In natural situations seeds are dispersed by various methods including exploding seed pods, wind, birds and animals. Depending on the parent plant and their life cycle they may germinate and sprout immediately or lie dormant in the earth until conditions are just right for them to grow. Some seeds have characteristics that inhibit and delay germination such as hard seed coats or they need a period of cold (winter) to stimulate them into growth.
In the garden things are a bit different. We humans have learned to harvest, dry and store seeds in their dormant state then sow them when it’s convenient for us. Luckily, most seeds will germinate and grow well as soon as we plant them. But some seeds need us to do what nature would do to the seed. Overcoming dormancy is easy to do and you’ll get excellent germination.
Here’s some useful techniques to break dormancy in specific seeds.
Cold moist stratification
Some seeds such as Cleome, Lunaria (Honesty) and Eryngium need a cold period plus water to get them started. Sow seeds in a small pot of moist compost and place in a cold frame for 2 weeks in winter. Alternatively mix the seeds with a small amount of moist compost in a plastic bag and keep in a clearly labelled container in the fridge. After 2 weeks sow and move into warmer conditions to encourage germination.
Some seeds just need a cold period to trigger growth. I’ve found that by placing the unopened seed packet in a plastic bag in the freezer for one week does the trick. (Make sure you label the bag clearly so no one is tempted to eat the seeds!) This treatment is only suitable for very hardy plants such as Larkspur and Hellebores. Other seeds from plants that are used to warmer climates such as Half Hardy Annuals (Like Cleome mentioned above) will not survive freezing conditions.
Softening Seed Coats
Hard seed coats on Sweet Peas can be softened by soaking overnight in a small jar of clean water. You’ll find the small hard seeds have swollen by the morning then they are ready for sowing in moist compost. If you’d rather not soak your seeds, it’s also possible to make a small nick in the seed coat with a sharp knife before sowing. That small chip allows moisture and air to penetrate the seeds to start germination. That’s also known as Scarification and if you’d rather not use a sharp knife to nick the seed you can rub them with sandpaper to weaken the outer surface of the seeds.
Do Not Worry!
The main thing to remember is not to be worried about sowing seeds. It’s easy! Seeds have an inbuilt drive to grow and they’ve been tested by me and my suppliers for excellent germination. We know that at least 80% of seeds in a packet will grow and in ideal conditions often ALL of them grow.
There are plenty of seeds in every packet so my advice would always be to read the growing information in the shop for each seed FIRST… then follow the instuctions.
Sowing some seeds now and saving some for later is always a good plan. In the unlikely event that they don’t germinate the first time you’ll have plenty of seeds left to sow again and you can adjust your sowing method if necessary.
I hope this information has helped you to understand how easy it is to grow your favourite flowers from seed. I wouldn’t be without them in my garden. I hope you enjoy them too! Gillian 🙂