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How to Grow Perennials


How to Grow Perennials from Seed
You can grow perennials from seed -- it's not that hard. Perennial seeds are more varied in their germination requirements than those of most annual plants. The sprouts need the right cue from nature before they venture out of their seeds. Some need a cold treatment, which signals winter, followed by a moist, warm period, which signals that spring has arrived. Garden centers, mail-order catalogs and Web sites, and plant societies have good perennial seeds to sell or trade. Some perennials (foxglove is one) have seeds that sprout in days if they are fresh off the plant but go into dormancy if they dry out.

Perennials can be sown indoors or out.
Perennials can be sown indoors or out.

Perennials can be sown indoors or out, but outdoor-sown seeds have a higher attrition rate due to pests and other factors. If you plant seeds of a named cultivar, such as Hosta Frances Williams, which is variegated, you will get baby hostas, but they most definitely will not have precisely the same color and leaf size and shape as their parent. They may grow up to be attractive but different. They will also differ from one another in subtle and not so subtle ways, so a breeder's excitement comes in looking for those few that may be of special interest.

Sow perennial and wildflower seeds outdoors in raised beds or spacious nursery pots (the kind you get big flowers in at the nursery), and let nature get them ready to sprout. Hardy perennials and wildflowers often have a special defense called dormancy that keeps them from sprouting prematurely during a temporary midwinter thaw (which would be damaging when the frost returned). They require a certain amount of cold -- or alternating freezing and thawing -- to indicate that winter is truly over and spring has begun. The easiest way to accommodate the cold requirement is by putting them outdoors.

Another way to give plants a cold treatment is to stratify perennial seeds that require it. Sow them in a community flat of moist seed-starting mix. Label each row with the date planted, the seed source, and the plant name. Wrap the entire flat in a plastic bag and close with a twist tie. Set the flat in the refrigerator for the time indicated on the seed packet or in a seed-sowing handbook. When the recommended stratification time is up, move the flat into warmth and bright light so the seeds can sprout and grow.

For a sweet crop, consider growing strawberries in your garden. Learn about growing tasty and attractive strawberries on the next page.

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