The big chill

Many seeds need to be free of flesh before they will germinate

Many seeds need to be free of flesh before they will germinate

As part of my PhD research, I studied the germination of various seeds – both herbaceous plants and tree species. One thing that I learned was how many species have build-in dormancy. The fleshy parts of the fruit may have to rot away before germination can take place, or be digested within the gut of a bird or mammal; the hard outer coat may need to be physically broken down (scarification); or the seed may need to have been exposed to cold (cold stratification). These are all ways to ensure that germination takes place away from the parent plant and/or at the right time of year. In temperate regions, the latter is particularly common – guaranteeing that the seed germinates after the winter rather than before. Some seeds employ multiple mechanisms and some are particularly fussy (I never managed to get a bluebell seed to germinate, for example).

In damp compost in the bottom of the fridge

In damp compost in the bottom of the fridge

All my experience means that I knew that the sludge left over from my peach scrap vinegar contains the ingredients I need to grow peach trees… namely, peach pits free from any fruit flesh. The key thing now is that they need to be exposed to cold conditions for a few weeks. So, the other day, after I had strained off the liquid that will turn into vinegar, I fished out some of the stones, washed off the last vestiges of flesh, placed them in damp compost and transferred them to the refrigerator (making use of a plastic box that had previously contained slices of tortilla from our wonderful local Spanish deli… yes, I know I should have taken my own box, but it was an impulse buy because the smell was so good). Here they will stay for at least six weeks before being brought out and placed in the limery. Even then, it could take many months before any of them germinate.

On the same subject, I received some Sarracenia seeds as a free gift when I ordered my new carnivorous plants. I checked their germination requirements and discovered that they too require chilling, so they have joined the peach pits in damp compost in the bottom of the fridge (this time in a plastic box that had contained strawberries from our local organic farm).

Sarracenia seeds

Sarracenia seeds

Whether these seeds will germinate successfully remains to be seen, but I love the optimism associated with sowing them… especially since each was a bonus as a result of another action.

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25 Comments

  1. Ann Laken

     /  August 31, 2015

    Good luck, the results should be interesting.

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    • I see it as a no-risk investment… after all the worst that can happen is that nothing will germinate, but if I do have success, there make be peaches in the limery and plants to give away!

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  2. Just don’t throw them away by mistake in the the bottom of the fridge! Good luck and please keep us posted!

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  3. Good luck with both. I hope they germinate.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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  4. Like my gran would have said “You have to suck it and see…” Not sure gran’s advice is all that politically correct but the intent was obvious, give it a go (and stop asking me stupid questions…) Stevie-boy and I did some experimentation of our own in the field of scarifying, stratification, all kinds of layering and other germination techniques. We are both HUGE fans of conifers and most conifers require a degree of stratification prior to germination. Some seeds, specifically tree peonies, need double stratification of varying temperatures. Needless to say, I haven’t managed to grow tree peonies ;). Bluebells grow like flies around here. Wondering why they don’t grow for you?! Perhaps you are loving them too much? We did an experiment a few years ago where we collected some fruit from a female ginkgo and Stevie-boy donned gloves and stripped the VERY stinky (a cross between vomit and parmesan cheese) fruit of it’s flesh. We then stratified the seed and had a really excellent germination rate. Experiments are the boss. Get stuck in Ms Snail, it adds to the fun. I am guessing those peach seeds are from those gorgeous do-nut peaches you were preserving? Let us know how they go and if they germinate 🙂

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    • Round here bluebells reproduce vegetatively like mad, but the seeds rarely germinate even in natural conditions… I think this is the reason they are good ancient woodland indicators – because they simply don’t spread very far very quickly.
      Anyway… the peaches are, indeed, the do-nut ones. I really hope they come good. Native hawthorn in the UK also generally requires two winters before it germinates. I know that you can get peaches to germinate straight away by removing the seed from the stone and stripping off the thin seed coat, but the plants that appear are dwarfed and have reduced internode lengths. It’s all very interesting.

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      • I wondered why my Washington Hawthorn didn’t germinate. Forgot to check if they needed any extra treatment! Oh well, back to the old drawing board and will be watching your speriments with a keen eye 🙂

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  5. claire

     /  August 31, 2015

    I have melon plants growing as we speak.. just put a tespoon of melon seeds (from a melon!) in some soil to give it a try and 10 plants germinated. has anyboy here had luck with avocado germination? i never managed..

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    • I’ve once germinated an avocado using the three cocktail sticks over water approach, but sadly I really didn’t have good conditions to grow it in afterwards and it did not thrive. With the construction of the limery I’m quite keen to try more exotic things and will certainly be growing melons next summer.

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      • Claire

         /  August 31, 2015

        Thanks for the comment! That means the cocktail stick method does work.. I need to give it another try! Friends of mine had melons on their terrasse last year, they pretty much grew like pumpkin. I’ll see what I can manage on my tiny balcony 🙂 growing stuff is fun!

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  6. Down here, a lot of seeds require a hot flash fire to germination, which would be quicker but a little trickier to manage, I think. Wonderful how plants tailor their needs to the prevailing conditions. Just another reason why I’ll never be able to grow stone or pome fruits 😦

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    • I know there are a few seeds in the UK that benefit from fire. Calluna being one such species. In fact it needs exposure to smoke rather than the heat of the fire (unlike your obligate burners) and it’s possible to induce germination by using water that has had smoke bubbled through it; it’s even possible to buy filter paper impregnated with smoke to get such seeds to germinate in laboratories!

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      • That’s one of the moorland heathers, isn’t it? Hence the burning of moorland to promote new growth, I suppose, although the impact of a burn on the rest of the local ecology is rather severe…

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        • Yes it is – moorland burning is a bit of a thorny issue – a short fast burn of small patches is always best to ensure there is plenty of undisturbed habitat at any give time, but sadly burns sometimes get out of hand or are too hot or too extensive and the effects can be dire.

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          • Same here with fire risk-mitigation burns. We need to get rid of thick dry trash in the understorey, and our fire teams are very good at controlling and guiding the burn-off, but sometimes it gets away if the wind picks up…

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  7. That should be ‘germinate’, obviously…

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  8. Good luck with all of that germinating stuff – I cannot get an avocado to do a thing for me and I have tried six times over the past two years! My mouth is obviously firmly set in the wrong hold!!

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  9. I love seeds, tiny little packets of life.
    Will your peach trees produce fruit true to the parent? I think I have read somewhere that seeds can be unreliable, and that’s why they graft. Am I right? Also, from your description of the process, grafting would be quicker and therefore cheaper in the nursery industry.

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  10. You need such patience but it will be so fulfilling to see them germinate in time. I will keep my fingers crossed for success.

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  11. Gosh, I learn a lot here. Now if I could just apply it. 🙂

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  12. sarahfoto

     /  September 2, 2015

    I brought some seeds back from England, planted them without success but now I am very inspired to try other methods!

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    • It’s amazing the strategies seeds employ so that they don’t germinate at the ‘wrong’ time. Keep trying and you might find the right combination of circumstances that suit your particular seeds 🙂

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