With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating the news and our lives, and with stress levels soaring because of it, I thought I would discuss a topic of a lighter note: Wildflower and Tree Seed Bombs. While it might suggest a topic of a less serious note, some of the words associated with the subject have some severe associations. Just the word “bomb” does not bring to mind something the family can make and do together. On the contrary, making these seed bombs is also a fun family project while we are subject to stay-at-home laws.
And the hobby of “guerrilla gardening” also does not conjure up an image of a fun way to spend a weekend day. Though it sounds radical, guerrilla gardening is not an overtly political or polarizing endeavor. Its objective is simple: transform unused land into gardens. People all over the globe are drawn to this humble mission and are taking up arms in the form of shovels, compost, plants, bulbs, and seed bombs in an attempt to bring their communities back to life.
One might think that wildflower and tree seed bombing is a newfangled hipster way to plant seed and help the environment, but not so. Even though one can throw the seed bombs out of a moving car, from a bicycle, or on a hike, seed bombing is an ancient practice that goes back to the feudal days of Japan. While on the surface it seems like a simple concept, like most things in life, to get the most good out of it, one needs to put a little thought into it. Furthermore, believe it or not, seed bombing can be illegal, so here are some tips from a New York Times article and from a few other DIY gardening articles.
While there are a number of seed bomb recipes one can use, make sure you use one that can lead to the greatest rate of seed germination and ultimate success. Just like any good recipe in the kitchen, for this garden recipe you will need a mixing bowl and baking sheets. Summarizing a recipe from Daniel Cunningham, a horticulturalist at Texas A&M, add one-part native wildflower seed mix to four parts powdered clay and five parts fine-gained compost. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly and stir in water slowly until you have a thick bread-dough consistency.
Gather a small pinch of this seed-infused mud mixture and roll it into marble-sized balls. A cup of seeds can yield dozens of the seed bomb balls. Set the balls on a cookie sheet and let them dry in the sun. These clay balls protect the seed from the heat of the sun. They’re heavy enough to be unaffected by the wind or heavy rains and the hard clay casing deters animal nibblers as well. In dry areas, the shape of the ball actually gives enough shade to conserve moisture. The seeds begin to germinate, and the ball breaks apart. The small pile of crumbles provides the start for the root system but is still heavy enough to anchor the emerging seeds to the ground.
Types of seeds to use and when to plant
Make sure the seeds you are using are native to your area, whether they be wildflower or tree seeds. The last thing you want to do is introduce invasive species to your area. I have spent countless hours in the local National Park and surrounding areas removing invasive species that are wrecking havoc on old established forest growth.
Fall to early spring is the best time to make and throw seed bombs. Seed bombs need water and moderate temperatures to succeed. The seeds of many northern species need to experience a winter cold period before the seeds will germinate. Sowing the seeds during the cold and wet time of year will give these seeds the best chance to work their way into a soil niche and provide the cold stratification they need for germination. By mid-May, the landscape begins to warm, and the soil dries out. This makes late spring a riskier environment for seed germination if you cannot provide supplemental water.
Leaving a Positive Impact
Now that your seed bombs are ready to go and the time of year for planting is right, now what. Believe it or not, you just can’t throw your seed bombs wherever you want. It can actually be illegal to do so. We don’t want you to end up in jail! Don’t throw your seed bombs on farm land, you don’t want to interfere with agricultural production. If in an urban area, while most people won’t call the police on you for trying to liven up a blighted area, it is best to get permission first so you won’t be accused of vandalism or trespassing. Seed bombs are a delightful idea and, if done with the planning previously discussed, I really can’t see why anyone would reasonably object.
Using native plant seed balls is a great way to reseed the landscape and to reclaim bare patches of land. In Texas, some of the highest concentrations of wildflowers can be found along highways thanks in part to the work of former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, over 50 years ago. And there have even been proposals in recent years to adopt the idea on an industrial scale to repopulate vast areas with trees. Reforesting devastated, blighted areas that are lacking vegetation is what The Gifted Tree advocates, by planting memorial and celebration trees in 30 plus countries worldwide. As Lady Bird Johnson once said: “ugliness is so grim.”