First of all, congratulations on deciding to try your hand at growing some native plants from seed! We truly hope you will grow a garden that makes you happy, brings you stress-relief and invites many vital creatures to make your yard their ‘home’. We truly wish you success, especially as you get started! Seeing your first seeds actually germinate and grow is one of the best experiences as a gardener! Here are a few things we have learned and want to share with you as you get started…
Why do we have to stratify native plant seeds?
The seeds of many of Eastern North America’s native plants have developed dormancy mechanisms. This ensures that they will not germinate and begin to grow late in the summer or in the autumn. If they germinate at this time, they will not have enough time to develop a strong enough root system to survive the harsh winter ahead. This is unlike most annual plants which will start to grow as soon as their seeds are in the soil. Annuals grow fast, produce their fruit and seeds and then die when frost and winter return. Native perennials, on the other hand, need to have strong root systems in order to survive winter and re-emerge year after year.
What is stratification?
Almost all native plant and tree seeds need to experience a cold, moist period of time (winter) before they will germinate. This is the stratification period! That's it! It does get a little more complicated with certain species that need both warm and cold stratification periods. But for the most part, if you can create a "pretend" winter for your seeds, they will germinate!
What is scarification?
Some species may also have very thick seed coats which need to be ‘scarified*,’ or scratched, in addition to being cold, moist stratified. In nature, this can happen when seeds are eaten by animals and then pass through their digestive systems. Stomach acids can help to weaken the seed coat - some seeds, like those of the Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, can be soaked in acidic substances or have boiling water poured over them in order to compromise the seed coat before cold stratification begins. For any species requiring scarification, you will need to scarify the seed coat first, and then begin the period of cold, moist stratification.
In nature, these perfect processes may or may not happen and seeds can remain dormant or buried too far underground for years before the perfect conditions occur - if they ever do.
By collecting seed and artificially scarifying and stratifying we are usually able to create the conditions for much higher germination rates than would occur in the wild. Stratification takes time and a little planning ahead. In Canada, planting seeds is considered to be mainly a springtime activity. Unfortunately, spring is not the best time to start cold, moist stratification processes for native seeds! Many species need at least 30 days of stratification - so by mid-April in Ontario, you want your seeds to be stratified and ready for planting!
*If your seeds require scarification, we will include a small piece of sandpaper in your seed package. Follow instructions in the Bee Kissed Seeds store and on your seed package for hot water scarification if it is recommended. And remember, we are only an email away if you have any questions or are looking for any further advice!
We promise - you really cannot hurt your seeds.
And even your seedlings will be tougher than they look!
We also believe gardening is best learned through shared experiences and many experiments. So, if you are still in need of any support at all (or have a great idea to share), please send us a message!
We are always happy to share seed stories!
What to do:
This is our favourite germination method!
What you will need to stratify native plant seeds outside, over the winter:
What to do:
This may be the only method possible when you need to stratify native plant seeds for larger areas. However, it may also not yield the greatest germination results. Or, it may take several years to really see growth starting.
At Bee Kissed Seeds, we don't have a lot of hands-on experience with this method. We generally work in gardens on city lots which are manageable to plant by hand. We really prefer to baby each little seedling one at a time. But, we can certainly appreciate that this is not always possible!
What to do:
Please note that almost all native species require cold, moist stratification (winter) before they will germinate. For this reason, outdoor planting, in autumn, is highly recommended. Please read the plant descriptions carefully or reach out for advice!
Thank you for planting for nature :)
P.S. The 2023 harvest is underway!
Quantities are updated as they become available.