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Perennial Sweet Peas Seeds need Cold Stratification to Germinate!

Some seeds, like Pansies or perennial Sweet Peas, need special treatment to be able to break dormancy and germinate! If you have wondered why you have never had luck germinating some plants from perfectly fresh seed, cold stratification may be what is needed!

Susan Patterson, Master Gardener, says stratification sequences may vary: ‘Some seeds require a warm and moist treatment, while others require a cool and wet treatment. Even still, other seeds require a combination of both warm and cool treatments followed by a warm treatment, or a combination of warm and cool moist followed by a dry cycle and warm period to germinate. Knowing what seeds require to break dormancy is critical before beginning any seed stratification project.’ Also some plants require stratification from heat, like from fires, to help expose the seed to air and moisture.

The main requirements of Cold stratification are cold and moist. Depending on where you live, it is best to plant when winter is here to stay. If you plant when it is too warm, the seed coat can break down and you may have little germination.

But if you are starting in early season, soak your seeds 12 to 24 hours and put them in a plastic bag or sealable container with sand, peat, or equal amounts of sand and peat. Date and label. Check frequently to see if they are sprouting. Some seeds require a longer period; some need to be in the freezer!

Pinetree Garden Seeds says: ‘Soaking them in cold water for 6-12 hours before starting the process can help cut down on the total stratification time needed. This also helps the seed absorb some of the moisture it requires for the chemical changes that will take place.’

There are different methods, but mainly two.

In the Ground!

1) If your plant reseeds, as soon as it seeds, you can simply broadcast your seed if it doesn’t matter where they come up. Any rowdy ones that come up not in accordance with your garden plan can be transplanted where you might decide you want them, you could give them away, or last resort, eat if appropriate, or compost. I use the broadcast method for Breadseed Poppies. But sometimes you may reroute your garden plan to accomodate what you think will become a lovely display of beauty!

If you have a seed packet, in fall, a more formal version is to decide where you want them, prep that soil, scratch in your seeds. Mark the spot, date and label with a tag. Keep them moist; they will come up when they are ready.

The dangers of these two plans may be floods or wildly fluctuating weather, ie cold, HOT, cold. Keep some backup seeds just in case you need them. Then you go to the #2 methods, or you can do both a 1 and a 2 of your choice just in case…

Seed Cold Stratification Paper Towel

In the Fridge or Freezer!

2) You can use the paper towel method. Moisten the towel, put seeds on one side, fold the towel over on them. Put the towel in a plastic bag, zip it closed. Put it in the fridge and wait. Some say to check every 2 to 3 days, remove any that mold. Others say check in 10 days. Some say it may take up to a month or two. If they get brown spots around them or smell musty, they are rotting and should be tossed. But mainly is to keep that towel moist!

If you have a seed packet, here is the lazy gardener’s choice offered by myseedneeds for poppies! ‘We recommend a short cold stratification period of 6 to 12 weeks, though simply storing your seed packets in your crisper drawer for a couple of months is a trick used by gardeners who don’t want to mess with damp paper towels and plastic baggies.’

Seed Cold Stratification in Sand, Peat, Worm CastingsOr…you can presoak your seeds. Pot up sand or peat, or equal sand and peat; add worm castings to help germination. Put in your seeds. Put the pot or container in the fridge, or put the pot ON the ground in a sheltered place or sink it up to the top of the pot on the colder north side of your building! Be sure to keep those seeds moist.

Important Sustainability point from Harold and the Cats of Alchemy: ‘Seeds…won’t come up all at the same time, like the seeds of most cultivated plants are bred to do. Seeds that use cold to germinate are closer to the wild and so have a good reason to stagger their germination – more are likely to survive that way, and you will get more genetic variation. That means there will be a greater likelihood of getting plants that will survive and prosper in your conditions.’

Plants that can prosper from Cold Stratification treatment

Terms like “self-sowing”, “perennial”, “cold hardy”, or “cold stratification” on a seed packet are indicators your seeds may need cold treatment.

Many Common Domestic Flowers, important companion plants: Bachelor Buttons, BreadSeed Poppy, Cosmos and Pansies, Johnny Jump Ups and Violets (edible petals), Sweet Peas, Zinnia are a few.

Wildflowers! Here’s a terrific MAP to select native wildflowers that need cold stratification before planting in spring for your area! American Meadows! Native wildflowers are terrific companion plants that attract native bees! They need to be in your fridge 4 to 5 weeks, so be sure to start early enough for planting time. Your seeds will germinate quicker and grow well. Don’t forget native Milkweed for Monarchs!

Many Common herbs, perennials, also important veggie companion plants and provide food for pollinators: Calendula, Lavender, Rosemary and Sage

Seed Cold Stratification Sapphire Sage, Salvia Farinacea

Sapphire Sage, Salvia Farinacea

Be sure to look up each plant individually to see it’s specific needs, ie length of time and temp. Here’s an example at SFGate for Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale), a perennial. Some poppies grow readily but the Oriental poppies need special treatment!

