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Growing Echinacea from Seed: The Importance of Cold Stratification

| 2/12/2016 12:05:00 PM


Where I live, the snow is rapidly melting, leaving behind a landscape that seems almost barren and asleep. However, for many native plants and quite a few garden perennials, it is this act of freezing and thawing that awakens them and actually increases their ability to survive and reproduce.

Cold stratification is the term used to describe this very basic need; the need for winter. Winter has the ability to soften the outer seed coat of some of nature’s toughest seeds through the action of freezing and thawing in a moist environment. For many plants that require stratification, this process can take up to 2 months and typically occurs between 34 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

During that time, the seed coat softens and embryonic growth is stimulated. Eventually, the embryo bursts through the softened coat and begins the process of germination.

For those of us who enjoy starting our own flowers, there are some classic perennials that require a period of cold stratification to increase germination. One example is Echinacea, a personal favorite of mine. Echinacea is a plant gifted with many benefits.

Most home herbalists are aware of its medicinal properties and gardeners love it for its beauty, low maintenance requirements and as a mid to late season nectar source for beneficial insects. For these reasons, Echinacea has a place in nearly every garden and farm. But purchasing mature Echinacea plants from a nursery can be expensive and often some of the most interesting varieties (rare or endangered native prairie Echinacea varieties have only been available in seed form recently) are not available commercially.

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