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March: Planting Native Seeds

If you've stratified seeds in the previous month (see Seed Stratification), then here's where I introduce you into the mysteries of germinating them
Take out your bags of stratified seed. These have been in the fridge for 4 to 7 weeks. Remove the fraction of soil that contains the number of seeds you want to plant (you did record the number of seeds that went into the soil baggie 7 weeks ago, right?). Place the soil onto a Martha Stewart saucer. Don't try to remove the seeds from the soil.
Get out your pots of soil for seed germination. They should contain garden soil or potting soil, but without added ammonium nitrate fertilizer. I like to use 50-plug trays, but it doesn't really matter. Here I've fluffed up the soil in the first five cells, making a little crater. Then I use my fingers to pinch about 1/5 of the stratified seed/soil mix into each cell. I very gently press the little pile into the fresh soil to make sure there the added soil+seed mixture is in contact with the soil in the pot.
Once you've got your tray (or pots) anointed with the stratified seed/soil mix, give a little water from your Martha Stewart watering can to seal the deal. If your watering can disturbs the soil that contains very small seed, underwater the pots by placing them in another larger container of water. Underwatering is probably the best method of gently watering pots. It ensures complete hydration of the soil without overdoing it. Finally, make sure water freely drains from the pots, especially if they are plug trays or are in molded holder trays.
I'm starting to consider this essential. My seeds germinate much better if the pots are loosely covered to maintain high humidity. I like to use plastic shopping bags. Split the bag down the middle of the printed side, all the way to the bottom. It looks like a brassiere for the elephant lady now. Lay out the bag so the D-cups fit over the labelling stakes and use the handles to secure to the front of the tray. It may not be Martha Stewart, but I bet she'd love it.
Place the tray or pots under a light in a warm room, or somewhere where the cats won't sit on it. We constructed this white elephant, which is totally inadequate for the number of trays we plant, but oh well. Check daily by lifting the plastic gently. Water if the top of the soil becomes dry. When seedlings germinate, remove the bag - don't want to have fungus problems!
I'm just experimenting around with this approach, which should let me germinate many more species at a time. Instead of putting the stratified seed/soil mix into pots as described above, I aliquot it into a fresh baggie. This time when I seal it I make sure there's plenty of air in the baggie. Just steal a cookie sheet and pile the bags onto it. Place under light and examine daily, opening the baggie to let a little fresh air in. Don't let emerging seedlings stay in the baggie too long - fungus! Tease them out gently with a forceps and transplant them into a pot of fresh soil.

I think that the following Method may be a very parsimonious approach to testing unknown seeds. Put them in moist soil in a baggie, as described in Seed Stratification but before you stratify the bag's contents put this Parental baggie under germination conditions at room temperature and light and let whatever will germinate do so. On this baggie record the number of seed per tablespoon of soil. After a week or so, remove what germinated and put them into pots. Put the Parental baggie into the fridge for long-term stratification. Every month or so remove about one-third of the remaining soil/seed from the Parental baggie (which is returned to the fridge) and put it into a Test baggie to challenge at room temperature and light. If seed germinate in the Test baggie put them into pots. If they don't, then put the Test baggie into the fridge and keep it there until you know that seed in the Parental baggie are capable of germinating. If it takes 4 months of stratification of the Parental baggie to get good germination of its seed in the fourth Test baggie, you will have the Parental baggie and three earlier Test baggies in the fridge to then bring out and germinate with confidence!

For details of seedling structure and transplanting to soil, see this Niches article. For details of stratification, see the earlier Seed Stratification Tutorial. For an overview of stratification, germination, and transplanting, visit the Germination Page which is also linked in the Banner above and in other pages.