Saturday, June 16, 2007

Cold Stratification

It's been several weeks since any of my remaining sequoia seeds have germinated in their damp coffee filter baggies. Of the sixteen germinated seeds, I'm down to only six that are still alive. Most recently, my first sprout, seed #1 just shriveled up and died. As silly as it sounds, that really brought me down.

So, I'm down to six sprouts and about eighty seeds. I can either throw out the seeds, buy more and start over, or I can try to turn around the seeds I have and see if I can get them to sprout.

It's likely that a third of those seeds are still viable, but dormant. In nature, conifers have a clever trick to avoid entire crops of seedlings to dying off in a catastrophe such as fire or drought...they don't all sprout at the same time. One way to break this dormancy is to mimic natural conditions that the seeds would go through, such as winter coldness. This is called cold stratification, and can be achieved by placing the seeds in moist peat moss (or other mixtures) in a refrigerator at a few degrees above freezing for one to three months.

Note: this isn't normally necessary for vegetable and flower seeds, since they've been cultivated to grow without the dormancy. For more information and other seed-starting tips, I highly recommend the following links: Seed Germination and Growing Conifers From Seed.

I split out my seeds into two groups, then dropped them into sealed baggies, each with a few tablespoons of seed starting soil mix. I sprayed spring water into the baggies until the soil mixture was moist, and stored them away in the back of my refrigerator.

Waiting two months isn't going to be easy, but it'll be interesting to see the difference that cold stratification makes. After that time, I'll probably keep the seeds in the baggies until they've sprouted, then move the individual sprouts into cel-packs. The coffee filter baggies worked really well, but only for the initially-sprouting seeds. After a couple of months, it's hard to stave off mold and frustrating keeping the baggies moist.

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