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Propagation by Seed
Development of Seeds
Seeds develop from the sexual reproductive parts found in the flower. The female part is called the pistil and the male part is called the stamen. (You can find a full description of the creation of seeds, including details about pollination and fertilization, in the "Seed to Seed 101" article on page 7 of our pdf newsletter Seeds: The Promise of Life attached at the bottom of this page).Seed Germination
Inside a seed lies a new plant, also known as the embryo, which remains in a dormant state protected by a seed coat until conditions arise that stimulate it to sprout, or germinate. Most seeds just need moisture and warm temperatures for germination.
When you purchase seeds, the planting instructions on the back of seed packets should tell you if they require special treatment such as those described below. If you have collected seeds from other sources, conduct an Internet search to discover if they have special requirements for germination. You can find germination requirements of many common garden seeds here: Starting Plants from SeedsSpecial Treatments for Breaking Dormancy
Some seeds need special treatment for germination to begin. Two common treatments needed include exposure to cold temperatures, called stratification, and exposure to conditions that cause chemical or mechanical damage to the seed coat, known as scarification.
Seed dormancy is a survival mechanism. For example, many seeds of northern plants need a certain amount of exposure to cold temperatures, or chilling, before they germinate. That way, even though their seeds drop to the ground in the fall, they won't begin growing and produce tender young seedlings right before winter arrives. One common method gardeners use to mimic this process is storing seeds in the refrigerator in a container of moist peat moss for a period of time.
Some seeds have very tough seed coats that prevent moisture and air from entering and stimulating germination. This ensures that not all seed will germinate in a given year so that if the seedlings from one year don't survive, there's still a "bank" of seeds to try again in future years. In nature, acids in the soil and microbial activity soften seed coats over time, and for some species, such as those native to prairies, fire can do the trick. But because we want seeds to germinate on our schedule, not necessarily on nature's timetable (nor do we want to set fire to our gardens!), so we use use tools such as sandpaper or a nail file to nick and scratch seed coats, such as those of moonvine and lupine, so that moisture and air can penetrate and start the germination process. Another option is to soak seeds overnight in a solution of 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of water.
Other examples of special conditions seeds require for germination include dark conditions (pansy) or exposure to light (lettuce).Planting Seeds
The next question is where to start your seeds. You can plant seeds directly outside, or...