  1. Place 2 tablespoons perlite or sand in a plastic bag. Moisten it slightly with water, but don’t allow it to become soggy.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon poppy seeds to the bag and mix the seeds with the perlite or sand.
  3. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for two weeks. Check it occasionally and provide more water if necessary to keep it slightly moist. Do not allow it to dry out.
  4. Remove the bag from the refrigerator and store it in a cool, dry location for one week. Place the bag back in the refrigerator for two more weeks.
  5. Repeat this cycle of cold and thaw for six weeks to up to three months. Sprinkle the stratified poppy seeds on moist soil in early spring. They will germinate within two weeks when the soil temperature is between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. [So start your process in plenty of time!]
Cold Stratification is a simple technique that may take a little dedication, but it really pays off!

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Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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SeedSaving Blessing Peru
Francisca Bayona Pacco, 37 at the time of this image, is Papa Arariwa, Guardian of the Potato, Paru Paru in Pisac, Cuzco, Peru. She brings a coca leaves offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) asking protection from frost.

For some SeedSaving is a sacred event, ensuring survival, giving thanks, praying for future success. For others, these days and in times of commercial seed companies, it may be more like dancing by the light of the Harvest Moon!

SeedSaving SeedSavers Exchange - Passing on Our Garden Heritage

Founded in 1975, non-profit organization Seed Savers Exchange was a pioneer in the heirloom seed movement.

In the days before seed companies, saving seeds was done without a thought, a fundamental garden practice. If you didn’t save seeds, you had none to plant the next year. If there was a weather disaster and you lost your crop, trading for seeds became vital. Seeds were traded with newcomers, travelers, and at markets. It was the earliest form of commodities trading! When people moved off farms into the cities, they still wanted to grow veggies, but didn’t have room or time to let the plants seed out. That’s when seed companies came into being in the 1860s. Today there are Seed Banks and ONLINE seed sharing to preserve our heritage seeds!

Things to know before you plant! Many plants hybridize all by themselves! Brassicas and Cucurbits – squashes, cucumbers,  have a great time in the garden cross pollinating! VARIETIES of the same plant need to be planted a mile or more apart to assure pure seed. If you don’t mind sometimes odd results, go ahead and experiment. If you give those seeds away, label them plainly for the recipient. Many Brassicas are mostly self-infertile. For seedsaving purposes they need to be planted in groups of at least 10 or more. Biennials, like Brassicas, don’t make seeds until their second year unless weather causes them to bolt prematurely in their first year.

Your SECOND HARVEST is SEEDS! In JULY you can tell which plants are your winners! It is the important time of deciding which plants are prime producers having maximum health to pass on to future generations. Some gardeners tie a bright ribbon on selected plants, at top and bottom, so they don’t accidently harvest it or pull that plant in a flurry of virtuous weed pulling or a fall garden clearing frenzy! Put one ribbon near the ground, another where the fruits are. Once you have selected your Saver plants, know they will take the time it takes, depending on weather, for their seeds to fully mature and dry. Leaving your seeds on the Mother Plant ensures maximum possible nutrition is attained in the seeds.

Once your plants are selected, at a certain point, you may decide to stop watering some of them. That’s how it would be in Nature. Some seeds need to harden, so let them. I stop watering seeding cilantro. If you want more Lettuces right now, they will self seed where they stand if you keep the area where they are falling moist. Tip the plant, pull some of the seeds, let them fall, or let the birds do it for you! Or, collect them to plant later or next spring. Or do a bit of both! Read on below for how to save different kinds of seeds.

As summer, or ‘winter,’ in SoCal finish, let your very best plants produce but don’t harvest those fruits! Beans get lumpy with seeds and will dry completely. Let a cucumber yellow and dry. Let the corn cob dry and the kernels get hard. Cukes, peppers, melons, okra and squash seeds are easy to process. Just remove the seeds and let them dry. Uh, do label the drying trays! Tomatoes are a tiny bit of a process but not hard at all. See below!

Save enough seeds for your own planting, for several rounds of planting across next year’s season, for replanting when there are losses, and some to give away or share at the seed swap. Keep the local race going.

Saving Seeds is Easy!

1. Simple Gathering ~ Beets, Carrot, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Onion
Let the seeds mature and dry on the Mother plant, just like in nature, for maximum fertility. Into a bag, shake them loose or roll them between your fingers to remove them. Separate the seed from any chaff with rolling pins, sieves, colanders! After gathering your ‘dry’ seeds, let them dry some more, out of the sun. Store them, but check on them a week or two later to be sure no insects have emerged.

