I see that your growing instructions talk about pouring boiling water over the seed. What exactly is scarification?
Some of the seeds that we sell have hard seed coats that allow them to sit in the ground for many years waiting for the proper conditions to come along for germination. This adaptation is particularly true for species that come from dry environments. These seeds will not germinate until the water can penetrate the seed coat. To facilitate this the seed coat needs to be softened to allow water to inside. Our recommendations for scarification are based on the average requirement for each species. It is safest to start with the least harmful method and work up from there. A cold water soak for a short time duration is probably the least harmful. This would be followed by a longer time duration and then warmer water up to the boiling point. Whenever mention is made of soaking in hot water, etc. It means to initially subject the seed to the hot water and then to let it cool in that water. DO NOT keep the water hot for 24 hours, etc. After a treatment has been finished a few seeds should be cut to see if they have imbibed (taken up water). Continue the treatments until you notice that the seeds have indeed imbibed.
Repeat cycles may be required but always drain seed every 24 hours and start again with fresh water.
If boiling water has been tried and the seeds have still not imbibed, concentrated sulfuric acid or mechanical scarification must be used. For the acid, treatment seeds are placed in a glass container and covered with sulfuric acid. The seeds are gently stirred and allowed to soak for 10 minutes to several hours, depending on the species. When the seed coat has been modified (thinned), the seeds are removed, washed, and sown. Sulfuric acid can, however, be very dangerous for an inexperienced individual and should be used with extreme caution! Proper protective clothing and eye protection must be worn. Vinegar is safer (but less effective treatment) and can be used for species that do not have an extremely hard seed coat; the technique is the same as with sulfuric acid.
For mechanical scarification, seed coats can be filed with a metal file, rubbed with sandpaper, nicked with a knife, or cracked gently with a hammer to weaken the seed coat.
Following acid scarification, the seeds should be dull in appearance, but not deeply pitted or cracked as to damage the embryo. Scarified seeds do not store well and should be planted as soon as possible after treatment.
These seeds (such as Aesculus, Castanea, and Quercus) are difficult to store and difficult to keep alive during shipping. We do the best we can to maintain their viability and check their quality before shipping orders. Customers should choose shipping methods that are fast, as the seeds do not want to sit around very long outside of refrigeration. Once these seeds leave our shop we can not be responsible for possible deterioration due to delays in customs or in shipping.
Why do you sell THIS seed ????
Many people think that all seeds are sold for landscape or garden use. We actually sell seeds to all kinds of end users. Some are sold for medical research or to extract chemicals and drugs used to advance human, animal, or plant health. We also sell some seed to universities and chemical companies who are trying to find ways to control an invasive plant's spread. When we sell seed of a known weed or invasive plant we abide by all the regulations of each region. We also warn our customers about it's potential.
We believe that it is proper to sell these species because there is a critical need for them. We do not advocate using these seeds for landscaping or gardening outside of their natural range!
Can I grow a tree or shrub from seed? Most people never stop to think about where trees come from. In nature, almost all trees have been grown from seed. It is actually quite easy to grow most trees from seed. Some are a lot easier than others and some take a lot less time than others. For the beginner, I would recommend species that either requires no stratification or a short stratification period. I would also recommend species that have a relatively simple scarification, such as a 24 hour water soak. These seeds will germinate quickly and then just need plenty of light and warm temperatures to grow.
This can be a lot faster than you might think. Every species that we sell is different but with many you can have a respectable landscape tree in less than 10 years. The warmer your climate the faster that you will have a large tree. Here are a few examples of average rates of growth. If you are in zone 6 it will take about this long to get a 6 foot tall tree from seed.
Years to 6 Foot
Northern Red Oak
Colorado Blue Spruce
Eastern White Pine
Kentucky Coffee Tree
Golden Rain Tree
When should I buy seeds?
I want to grow some plants from seeds but I see that they have a need for 120 days of cold stratification.
Many of the seeds that we sell require some forethought on the part of the customer. We do sell many seeds that will germinate within a week or two after the purchase (see list of ready to germinate seeds on home page ) However many of our seeds do require a bit of patience. Please determine the date that you would like the germination to take place. This is normally in the Spring or early Summer after all danger of frost is past. Then work your way backwards from that date taking into account the amount of pretreatment time that we say is required. For example if you would like to have germination on May 1st and our seed requires 90 days of cold stratification you will need to purchase it prior to February 1st.
Do you buy seed?
I work for a nursery and have just finished collecting 500 lbs Quercus rubra acorns. We needed less than half of these for our own sowing. Are you interested in purchasing 250-300 lbs of these?
We buy a good portion of seed that we sell from nurserymen such as yourself. I am not sure if you float your seed before you sow it but we require that oak seed must be floated before it is sold to us. If you float your seed in water the good acorns will normally sink and bad seed will float. Sticks and leaves will also often float and are easily removed this way. Surface dry the seed after floating. Oak seed should not be allowed to dry out to much. Please let me know how many pounds you have after floating and drying.
Do you buy cones?
