The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to stratify and scarify seeds

Honey locust seedsMost vegetable and annual flower seeds are pretty easy to grow --- just throw them in the ground at something close to the right depth at the right time of year and they sprout just fine.  When you start trying to plant tree, shrub, and perennial herb seeds, though, propagation techniques often get a bit more tricky.  I always stumble when I'm told to scarify or stratify seeds, but both techniques are actually quite easy, as I discovered when I started looking up information about growing honey locusts and persimmons from seed.

Persimmon seeds need to be stratified before they will germinate.  People try to make stratification more difficult than it actually is, telling you to put the seeds in a pot of dirt or in a ziploc bag with a wet paper towel and leave them in the fridge for a certain length of time.  In practice, I've discovered that native plants have evolved to stratify quite nicely in the garden.  Just plant the seeds in the fall and they'll be exposed to plenty of cool temperatures and will germinate as usual in the spring.  I tried this with persimmons a few years ago with good success and am trying again this year.

Scarified honey locust seedHoney locust seeds, on the other hand, need scarification to germinate.  The problem is that many seeds evolved to be eaten by animals and to pass through the gut relatively unharmed.  Seeds need thick coatings to survive the stomach acids, but these thick coatings are often impenetrable to water, meaning that your seed won't sprout unless it's scarified.  The natural way to scarify seeds is to pass them through some animal's stomach and let the acids break partway through the seed coating.  Barring a handy animal, people will drop the seeds in a vat of acid or hot water, or will manually damage the seed coat (hopefully without damaging the seed inside.)  I tried to file my honey locust seeds with no luck, and instead ended up snipping through the edge of the seed coat with fingernail scissors.  This is my first attempt at scarification, so I'm very curious to see whether it works!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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in school we did an expirment and 70 deg celcius water for 20 min worked the best
Comment by Chris Wed Nov 17 11:36:31 2010
Chris --- I'm sure that different species prefer different temperatures and times. What particular kind of seeds were you working with?
Comment by anna Wed Nov 17 16:09:37 2010
Nice article. We like to pick up little piles of persimmon-seed-rich coyote scat that are very common on gravel roads and trails in the fall/winter in southern Illinois. Rinse the seeds, store them in a baggy wrapped in paper towels in the fridge, and they germinate like crazy in the spring, planted in pots or the ground.
Comment by Steve Gough Sat Jan 1 19:12:28 2011
You are the second one who's suggested that technique to me, and it sounds like it's a clear winner! Although it wouldn't let me choose which tree I want to get my seeds from, the scat technique would definitely work to find persimmons that fruit at the right time of year, which is all I'm really looking for right now. I'm going to have to give it a shot!
Comment by anna Sat Jan 1 20:42:48 2011
How did it work?
Comment by Anonymous Fri Dec 20 00:09:50 2013
Anonymous --- The stratification method worked quite well for the persimmons, but I didn't see any sign of life out of the honey locusts.
Comment by anna Fri Dec 20 12:28:10 2013
Can some one send me a (1) or two (2) honey locusts seed(s) please
Comment by rob Wed Jul 9 17:34:56 2014
I only know a little about a lot of things however one of the little things I know a lot about is propagation. I have grown all types of cultivars from seed some stock up to 35 years old, grafting, clones, hitchhikers etc. the simplest and most successful stratification aka scarification is to use 100 grit sandpaper. For smaller seeds like grains broccoli carrot etc. take a rectangle sandwich or have a proximately 3“ x 5“ and roll that piece into a cylinder. The quick simple way is to put a finger on one end of the cylinder fill it with seeds from the accident and cover with the other finger shake vigorously for 3-10 minutes depending on you later capability and determination. For larger seeds like persimmon or Cherimoya or aguacate just lay paper on flat surface holding in place with one hand and hold one seed in the other hand pushing it against the paper as you rub the length of the surface of the paper
Comment by Shamsher Singh Mon Oct 24 03:01:39 2022

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