Native Seed Library

Welcome to our Native Seed Library

We are a free community resource for gardeners who are interested in growing plants that are native to our Northeast Ohio area. By sharing seeds and information, we hope to increase interest in native plants and the pollinators that rely on them. 

So come in and take a few packets. We have seeds for a wide variety of native perennial and annual wildflowers, plus beneficial grasses, shrubs, and trees. With these seeds you can create your own native habitat, allowing you to observe the wonders of nature right outside your door.

When you have your own native seeds to share, bring them in! Simply label, date, and package your seeds and leave them in the donor bin. We prefer only the straight species, no cultivars. If you’re unfamiliar with cultivars, read on for additional information.

General planting instructions

  1. Best to plant your seeds in spring or later in fall. Summer is fine, too.
  2. Plant the seeds in the ground or in a container. Make sure the soil is weed-free. Plant seeds just below the surface at a maximum depth of ⅛ -¼ “. 
  3. Tamp down the soil so the seeds have good soil contact.
  4. Water the seeded area and continue to water during the first growing season to promote good root growth. Don’t let the seeds dry out.
  5. Many native seeds are slow to sprout, patience is required.
  6. Enjoy the progress! It’s fun to see beautiful natives grow!

Seed Stratification: starting your native seed

Most native seeds need exposure to cold and wet conditions before they can germinate. This process is called seed stratification.

The easiest time to start seeds is in the fall, sowing them in the garden so they can experience seed stratification naturally during the winter months.

Another option is to plant seeds in the spring, when you can replicate the seed stratification process at home in your refrigerator.

Follow our stratification code instructions and your seeds will be ready to plant in spring and summer. These codes are now printed on each NCSL seed packet (the coding system was developed by Prairie Moon Nursery).

To view with accompanying photos, visit the Prairie Moon Nursery website.

Why native gardens are important

We have—through the decades—been serendipitous about our planting choices, often selecting showy exotics and splashy species for our gardens, while taking immense pride in our weedless lawns. In doing so, we deprived our pollinators of their own food sources and stripped them of their natural habitats. The result is nothing less than an insect apocalypse. According to scientists, the insect population is down an astounding 70% from previous decades. As the number of pollinators continues to decline, so does the number of birds and other wildlife that rely on insects as their major food source. What’s more, our own survival is tied to the well-being of pollinators: insect pollination accounts for one-fourth of our own food supply. We need more pollinators and we need them now!

That is why the native garden movement is so pivotal in bringing biodiversity back into our gardens and yards. Let’s make our gardens more pollinator-centric. Every garden counts, no matter the size. With your involvement, our community can weave together a network of flowery havens that actually welcomes the birds and insects that depend on native plants.

We have discovered even more reasons for having a garden filled with native plants. After all, it is a garden that does not rely on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. It is a garden that’s safer for kids and pets, thanks to the lack of those chemicals. It is a garden that pairs well with vegetable gardens by bringing in the pollinators. It is a garden that bestows an enhanced appreciation of the checks and balances of nature. And it is a garden that—over time—can cut down your garden chores (more about that later).

Who are these pollinators anyway?

Besides the birds, butterflies and bees, there are countless dragonflies, moths, flies, ants, wasps, beetles, hoppers and many more species. We need to rethink our relationship with these creatures, because when pollinators thrive, we too thrive. Indeed, we rely on their existence for our survival. As mentioned, our food sources would shrink dramatically without them.

Where do cultivars fit in?

A cultivar is a plant that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding. In other words, a grower has genetically altered a native plant to produce a different look, be it a larger flower, brighter color, shorter stature, etc. In many cases, these changes are insignificant and pollinators continue to visit the plant. 

In some cases though, once the native plant has been altered, the pollinators may not recognize the cultivar as its evolutionary food source and mainstay. If that happens, fewer pollinators benefit from cultivars and the purpose of growing Ohio native plants has been diminished.

You’ll be able to recognize a cultivar at the plant nursery. Look at the plant label. If you see a name descriptor in quotes, it is a cultivar. For example, Rudbeckia Purpurea ‘Cherry Beauty’ is a cultivar. Any name in quotes is a giveaway. While many nurseries have a preponderance of cultivars, it should be fairly easy to find the straight species as well.

Best pollinator garden practices

  1. You can always start small. Even a few pots is a sweet beginning.
  2. Plant with a succession of flowers in mind so that they’ll bloom from spring through fall.
  3. Consider the monarchs. They depend on the milkweed family.
  4. Work with your soil type, not against it. Put the right plant in the right place and your success is all but certain.
  5. Leave plant stalks and grasses up all winter. Birds need the seeds and many bees overwinter inside the stems and stalks.
  6. Leave the leaves in fall…rake them into your garden beds if possible. They will become a leafy compost.
  7. Look into including some host plants in your garden (see below).

Host Plants

Host plants are considered the green baby nurseries of the natural world. Butterflies lay their eggs on their specific host plant and soon their caterpillars will eat the leaves and eventually become lovely butterflies.

Note that pollinators are very picky eaters and only choose designated plants to host their young. Monarchs and milkweeds are a typical example of this. Other butterflies are less particular but still want certain plants as larval hosts and food. It has been found that some caterpillars like vegetable garden varieties such as fennel, parsley and dill. If you want to attract a specific pollinator to your garden, it’s beneficial to discover its host plant. Or find a host plant that is favored by a large group of pollinators. We have not discussed trees and shrubs, but they too are host plants. For instance, the oak tree supports an astounding 534 species, making it the mother of all host plants!

Finding the right native plant

As with all plants, native plants do best in conditions that fit their needs. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

10 sun-loving natives (that tolerate a bit of light shade) 

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)

Blazing star (Liatris spicata)

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia species)

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata)

Goldenrod (Solidago species)

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Wild senna (Senna hebecarpa)

Shade-loving natives

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)

Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

White wood aster (Aster divaricatus)

Moisture-loving natives

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum, E. purpureum)

Northern blue flag (Iris versicolor)

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

White turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

Clay-loving natives

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)

Blazing star (Liatris spicata)

Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)

Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)

Ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)


Bringing Nature Home, Douglas W. Tallamy

Nature’s Best Hope, Douglas W. Tallamy

Garden Wildlife, Christine and Michael Lavelle

The Well-tended Perennial Garden, Tracy DiSabato Aust

Plant This Instead, Troy B. Madden

(All are available at the Shaker Heights Public Library)


Contact a seed library volunteer for more info at