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Seed Scarification & Cold Stratificiation: A Guide

Seed Scarification & Cold Stratificiation: A Guide

When seeds need some extra TLC to get started

When reading your seed packets or consulting the planting planner, you may have noticed a few of the varieties need scarification or stratification. Most vegetable seeds are ready to plant straight out of the packet because centuries of cultivation have made them very easy to grow. However, there are some exceptions that require a little extra preparation before they go into the ground.

What Is Scarification?

Russel Lupine

Scarification means roughing up your seeds to break down the outer coat of the shell directly. This process recreates the wear and tear seeds usually get in nature if they are not harvested and saved by humans. If your seed packet says your seeds need scarification, you can do this by gently rubbing your seeds with sandpaper, a file, or even a knife to nick and scratch the surface of the seed coat. If your instructions mention clipping the seed tail off, simply clip off the outer shell of the pointed end, being careful not to damage the inner seed itself. For the toughest seeds, soaking overnight can make it easier to scuff up the other seed coat.

Which Seeds Need Scarification?

Trees, shrubs, and many wildflowers often need scarification, because they have tough outer hulls to protect the plant embryo inside. Some examples from our seed catalog include:

What Is Cold Stratification?

Cold stratification is the process of exposing certain seeds to cold and moist conditions for a period of time to break dormancy. This mimics the natural winter cycles of freezing and thawing that help to break the seed coat and also signal to the plant embryo that it’s time to emerge.

Red Yarrow

You can let Mother Nature do the work by sowing these seeds in the Winter, but if that is not your preferred option, stratification is fairly straightforward for anyone who has access to a refrigerator. Sprinkle your seeds onto a moist paper towel and fold or roll them up inside. You can also use peat moss or vermiculite if you prefer. It is important that the seeds are kept moist but not waterlogged. Put the seeds into a container like a plastic bag or container and label them with the date and type. Store the seeds in the refrigerator crisper for the amount of time indicated by your packet. Check on your seeds occasionally to make sure they don’t dry out or develop mold. Once their time is up, remove them and plant them as instructed.

Which Seeds Need Cold Stratification?

Many fruit trees and bushes need cold stratification, as do some conifers and perennial plants. Some seeds that we offer that benefit greatly from this process include:

You may notice some overlap between seeds that have recommendations for cold stratification and scarification. As you can see, both processes are easy to do, so don’t skip this step for those few seeds that do require it. Always refer to your packets or instructions to make sure you’re taking the right steps for success. Taking the time to prepare these seeds for planting will greatly increase their odds of success and germination rates.

Morning Glory