I feel like every time I sow seed, the germination rate is really poor.
I live in an extremely challenging climate, with 7" of annual rain, dry and windy springs, scorching desert summers, freezing winters, and concrete-like bare earth that I'm desperately trying to cover in something. Here are the methods I've tried over the past three years:
- Throw seeds on bare earth (0% germination, seeds wasted)
- Throw seeds on bare earth, then cover with 1/2" of mulch (mulch blows away; 0% germination, seeds wasted)
- Throw seeds on bare earth, then cover with 1" of mulch (maybe 1% germination; most shoots can't penetrate the kind of heavy wood mulch that won't blow away in high wind)
- Throw seeds on top of purchased compost or topsoil (maybe 5% germination)
- Throw seeds on bare earth, then cover to maybe 1/8" with purchased compost or topsoil (seems like maybe 20% germination)
- Throw seeds on bare earth, then cover with a lot of topsoil (maybe 20% germination, and costs a lot of money in compost or topsoil)
- Mix seeds into purchased compost or topsoil and spread that around (seems like > 25% germination, but extremely labor-intensive and expensive)
As for what I'm seeding, it's all climate-appropriate tough native plants or introduced drought-hardy plants. Examples include Western Wheatgrass, Siberian Wheatgrass, Blue Grama Grass, Curly Mesquite grass, Purslane, and American Vetch. Some of these are not cheap, so the low germination rate is disappointing. When I do manage to get them to grow, they perform as expected and need no irrigation once established.
I'm seeding in the spring or fall, and where I can, I water daily to keep the top inch or two moist while I'm trying to germinate them. Still, the results aren't great, especially in my very large backyard where I can't feasibly water. Is there some trick I'm missing?
Edit: my goal is not to grow a lawn or anything silly like that, but to return the land to its native state: a scrubby high desert rangeland that looks more or less like this: