Native plants can be grown using traditional horticultural techniques by large- and small-scale growers and backyard hobbyists alike. Indeed, there are several plants native to the Pensacola area for sale at specialty native plant nurseries, local nurseries, and even big box store vendors. However, should you choose to grow your own natives there are a few things you should know in order to be successful.
The three most common ways to propagate native plants are by seeds, cuttings, or division. Native plants can be grown in a variety of soilless media (potting mix) but most native plants can be grown using a standard product at your local nursery store. Likewise, native plants can be grown in a variety of containers, however containers with a deep soil profile are recommended to increase the root depth at time of planting. Native plants can be fertilized using standard fertilizers including compost, water soluble fertilizers, and control release fertilizers though fertilizer application rates should be modest. Water quality is also important but is beyond the scope of this article.
Fruit and Seed collection
The visual cues that determine a mature fruit are diverse and depend on the species, but a few general recommendations can be made separately for dry and fleshy fruit types. For dry fruits, a general recommendation is to harvest fruit tissue when fruits are changing colors from green to brown or black and when fruit tissue and other tissues immediately surrounding fruit tissue begins to dry. Note fruits that dehisce should be collected right before, or at the time that the fruits begin to split open and disperse. For fleshy fruit types, a general recommendation is to harvest fruit tissue when fruits become soft and change color, but before fruit tissue begins to get mushy and rot. Another general recommendation is to collect fruits when they easily fall off the plant with a light shake or touch.
A basic understanding of some seed biology and a few horticultural techniques can greatly improve your success in growing native plants! Seeds are living organisms that contain an outer layer (seed coat), a food reserve (endosperm), and a baby plant (embryo) which, upon germination, grow into mature plants. Seeds are either dormant or non-dormant* when released from the mother plant. Nondormant seeds germinate readily given the appropriate moisture, temperature, oxygen, and light. Dormant seeds fail to germinate given these appropriate conditions and as a propagator require a little extra work. Here we use the seed dormancy classification outlined by Baskin and Baskin, the titans of the seed world, in their seminal "A Classification System for Seed Dormancy" text in Seed Science Research Journal.
Physiological dormancy (PD) - A hormonal imbalance within the tissues of seeds prevents germination. Require stratification in order to promote germination.
Physical dormancy (PY) - Seed coat inhibits the uptake of water. Require scarification in order to break seed coat and allow for water into the seed. Common scarification techniques include rubbing seeds between sandpaper, placing seeds in hot water, hand nicking with sharp object, and soaking in acid. Regardless of scarification technique, care must be taken to not shatter the seed or damage the embryo.
Combinational dormancy (PD + PY) - Seeds contain both physiological and physical dormancy. Physical dormancy must first be relieved via scarification, seeds imbibed, then stratification.
Morphological dormancy (MD) - Seed detaches from plant with an immature (undifferentiated) embryo which develops upon the proper environmental conditions post-dispersal.
Morphophysiological dormancy (MD + PY) - Seeds contain both morphological dormancy and physiological dormancy
* = Some seeds are released from the parent plant as non-dormant but then upon some environmental condition (for example, unseasonably high temperatures) are rendered dormant in a phenomenon referred to as secondary dormancy