources and time)

Sowing in containers:

  • easier to monitor and control moisture levels as seeds germinate
  • greater success rates
  • less predation (by birds and animals)

Whichever method you use, the critical time for all seeds is when they begin to germinate. Seeds must be kept moist until they establish their roots into the soil, usually this takes about 2-3 weeks.  If they dry out even once they will die.

If you are looking for seeds of native species:

  • collect your own and store them in paper envelopes
  • buy from reputable companies like Native Ideals Seed Farm in Arlee, MT that specialize in native species
  • share seeds with friends that you know gather seeds in an ethical manner


Special thanks to UM PLAN students who spent the afternoon helping us move thousands of plants from their winter storage in the hoop-house to their summer home in the nursery.  A huge heartfelt thank you to all 5 of them!!

5 UM FLAT students sitting on wagons and carts

UM FLAT students

Overwintering plants in pots is a challenge!  Roots of plants in pots are far more vulnerable to weather extremes than roots of plants in the ground.  Especially damaging are the freeze-thaw cycles of our Montana springtime.

Our goal for winter storage is to ensure that plants go dormant before they freeze, then to keep them frozen until it is sufficiently warm in the daytime that they can begin growing with minimal freezing at night – i.e. we have to read Mother Nature’s mind to find out when she’s finished with winter temps.  Right!

While many nurseries avoid this situation by either selling off stock in the fall or using greenhouses to alleviate temperature fluctuations, we believe our plants are hardier when not grown in greenhouses and we have virtually no carbon footprint by not heating a greenhouse or running fans and lights.

That said, the challenges of overwintering are numerous between freezing, dessication, rodents and breakage from stacking plants in storage.  It’s a delight to be up and growing again!  Thanks again to our friends from the UM FLAT program!

Digging from the Wild?

new leaves of columbine emerge between old plant stalks


Digging native plants from the wild?  Unfortunately most of us have tried it at some point.  And most of us have failed.  Lots of native plants just don’t like to be dug up and moved.

But there are bigger issues at stake than just trying to transplant.  Like, what happens to that hole you leave in the soil?  All depends on which weed seed arrives there first.  Disturbing the soil opens it to weed seeds that either fly in, are deposited on the site by animals, or have been sitting on the site dormant, just waiting for the soil to be broken open for them to start sprouting.

And what happens to species (e.g. Echinacea angustifolia) that get dug up by too many people and suddenly find themselves few and far between?  Depletion of populations of native plants is happening all around us as development eradicates plant communities.  Digging plants from the wild doesn’t help the situation.

single plant of Arrowleaf Balsamroot with many yellow ray flowers

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

I know, digging just this one little plant won’t have any noticeable effect.   Something akin to removing cool rocks from National Parks or fossils from old deposits…. OK, I’m experiencing guilt for digging up that plant years ago.  But I know better now and won’t do it again!

Really, it DOES make a difference.  Please don’t dig plants from the wild.  See if you can find a nursery that sells the species you are looking for, or gather seeds and propagate them.  Or give me the seeds and I’ll grow them for you!


Our most deer resistant plant is…

Last year we created an experimental garden using the plants we sell that we know are deer resistant to a certain degree.  We wanted to see what the deer would browse, how they would treat different species and which plants were the most deer resistant (notice I’m not saying ‘deer-proof’!)  The garden is outside of our nursery in a fairly high deer traffic area.

garden with deer resistant plants bordered with large rocks

Deer Garden

As we assumed the deer, especially the curious fawns, began walking through the garden exploring and checking out the goodies we had put in front of them.   Soon the Bitterroots were nubs, the Blue-eyed Grass bit the dust, and the Penstemons were nowhere to be found.  Sigh…

The Blanket Flower looked like it was going to make it through the summer, but succumbed by the end of September.  The Milkweed took several hits that only served to make it branch out and grow thicker.  The Tri-lobed Sumac was down to half it’s size by fall and the Silver Buffaloberry was looking rather pathetic.

But, there were some very notable winners.  The grasses all were fine.  These included Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Prairie Junegrass, Little Bluestem, Idaho Fescue, Indian Ricegrass and Blue Grama.   Rocky Mountain Beeplant (as always) was gorgeous and virtually untouched by the deer.  The Sage species (Mountain Big Sage, Big Sage, and Fringed Sage) all did fine.  Hairy Golden Aster took a few minor hits but did great.  Yarrow was fine.

multiple stems with yellow ray flowers and grey-green foliage

Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum)

But the outstanding plant that the deer consistently avoided was Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum.)  It was right in the front of the garden so it was easily accessible to all passing deer and while  it was walked on a few times as deer passed over it, it grew full, produced a mass of blooms and was awarded our Outstanding Deer Resistant Plant of the Year Award.

single yellow ray flower with yellow-orange ring around orange center

Oregon Sunshine flower

This species has beautiful grey-green hairy foliage that is attractive even when the plant is not blooming.  While it is a short-lived species acting more like a biennial than a perennial, it blooms continually from July to September.  The flowers are a golden yellow ray flower with yellow centers, sometimes with a bright yellow-orange ring around the center of the flower.

Consider trying this one this year!

Native Plant Alternatives to Ornamental species

This topic seems to be popping up all over.  What’s the deal?

We use cultivated ornamental species in landscaping because that’s what the nurseries sell, that’s what the neighbors have, and because they thrive.  So what’s the problem? Why should we use native plants instead?

large single plant of Russian Sage with spikes of lavender flowers

Russian Sage

First, definitions:

native plant = a species that occurs naturally in a particular regions, ecosystem, and/or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention (i.e. it’s been here for a long time and it evolved to be adapted here)

cultivar = a plant that has been selected for cultivation because of a particular characteristic or group of attributes – e.g. color – typically reproduced through cloning.

ornamental = plant grown for decorative purposes

The problem is that cultivated ornamental plant species frequently are not host plants for native pollinators (pollinators cannot make use of them), can become invasive, can contaminate local gene pools, and cannot maintain the sense of place that is something we all love about the places we live in.  There are great native plant alternatives that are hosts for native pollinators, provide habitat for local fauna, thrive in local climates, use less water, and preserve a sense of place.

Here are some examples:

  • Instead of Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) use Dotted Blazing Star (Liatris punctata) or Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
  • Instead of Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) use Ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceous) or Tri-lobed Sumac (Rhus trilobata)
  • Instead of Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) use Silver Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) or Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata)
  • Instead of Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) use Western Wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii)
  • Instead of Chickory (Cichorium intybus) use Blue Flax (Linum lewisii)


large single sagebrush plant with silvery blue foliage


Look for native plants with similar color, height and growing requirements to use instead of non-native species whenever possible.  You’ll be doing good things for your environment and for you!