Seeds - Gathering Fernleaf Dill is easy!Seeds Gathering Fernleaf Dill

2. Removing from pods ~ Arugula, Basil, Beans, Broccoli, Okra, Peas, Radish is super simple! Know that Brassicas like Brocs, Kale, Cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, are Biennials and seed their second year, unless there are weather changes, hot/cold/hot, and they bolt in their first year. Then you can get seeds from them their first year.

Seeds - Remove Beans from their Pods is super simple!Fat Radish seed pods!

3. Removing & Drying – Cukes, Eggplant, Melon, Pepper, Squash, Tomatoes, Zukes. Let them mature fully on the plant so the seeds get all the nutrition they can from the Mother plant.

Cucumber Yellow, Ready for SeedSavingSeeds Remove Dry Melon

Tomatoes, a wet fruit, require a wee bit of processing and tad of time, but it’s easy! Heirlooms are true, some hybrids are true, others are unpredictable but fun. Put the little seeds in water, let sit no more than 2 days. Recent studies show tomato seed germination is best when seeds are soaked for only one to two days before they are rinsed and dried. Fermentation times longer than three days substantially lower the germination rate from 96% to only 74% on the 4th day! Word. Scrape the scum off. Rinse, add water, do it again, until you have clean seed. Dry. See all the tips and details!

Seeds Remove Process Dry Tomato

Remember! Potatoes are ‘seeds’ in themselves. Set some of your favorites aside for your next planting. When the eyes sprout, pop them in the ground. Remember to save seeds of your best herbs for scents to ward off insects you don’t want, for you to grow for medicinal purposes. Save seeds of your healthiest flower companion plants that make your garden beautiful, widen your heart, and bring pollinators.

Storage ~ Each year keep your best! Scatter some about, called broadcasting, if they would grow successfully now or later when they want to! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s better than ever plantings. Airtight Canisters, Jars, Plastic Containers, Baggies. Or in envelopes just like at your nursery. Out of the light. Freeze if you want. Label them with their name/variety, date/year harvested, where collected, any important notes.

Some seeds ‘store’ and grow all by themselves and we’re not talking bird drop volunteers! BreadSeed Poppies are an example! Broadcast them if you will, or let Nature do that by letting your dead plant fall to the ground letting the seeds spill from the dry pods! In spite of being the tiniest seed, they survive until just the right time next spring. They know the soil temp they need, the day length, moisture, and they come up right where they like it best! If you decide to ‘plant’ some, do it very early. In Santa Barbara ours start in March. Lay in your seeds at least in February. They know what to do. And they do vary per their colors, variety. Sprinkle them, where the ground might stay moist, then simply wait.

Viability Seeds vary greatly in their length of time of viability.

• The drier the seeds, the longer they will store.

• The harder the seeds, the longer they will store.

Veggie Seeds Viability varies by Years!

YOU can learn LOTS more about SeedSaving! Each year in July Seed Savers Exchange hosts an intimate gathering of leaders in the seed and garden movement at Heritage Farm in Decorah, IA.

Start a Seed Swap in Your Area! In Santa Barbara we had our 9th Annual Seed Swap in January 2017, sponsored by our local Permaculturists. If there are no Swaps where you live, if you are willing, please, please, please, contact local permaculturists, garden groups/clubs, to see about starting one! Or invite your neighbors and just do it in your own back or front yard!

In 1981, the nonprofit seed conservation organization Native Seed/SEARCH hosted the first national grassroots seed conference in Tucson, Arizona, to better meet the community’s need for access to quality seeds. Thirty-seven years later, ensuring community access to seeds remains a vital issue, perhaps now more than ever. In order to promote further dialog and cooperative action, in 2015 Tucson hosted the first International Seed Library Forum!

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure seed bank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) from the North Pole. Conservationist Cary Fowler, in association with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), started the vault to preserve a wide variety of plant seeds that are duplicate samples, or “spare” copies, of seeds held in gene banks worldwide. The seed vault is an attempt to ensure against the loss of seeds in other genebanks during large-scale regional or global crises.

Remember, your seeds are adapted to you and your locality. If you are willing, take your extras to a local Seed Bank or Seed Library! While you are there, pick up some of your favorites and some new ones to try out! Santa Barbara’s FoodBank has a Seed Library at their warehouse, and teaches recipients how to grow their own food. The seeds are free!

Unregulated Biodiversity is Key, essential, so our agriculture remains adaptable to climate change, new pests and diseases. Heirloom seeds are vital to our continued nutritious future, and for our children’s healthy futures! And, as Ashley Glenn says…gardens have potential far beyond the plants in the ground. They are ancient classrooms, innovative laboratories….

We give thanks for Plants, Seeds, Food, Beauty, and Being Here Today Together.



The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. We are very coastal, during late spring/summer in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Feeling inspired? Get the word out! Sharing is caring ~

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