Article - Floral Encounters

Don't want to stratify your seeds?

Plant them in early winter

An easy way to grow plants that are a bit more finicky about sprouting.

Some seeds need more complex treatments to get them to germinate. Some are darn right fussy about the conditions they need others just need a little prodding along. Almost all of these can be germinated indoors using a refrigerator or a cold garage during the winter. However if you don't want to go to all that trouble there is an easy way, if you live in areas that get cold in the winter. If you don't then these plants most likely wont grow for you anyway.

Plant the seeds in the autumn/fall or early winter.

Planting outside can be done into early winter as long as the soil can be worked and its not waterlogged you can still plant your seeds.

For seeds that need moist cold stratification its really simple to just prepare the bed in the fall sow the seeds and then keep an careful eye on them in the spring when they should germinate. This method works well in many cases and it's a lot less work than re-creating the same conditions yourself to get the seeds to germinate.
However there are a few things to consider when choosing this method.

  1. Remember where you planted the seeds! This might sound stupid but its very easy to prepare something in October then totally forget what you did by next May and accidently destroy the seed bed by planting over it, reseeding or planting it with something else or - in one instance we know of - erecting a shed on top of it. Make sure you mark the area well and use markers that are going to outlast the rages of winter, pets, children and other outdoor animals.

  2. If possible fence the area off during the winter months. It does not have to be much. Those nice bright colored snow sticks they sell in Home Depot looped with string, the short decorative wire fencing or even chicken wire around them works just fine. This is to keep off pets and wild animals that may disturb the seed bed during the winter months and scatter the seeds you planted into other areas.

  3. Read any instructions that come with your seeds. Some species need light to germinate and need to be surface sown, others need a light covering some need to be deeper. Getting the sowing right is important otherwise all the effort you put into fall sowing is wasted. If you forget to read the packet, check our website. We have detailed instructions on all seed pages about how to sow, grow and care for your seeds and plants.

  4. If seeds are surface sown or only lightly covered put netting or something over the bed to prevent birds or rodents getting at the seeds during the winter months. In winter critters are hungry and would just love to get near your lovingly planted seeds.

  5. It's a good idea to document what you planted, when and where. I know it sounds like a lot of work but you will be happy you did in the spring when you can't remember how many seeds you planted and on what dates. It also helps you identify the plants coming up. You see little seedlings coming up and think its what you planted, but you have 40 of them but you only planted 20 seeds. So what you think is what you planted is not, look for something else coming up and evict the 40 seedlings since they must be weeds.

  6. Space seeds farther apart than you normally would at least 4 inches around each smaller seed and at much as a foot for larger ones. Stratified seeds often don't like to be transplanted and they also don't all germinate at the same time so giving them enough room to grow where they are is the best option.

  7. Have some idea of what the seedlings will look like when they germinate. The main problem with sowing outside is spring weed competition. If you cleared a nice section of soil to plant you seeds you can bet that some weed seeds will have found it, most likely a lot of weed seeds and the area will be bursting with little seedlings come spring. The trick is to know which ones you can pull out and which ones you need to leave behind. Pulling out your seedlings after all that work would be very annoying to say the least.

  8. Try and keep the bed weeded come spring. The less competition your new seedlings have the better they will grow. This is why point #3 Is so important.

  9. Don't plant in a wet area or one that will hold water during the winter months. Wet ground can rot your seeds and then of course they won't germinate. What is needed is moist soil not wet. Its important that it drains well when not frozen. So when the ground thaws the water drains away rather than staying in wet puddles that will also rot your seeds. For the same reason don't overwater the area where the seeds are planted.

  10. Don't expect a huge germination rate. Some plants are just darn finicky and even if you do everything right you may not get that many germinate the first year. Some species germinated almost 100% with a little cold stratification. Other may only be 15 - 20%. Even professionals have a lot of trouble with some species. This is why they are expensive to buy and you don't see some plants for sale at all.

  11. Keep a good eye on the bed for several years. Even though seeds are supposed to germinate after one cold season sometimes - more often than we would like - a lot don't come up for two or three years. So if you don't keep an eye on the bed you may miss or loose the new little ones as they germinate. They may accidently be weeded out or overshadowed by other plants. We have had seeds germinating five years after they were originally planted.

  12. Don't expect fast growth. Many species that need fancy germination are fairly slow growers once they do germinate. Often it takes one to three years before they get to flowering. Others however may grow fast and flower in the first year.

  13. Some species like a specific sequence. Maybe warm cold warm before they germinate. These seeds need to be planted earlier in the fall so they get warm before it gets cold. Then hopefully they will germinate the next spring. Others like two cold winters before they will germinate so it may take a long time before your seedlings appear.

  14. Keep an eye on the temperatures. If we have a warm winter and the temperatures do not go below the 'ideal' range considered cold by a specific plant then it won't germinate. The seeds will just sit there until a year when it does get cold enough and then they will finally sprout.

Some seeds are very finicky and need just the right conditions to germinate. If they are planted in ground eventually those conditions will be met and they should germinate. If of course they have not been eaten or rotted. For this reason planting seeds in the ground can be the best option especially if they are in an area that is not frequently 'gardened'. You may find a yourself surprised by plants growing up years after you put the seeds down and may even have given up on seeing them.

NEVER GIVE UP ON SEEDS.

If you have chosen to start your seeds indoors either in trays, pots of in baggies in the refrigerator. Unless every seed you have planted has germinated NEVER give up on the seeds. If you feel you have a lost cause then take the soil that the seeds are in and put it in the garden in an area where you will not be constantly disturbing the soil spread it out and water it in. Then leave it. Its quite common for seeds to germinate much later than expect when the grower has given up. So don't. Just put them somewhere where they can germinate in their own time.

We always put our 'spent' seed mix out in some area of our property and have been pleasantly surprised at how many plants have eventually come up. As an experiment I have kept some seed trays for over three years in our cold greenhouse and found seeds germinating in the fourth year after planting. Most people wont have the space to do this so when you think there is no hope for your seeds find a spot and plant them outside. Just make sure that you check it before weeding, or mowing or all your careful work may be for nothing.

For those who want more control sowing in seed trays or pots is possible. Then give the seeds cold treatment see our Stratification Instructions for more details.

We offer a range of plants that need cold stratification. Most of these plants are not difficult to grow with a little cold but some are more difficult. However they are all worth the work and grow into really beautiful plants.

List of plants that need stratification.

 

Janice Hazeldine PhD is the owner and head grower of Floral Encounters an organic Medicinal Herb farm that is also a designated sanctuary for pollinators.