A Jump Start to Spring

Little Bluestem Seed

Sideoat Grama Seed

Purple Coneflower Seed

Winter here in northern Illinois has been unusually mild, resulting in a faster than normal beat to the rhythm of spring. Daffodils, one of the early indicators of spring, have begun to break through the soils surface. Gardening catalogs and Bluebirds announce spring’s arrival, too. Each of the previously mentioned occurrences suggest that the time has also come to start preparing some native plant seeds for germination!

In nature, spring’s rising soil temperatures and increased daylight wake dormant seeds from their winter slumber. When native forb, sedge and grass seeds are started indoors, unique stratification and germination requirements are required to break the seed’s dormancy. With a little research on each seed species, prior to planting, one can artificially break its dormancy and successfully grow most native plants from seed indoors. Species specific methods of stratification described by Prairie Moon Nursery in an earlier post entitled, “Lady Aster” is linked here for your convenience. However, some of the easier methods for breaking seed dormancy are described below:

DRY, COLD STRATIFICATION: (mimics volunteer seeding)

  • Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cold, dry refrigerator at a temperature of between 33-40 degrees Fahrenheit; and
  •  in response to warmer temperatures the sown seeds should begin to germinate.

COLD, MOIST STRATIFICATION (mimics over-wintering):

  • Combine equal parts sand and perlite or vermiculite and moisten the mixture with 1/2 part water;
  • add seeds to the mixture, place in a labeled, sealable polyethylene bag;
  • place the bag in the refrigerator (33-38 F) NOT the freezer for cold storage;
  •  3-18 weeks of cold storage time is needed to break dormancy, however, the time may vary from, depending on the species;
  • at the end of prescribed stratification period, sow the whole batch of seeds immediately into their final planting site or into individual planting containers 2/3 filled with a good quality potting mix;
  • lightly cover the stratified material with potting soil, pressing the top layer down to remove all the air space, and moisten the soil surface;
  • for potted plants, cover the container with plastic to promote germination; and
  • continue to water the seedlings as necessary until the plants have 2-3 true leaves. Once the true leaves are present, the seedlings are ready for transplantation.

HOT WATER TREATMENT (mimics passage through a stomach or heat from a fire):

  • In a non-aluminum pan bring un-softened water to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and let the water cool for 1-2 minutes;
  • place the seeds into a bowl and pour the hot water over the seeds;
  • allow the seeds to soak and come to room temperature for 24 hours; and
  • plant or cold, moist stratify the seeds if needed by the plant species.

SCARIFICATION (mimics passage through a stomach):

  • This stratification method is good for species that produce a berry or a pulp-covered seed. The objective is to abrade seed coats, a process that can be accomplished by rubbing the seeds between two sheets of medium grit sandpaper;
  •  seed that will be sown directly outdoors in the fall or winter should not be scarified in order to prevent premature germination and winter kill; and
  • plant or cold, moist stratify if needed.

These methods of stratification replicate the process native plant seeds undergo to break their dormancy. When mimicking nature’s stratification steps as closely as possible, gardeners are afforded the best possible germination rate for their native seeds. Now is the time to start your native plant garden by ordering seeds from a native plant nursery within 90 miles of your home or ecotype region and begin stratifying them for germination!

Resources

“Germination Instruction for Seeds,” prairiemoon.com. Prairie Moon Nursery, 2012 Web. Feb.18 2012.

Hansen, Jeff, “Growing Native Plants From Seed,” KansasNativePlant.com. Kansas Native Plants, 13 Sept. 2011 Web. 19 Feb. 2012.

Phillips, Harry R., Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers, An easy-to-use guide for all gardeners, The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

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