Stratifying seeds for increased germination.

Stratifying seeds for increased germination.

It's that time of year to think about gardening !

This is a very exciting time of year when I come out of the winter slumber and start dreaming about the garden plans. There is a lot to think about and plan with gardens and one of the earliest tasks is cold stratifying some seeds. I start this process of planning and stratifying around winter solstice. Cold Stratification is a process that mimics the outdoor environment and conditions of winter to break the dormancy of the seed and encourage germination. Some seeds do not need this an others are dependant. I try to sow these seeds in the fall and let winter conditions take care of it, but if you have forgotten or not had time, there is a simple way to stratify your seeds !

Some seeds just need cold but most will need cold and moist stratifying and possibly some scarification. I will write a bit about that later. 

The method is first to research and identify if your seed needs this process. Then make a schedule of how long each variety needs this cold/moist temperatures and how long before your last frost you will want to seed them in flats. This will give you an idea of how long this could take and to not miss your window !! . 

OK !! How to do it ?  I start with my seeds, a plate, some paper towel, a few ziploc baggies, sharpie and a bowl of water. I then dip my paper towel in the water, squeeze out the excess water. It should be moist but not dripping. I lay it on a plate and evenly sprinkle my seeds on the moist towel. I fold it up, label the baggie with start and end date, leave the baggie slightly open for air and put in the fridge. Done.

A few notes. Some seeds are soo tiny. I try to gently sprinkle them but always feel like I might have over sprinkled. Each seed will be a plant so I try to gauge how many are on the towel... I just try to have a steady hand or use tweezers ! Some seeds that are large are really easy to handle I might add some potting soil or sand to the towel. The small seeds are just too small to add any soil or sand medium. They would get lost ! I leave a note on the fridge and on top of my seeds in the fridge as a reminder to check on them. Feel the paper towel, examine the seeds etc.. baby them !! This method is awesome for folks with limited fridge space. Some folks stratify directly in soil in pots or trays and put in fridge but that does require lots of fridge space many of us do not have. 

There is a lazy method that folks I know have had good results with. Simply putting the dry seed pack in the fridge and keeping track of the time. I have heard of good results this way but I have always kept mine moist !!

So what is seed scarification and why do we need to do it ? Some seeds have an incredibly hard shell. The need to be scarred, nicked, or scraped to penetrate that shell and encourage germination. These seeds in nature drop in the fall, take a beating from rains and the soil acts as a natural abrasion to start opening the hard shell. The soil microbes also help this process. We can mimic this process with light sandpaper or a nail file. Some seeds shells will also open with soaking in water. It is always recommended to research your seeds and see what they need. This process can be long but well worth it for germination rates.

I more than likely have missed a few things but I am writing what I have done in the past with good results. There is so much to learn in this process. I have calculated how many shots I get a gardening and it is not alot ! I am 43 this year and and have had about 12 seasonal gardens. If I garden until I am 85 that leaves 42 more seasonal garden experiences to learn from and a total of 54 gardening seasons.

This is a precious experience I treasure so deeply. I often think of seed lineages, soil and the alchemy they create together. How long has my calendula seeds been around? They came from the Mediterranean with the colonizers across the ocean and made it all the way across so called Canada to the northwest. I used to live in the Kootenay region and had many Doukhobor friends that cultivated very old seed from their families in Russia. Pretty interesting stuff. I often wonder how many hundreds of years of knowledge and genetic information these seeds carry. To me this is advances technology !! The DNA of these plant lineages is purely magical and super fascinating.

I hope you have an awesome time with your garden nurturing the soil and plants !! What will we learn about them in 2023 ?

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.