I have access to several bushels of open Austrian Pine cones. Are you interested in buying them? Thanks for your interest in supplying us with cones. Most of the cones that we sell are either a by-product of our seed extraction process or we buy them in bulk. We normally buy large volumes of cones. We are often interested in purchasing small amounts but sometimes the cost of shipping makes small lot purchases cost prohibitive. I am happy to quote you a price for your cones. Please let me know if you would like to proceed.
My seeds germinated really well but then a couple of days later they seemed to rot at the base and died.
This sounds like it is caused by a soil borne fungus. The condition is known as "Damping Off" . The best way to prevent damping off is to use sterile soil. You can buy a sterile soil mix at your local garden center. To insure that it is sterile or to sterilize soil of unknown condition you can cook it either in the oven or microwave. As long as all parts of the soil reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit you can be assured that the damping off fungus has been killed. Try not to exceed 200 degrees F. as toxins may be developed in the soil. If seeds damp off when sown in the sterile soil they could be harboring the fungus on the seed coat. Then a dip in a mixture of 3 parts water to 2 parts bleach for 10 minutes followed by a clean water rinse should kill the fungus on the seed surface.
Do you offer custom seed mixes?
I have about 50 acres that I would like to establish a wood lot on. It was farmed but has been idle for several years. It's now grown up to weeds and brush. What would you recommend that we grow?
We supply custom seed mixes for almost any situation. If you could answer the following questions it will help us put a mix together for you.
Where is the site located: County, State, Country.
Is the site wet or dry, etc.
What are your ultimate and immediate goals, for example: Hardwood lumber, Wildlife habitat, etc.
Do you have a seed budget in mind.
Do you plan to prepare the ground by mowing, burning, plowing; or would you like to direct seed over what is already there.
Do you plan to actively manage the site after sowing or just let nature take its course.
Is there a specific date that this work needs to be done by?
This information is needed for us to recommend a seed mix that satisfies your requirements.
What is Stratification?
Cold Stratification: Many seeds mature on the plant in the Fall. If they were to germinate at that time the Winter would kill them. Nature has given them a built-in protection against this by requiring that they go through a period of cold temperature prior to germination. This requirement can be met in two ways. If you live in a northern climate and you are confident that the outdoor temperature will be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the 30, 60 or 90 days that we say the seed requires for cold stratification, than the seed can be sown in seedbeds outside in the fall, mulched heavily to prevent soil heaving and then remove most of the mulch in the Spring to allow the seed to germinate. The other way is to artificially condition the seed by soaking it in water and then drain the water and mix with an equal volume of moist perlite, peat moss etc. Place the seed in the refrigerator for the required time prior to sowing. The trickiest part of this is getting the moisture right. You need the stratification media to be moist but not wet. If you can ring water out of it then it is too wet. Mix the seed with this moist media and place it in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Check it every two weeks or so to make sure that it is the proper moisture and that the seeds are not molding or beginning to germinate. If there is any sign of mold they should be soaked in a solution of 3 parts water to 2 parts bleach then rinsed with clean water and put back into Stratification. If they are beginning to germinate they can be sown if the timing is right or kept as cold as possible (above freezing) until such time as you can sow them.
Some seeds require a period of after-ripening to soften the seed coat or allow the embryo to develop before undergoing cold stratification. This can be accomplished by following the cold stratification directions, except placing the moist seed at warm room temperature for the required period of time.
My Seeds have been Sitting Around for A While Are they Still Good?
Maintaining Seed Viability
Non-viable seeds are often the cause of failure during sowing. There are many causes of poor viability. - A seed may never have been viable in the first place. Poor pollination causes many seeds to look good on the outside but be empty inside. - Insects or disease may have attacked a viable seed. - It may not have been stored properly to maintain viability. - It is just too old and has lost its vigor.
At Sheffield’s, we check all seed to ensure that it is viable. There are two very simple tests that work quite well to quickly check quality. 1. The float test… Many times viable seeds can be separated from non-viable seed by floating in water. If you float seed in water and some floats and some sinks, try cutting some of the floaters and also some of the sinkers. If the floaters look empty or bad and the sinkers look full and good then you know this is a good method to easily separate out the bad seeds. This method works well for many species of oak acorns that do not hold their caps. Occasionally in a dry year, good seed will float. You need to cut some floaters to see if this method should be used. 2. The cut test….Like the float test, this method is not 100% accurate, but one thing it will tell you for sure is if a seed is definitely bad. If you cut a seed and it is hollow inside, with no visible embryo or endosperm, it is more than likely not going to germinate. Of course, the cut test is a destructive test so do not use it on seeds where you have a very limited amount, or can’t waste any.
Most seeds keep better at cool or cold temperatures. There are species from the tropical rainforests that do not keep well at all, such as Cocoa. However, most seeds from colder or drier climates store relatively well at refrigerator temperature, for those that can’t be dried down such as Oaks and Chestnuts. Or frozen, if they can be dried to 10% moisture content or less such as Pines and Firs.