Ask a Question forum: Starting perennial seeds in a greenhouse

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Jan 23, 2017 2:07 PM CST
I am with a group of volunteers that is creating a one acre pollinator refuge on land that was donated by our local township. We did all the tilling and prep work in the fall. Although our group has committed many mature clumps, we need as many perennial plants as possible. I harvested thousands of seeds in the fall from several gardens.
I live in zone 4. I have a small greenhouse ( 6 x 8 feet and 8 feet tall). There are shelves inside and it would be a perfect place to start these perennial seeds. (about 30 varieties collected)
When would you recommend beginning the seed germination process?
Thanks for any ideas you could provide.

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Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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Jan 23, 2017 2:20 PM CST
Welcome! Welcome and congratulations for creating a pollinator refuge.

Many perennial seeds collected in the wild will need to be stratified and possibly scarified before they will germinate. Some folks eliminate the stratification process (or I should say, they let nature take care of it) by 'winter sowing'. It's getting a bit late for that but I think there is still time in zone 4.

Do you have a list of the seeds you collected?
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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Jan 23, 2017 2:23 PM CST

What a great project! As you collected these seeds locally, chances are they need chill time before they will germinate. If you have kept them in the refrigerator all winter, you are good to go. But if not, you might want to do some research and find any chilling requirements.

As they are perennials and are not trying to mature and bloom their first year out, when you start them should not be an issue. Do you know days to germination? Use that as your planting guide. You will need to have them large enough to plant out after danger of frost but not so large you have to pot up before the weather is cooperative.

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Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
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Jan 23, 2017 2:59 PM CST
You may be able to stratify any seeds in your refrigerator if they haven't been stored there. Once any stratification requirements are met, you could then sow them in your greenhouse without waiting for spring to arrive outdoors.
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Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
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Jan 23, 2017 5:22 PM CST
Hi Helen, and welcome. It would be helpful if you could tell us your location, as a zone doesn't really tell us much about what the climate is like or when the days will get warm. eg. Zone 4 stretches from northern New Mexico all the way up through Canada and coastal parts of Alaska. Day length and sun intensity are drastically different.

Also, is your greenhouse heated by anything except the sun? How cold does it get in there at night?

If you have plenty of seeds, there's no harm in trying to start some in the greenhouse. I'd put a flat out on the floor of the greenhouse first, as they will stay relatively cool there. As the seedlings emerge you can bring them up onto your shelves and into the sunlight gradually.

But as everyone else has already said, you may need to chill the seeds for a while - "cold stratification" - before they will germinate. It depends upon what kind of seeds, though. If they are native wildflowers, they probably need it.

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