Taking My Time With Cold Seed Stratification

It’s that time of year again…indoor seed sowing time!!!

I’ve already sprouted and potted up brassicas, sown lettuce and pea seeds, and am getting ready to start on the nightshades, herbs, and annual flowers.

This year, in addition to all of the annual fruits and veggies that I’ll be starting from seed, I’m also going to try my hand at starting some perennial trees, shrubs, and berries indoors.  If I’m successful, I’ll save a ton of money on landscaping and will be able to supply my family and customers with even more healthy food and herbs from the garden.

I say “if” because these particular perennials that I’m starting are a little more difficult to get going than your typical annual seed.  They can’t just be planted straight out of the seed packet into a seed starting medium.  Instead, most of these seeds require a period of stratification before they are sown.  Seed stratification is the process whereby seed dormancy is broken in order to promote germination.  

There are  different types of stratification.   According to Gardening Know How.com, “Some seeds require a warm and moist treatment, while others require a cool and wet treatment. Even still, other seeds require a combination of both warm and cool treatments followed by a warm treatment, or a combination of warm and cool moist followed by a dry cycle and warm period to germinate.”

Does this sound confusing?  Intimidating?  (It used to scare me off, so I kept my distance from these plants for a long, long time).  

However, I’ve grown much more comfortable with the seed starting process over the years, so I figured why not take on the challenge of seed stratification this year?

I hopped on over to one of my favorite heirloom seed sources, Bountiful Gardens, and placed an order for some of their wild cultivars: Serviceberry, Hawthorne, Bearberry, Hardy Kiwi, Chaste Tree, Schizandra, and a few others.

When the package arrived, I found out that most of my seeds were going to require cold stratification, which is the type of stratification used for “plants or trees that require time in the ground over winter in order to germinate” (Gardening Know How).

It was a little overwhelming at first, making my way through all of the instructions included with the seeds, but after digesting it all, I found that the process, although a little time consuming, was relatively easy to complete.

Here’s what I ended up doing…

First, I picked up some plastic containers at the local Dollar Tree.  These little ones, that came in a package of four, fit the bill perfectly…

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Then, using cotton balls as my medium, I created a moist, but not wet, layer on the bottom of the container…

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Next, I added the seeds…

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Then, I covered the seeds with more moist cotton balls…

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Finally, using the information on the seed packet, I calculated the date when the seeds would finish their cold stratification period, wrote it on the seed packet instructions and calendar, taped the seed packet instructions to the container, and placed the container into the refrigerator to be left alone until the recorded date at which time they’ll be removed from the refrigerator and then sown, indoors, just as I sow my other annual seeds.

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Some of the seeds can take up to a year to germinate after sowing, so this project is going to take some patience, but as the words from one of my favorite Wes King songs, Slow Miracles, says,  “the best things in life take time”, don’t they?

Curious about which perennials require cold stratification?  (I was surprised to find some of the plants I grow on this list, like lavender and catmint – I’ve never used cold stratification on these seeds before, but now maybe I will).  Head on over to A Garden for the House for a nice list of garden perennials, and Wild Ones for some great information and a chart on native, wild plants, like the ones that I am growing.