I’m trying out something new. Taking my gardening to the next level. I’m attempting cold seed stratification from seeds I’ve plucked out of my backyard. It’s like olden days. Only with a fridge.
So, what the heck is Seed Stratification anyway?
I know that’s what you’re asking yourself* (*disclaimer: I am not officially an actual mind reader). In a nutshell, seed stratification is mimicking the natural dormancy and growth conditions of a seed. In nature, seeds are released from the mother plant as winter approaches, and are scattered by the wind and end up, hopefully, in a favorable growing medium (a.k.a dirt). The seeds are buried by soil, snow, ice, water, etc. and then lie dormant, for many months, before germinating in the spring thaw. They need this cold period of latency in order to grow. It’s kind of like hibernating for plants. There are many seeds that require cold stratification for growth and if you’ve ever purchased seed packets of St. John’s Wort, or Geranium, or Delphinium, then you have bought seeds that were stratified for you by the seed company! Who knew?!
The easiest way to achieve the natural conditions of the freeze and thaw of winter is to actually sow the seeds outside, either directly in the ground, or in an uncovered pot. However, I did not consider this before I went on a mad seed-saving expedition in my backyard. I was so proud of my neatly labelled envelopes of seeds that I didn’t stop to think that perhaps there was an easier way. #mothernatureforthewin
To make up for my lack of consideration, I am now attempting the second best option of cold seed stratification, by stratifying the seeds myself. In my refrigerator. If there’s space. (Full disclosure: there’s never really enough space.) I have chosen my favourite-there-can-never-be-enough-of-it-ever-anywhere-perennial, Echinacea. I love Echinacea. I think every garden should have some. They’re easy to grow, drought tolerant, hardy, and best of all, Echinacea has healing skills! Technically, Echinacea are self-seeders, which means they drop their seeds, and those seeds lie dormant over the winter and germinate the following spring. I, however, have had zero luck with this natural phenomenon. I don’t know if it’s me, or my nosy, seedling-gorging chickens, but I have never had a single naturally-ocurring Echinacea seedling. Ever. So, I’m taking over for mother nature, just this once (okay, so I’ve taken over more than once, but she’s got to understand: a girl’s got to have her summer squashes, and sometimes the bees don’t help pollinate. Bees can be jerks like that).
There are a few different methods of refrigerator seed stratification. They involve vermiculite or peat moss or soilless mixes, and really, who has that on hand? (well, technically I do, but it’s all the way in the shed, and 30 steps is really far when you don’t feel like getting it!) So, I’m going to try the paper towel method. I do have paper towels. I have one holder-outer in my home who refuses to buy completely into the paper towel-free life, so I stand firmly on my soapbox, alone, only to get off and sneak some paper towels for a seed project. No one has to know…and it’s for a good cause, right?
Easy Refrigerator Seed Stratification
What you need:
Sharpie or Pen
Dried echinacea seeds
Dampen the paper towel and wring it out until it’s barely moist. Scatter seeds on half the paper towel in a single layer. Fold the paper towel in half so the seeds are sandwiched between the paper towel. Carefully insert paper towel sandwich into the ziploc baggie. Seal.
Label bag with date and type of seed. Place on a flat surface in your fridge and leave it there for 30-60 days. Check on it periodically for signs of mould.
Happy Refrigerator Gardening!