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Old 12-29-2008, 02:33 PM   #1
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Default Cold Moist Stratification - an Important Seed Treatment

If you like to grow a lot of native plants from seed like I do, cold moist stratification is an important seed treatment.

Nature has devised methods to prevent seed germination at the wrong time of year. If seeds that are produced by native plants in the summer or fall germinated right away the young seedlings would not be able to survive the rigors of winter. So nature inhibits germination until the following spring. These delayed germination methods can take several forms. Some are physical (like a waterproof seed coat), some are chemical (chemicals within the seed inhibit germination), and some are combinations of these and other methods. Cold moist stratification is a technique that will deal with most of the chemical inhibitors.

The Wild Ones Handbook has a good pdf file on various seed treatments, including cold moist stratification:
http://www.for-wild.org/download/guidebook/0040Reference/004cGerminationInstructionsFinalRevision.pdf
Quote:
Seeds germinate after a period of moist, cold stratification.
Please note: Do not use this method of you are planting a seed mix and cannot keep the site moist. Also, do not stratify if you are fall planting or using a seed drill. Mix seeds with equal amounts or more of damp sand, vermiculite, or other sterile media (moist-but not so wet that water will squeeze out of a handful). Prairie Moon Nursery uses silica sand (purchase at a building supply center) for small quantities. For large quantities you can use coarse grade vermiculite. Place mixture in a labeled, sealed plastic bag and store in refrigerator (33-38 F). Two months of this cold storage before planting is normally required to break the dormancy of these seeds, but one month may work for many species if time is a constraint. Exceptions to length of storage time are noted in the Cultural Guide in parentheses [Example: C (90) = C for 90 days]. Some seeds may sprout in the storage bag if moist stratified too long. If sprouting occurs, plant immediately. Another method of breaking dormancy for species requiring moist stratification is to sow seeds outdoors in the fall so they may overwinter.
Their seed treatment recommendations are based on the information provided in the Prairie Moon Nursery catalog:
http://www.prairiemoon.com/
Their catalog lists almost 600 species of native plants with germination instructions for each species. It's an excellent information guide for native plants as well as a source of seeds and plants.

I use mason's sand (a coarse, washed sand) for most of my cold moist stratification. Don't use the fine play sand that you find at some stores. The seeds need both water and oxygen during stratification. So the media that you choose must both retain moisture and be coarse enough to allow air to move through it. I also use more media (usually 3 to 4 times more than the amount of seed) than they recommend. I find that more media keeps the moisture level more stable. Organic media (like potting mix) can be used, but if it is not sterilized you run the risk of fungus and mold problems. You also don't want to use an organic media that will be breaking down during stratification and using up all of the available oxygen.

You can prepare a lot of seeds for spring germination using this method. The small plastic bags (I use Ziploc pint freezer bags) can be put in a small box or plastic container and placed in the refrigerator. You will occasionally see a recommendation to put seeds in the freezer instead of the refrigerator. Don't do it! Cold moist stratification does not work at freezing temperatures. The freezer is only suitable for storage of dry seeds. Freezing will kill most seeds that have a high moisture content.

One final note: If you are not familiar with the Wild Ones organization, and you are interested in native plants, check out their website:
http://www.for-wild.org/
They are an excellent organization that promotes landscaping with native plants. If they have a chapter near you, get in touch with them. You'll find a lot of good people and a lot of resources.
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Old 12-30-2008, 03:17 PM   #2
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Ohhhh, very nice thread. Prairie Moon Nursery is more than just a nursery. I refer to their germination instructions frequently.
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Old 12-30-2008, 04:13 PM   #3
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This type of germination works equally well for many vegetable seeds as well. On my want list is a used refrigerator just for this purpose.
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Old 12-30-2008, 04:56 PM   #4
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A friend an I use refrigerators in some native orchid seed propagation. Being the frugal sort that we are, we found that the cheapest way for us to get used refrigerators was to talk to a refrigerator sales store and ask them to give us the trade-ins when they sold a new refrigerator. We got a couple for nothing more than the cost of going and picking them up!
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Old 12-30-2008, 05:09 PM   #5
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I plant my natives anywhere from TG weekend to late January, outdoors, in styrofoam cups, using cheap potting soil from the local grocery store. Works great!
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Old 12-30-2008, 07:22 PM   #6
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Oh my, excellent idea, NWisc had not thought about trying that angle. Thank you
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Old 10-06-2009, 04:16 PM   #7
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Another bump so that I can find this when I have a little more time to go through it.
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Old 10-06-2009, 04:30 PM   #8
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I have my first batch of seeds cold stratifying in the fridge right now. I can't tell you how many times I've checked to see what that bag of brown gooey-looking stuff in the bottom of the drawer was. . . .
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Old 10-07-2009, 12:25 AM   #9
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Sometimes this is made out to be a whole more complicated than it really is. I live in an area that has wet Falls, cold winters, and wet, warm springs. So when I collect seed...starting around now, I dry it for a couple of days...remember, you're trying to replicate the outdoors. Warm days, cool nights. Letting the seed dry for a couple of days is a good way to avoid the "goo." Then I stick it in the vegetable crisper in a plastic bag, until I'm ready to plant...usually around Dec. 22nd. No particular reason for that date, except it's my dad's B-day and the solstice, and by that time, I'm semi-stircrazy. I use cheap potting soil that I buy at the local Jewel. Then I enclose the container I planted the seed into(usually a large styrofoam cup) in a ziploc baggie, and chuck it outside for the duration of winter. It gets plenty of freeze/thaw, and I get, on average, about 85% germination. I check the Prairiemoon website to see if the seed needs to be covered, or exposed to light. But for most seed, I cover with 1/16" of media. Grasses I don't cover. A. Canadensis should not be covered with soil, it needs light to germinate.

If I'm sowing on bare ground, I like to do it over Thanksgiving weekend. It's my way of Thanks-giving. Plus, I have the time to do it at that point.
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Old 10-07-2009, 07:22 AM   #10
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A good thread. Thanks, all. I've just requested the Prairie Moon catalog. There's also wintersown.org, which I don't know enough about to rate.
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