Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Starting Seeds in Winter

Several weeks back when I took an inventory of my seeds I realized that a couple years ago I bought seeds for both red flowering and black currants.  I'm not sure if these seeds are viable anymore but I figured I might as well try planting them and see what happens. 

Seeds are funny.  I often find that the propagation information included with seeds is a bit confusing.  Sometimes information is included with the packet and sometimes not.  Some of the information is conflicting or vague and I always like to cross check on the internet and in books.  In this case the store that sold me these seeds provided excellent information.  If you haven't before, I would recommend buying seeds from Twining Vine.  I've met the proprietress personally and she's someone who knows a lot about her seed and is very careful regarding collection and storage.  Her website also provides some great information about seed saving.

To begin I soaked the seeds for a day and then planted them up in a combination of peat moss and sand.

Large and small peat pots were used as well as plastic containers.  I grabbed whatever I had on hand and filled them up.  Once filled with the sand and peat combination the soaked seeds were placed on top and pushed just slightly below the surface.  The red currant seeds had an extra step of scarification.  They were rubbed in my hands with a bit of sand before planting them into the soil.

Along with the currants I also found Beauty Berry seed - Callicarpa bodineri.  I checked a few sources on this plant and some texts suggest it will only grow to zone 6 and others state zone 5.  After much tooing and frooing between books and websites I finally decided I might as well give it a go.  There isn't much seed there anyway so I might as well experiment.  I don't actually know what conditions are necessary for germinating Callicarpa so I did the same as the currants.  Soaked the seed 24 hours and then tossed them on the growing medium.  Working with seeds is a bit art and a bit science and some luck thrown in.  We'll see if these seeds have any magic in them.

Both sets of currant seeds require a cold period of stratification for growth.  Most sources seem to recommend bagging the seeds and refrigerating them for stratification.  However in the past when I've tried this I didn't find the refrigerator cold enough and there wasn't enough air flow.  Mold ensued.  Recently I noticed Melanie at Northern Gardener putting her seeds outside for the winter and liked that idea.  Instead of a plastic bag the seeds have now been set to rest outside on the front porch.  Hidden behind a yew the wind hopefully will not blow them away but they'll be chilled to the bone for the next 3 months.   Sometime in say April I'll pull them out and set them to warm on a heating mat and see if they germinate.

Seeds hiding on the front porch
These are old seeds so there's always a chance they won't germinate at all and this is a new technique for me as well so I'm not expecting too much from this.  But that's part of my love of seed starting.  Whether the seeds sprout or not is irrelevant.  If they don't I will try again next time.  Fresher seed, different conditions. and try again, and again, until I find just the right conditions.  Each time, playing in the dirt, having some fun, learning a little bit more.


  1. Playing in the dirt and having some fun...YES!!

  2. You did not mention if you have a hot house, or perhaps a sun room? Do you find this necessary to start seeds?

  3. I LOVE to play in the dirt too and experimenting is fun too! And at least you're touching seeds and thinking of little green shoots sprouting up in the sunshine...almost makes you forget about winter:)

  4. Gardeningbren - yup, getting my dirt fix no matter the weather!

    Cheri - no hot house or sun room unfortunately. Maybe down the road I'll look at coldframes or possibly a greenhouse but for now I will simply find a bright window and put out my heat mat and lights. I've had good luck in the past with just those simple items.

    Jane - I'll do anything to pass the time in winter and help me believe spring is around the corner!

  5. It is good to experiment and maybe your seeds will be just fine. My office is a sunroom and always proved good for seed starting. Not so much for me though. It is cold in there in winter and now I have a horrendous cold and sore throat. At least I am cozy in bed just reading blogs for fun.

  6. I am willing to bet that you'll have great germination from this! Good luck...especially the callicarpa!

  7. I have been reading a lot of post about sowing winter seeds. I feel so behind because I am still waiting for some of my seeds be ready to pick them up. My stock looks like it will take a while, and so does my mint marigold. I hope I can catch up

  8. How exciting! I love growing things from seed, and it is amazing what will germinate given time. I've taken to doing stratification outside over winter too. Good luck with it, I hope you get lots of lovely young seedlings to nurture.

  9. Seed planting in January is a fun way for me to stay sane as I anxiously anticipate another outdoor growing season.

    If you can get the Beauty Berry to grow I'm certain you'll be thrilled. I have several of them in my gardens (they like the hot, dry of Utah.)

  10. GardenWalk - I've yet to find a spot indoors that will work for starting seeds. In a couple months I'll be trying out a couple locations to see how it all goes.

    jodi - I was wondering if anyone local would know about the callicarpa. If it germinates I'll have to try putting it somewhere where it will get a little protection.

    fer - there's so many climates us bloggers write from it's hard to know where everybody's at. I'm sure you're right on time for where you are.

    Plantaliscious - My former zone was a bit warm for outside germination so I've never tried this before. I have my fingers crossed this will work.

    Kate - I'd love to see the beauty berry come through simply because I collected the seeds myself when I lived out west. It would be a nice remembrance plant to have in the garden.