It is pouring down rain here in Southern Oregon and once again it is time to start planting seeds. Each year I make a detailed schedule for my garden which includes: what I want to plant, when to seed and transplant dates for seedlings. I like to plan so that I can make the most of my garden space and my time.
Most annual vegetable seeds are fairly easy to start. However, some of the perennial herbs we love require a little bit more attention on their route to the garden. In early January think about what medicinal herbs you want to plant. Some of them require long germination periods while others require stratification for optimum germination rates. Hawthorne for example requires heat and cold to germinate and can take 7 to 18 months depending on your process.
Today I am starting the cold stratification process for the Echinacea purpurea which I will plant outside later in the Spring. Cold stratification attempts to mimic winter conditions that help break down seed coatings and prep seeds to wake up from dormancy. Echinacea requires cold and moist conditions. I follow a very basic process with fairly good success. First, dampen a paper towel. Then wrap the seeds in the towel and then put that into a labeled plastic bag in the refrigerator. You can also use moist vermiculite or sand instead of the paper towel. If you have a lot of space or a fridge just for this you can sow your seeds into flats of moist soil. Moist paper towels should be damp to the touch but you should not be able to wring excess water from the towel. Make sure to label the bag or tray with the date and plant species. Keep a record of when you put the seeds in to stratify or add a notification to your phone calendar for the date the seeds will be ready to take out. Periodically check on your seeds. Make sure the medium is still damp. If it is not then use a spray bottle to gently spritz the paper towel or other medium until it is wet enough again.
Echinacea requires about four weeks of cold stratification. Once those four weeks have passed. Take the seeds out of the fridge and sow as you normally would into flats or small pots in regular potting mixture. The stratification practice will greatly increase the percentage of seeds that germinate. Better germination means more plants for your beautiful garden. And in this case more medicine for you and your community.