Many species of trees and shrubs are dormant and require a period of stratification before they germinate. In short, stratification requires cold, moist conditions, although in some cases sometimes it’s preceded by a period of warm, moist ones. The seeds are expecting to go through a winter and germinate in the spring. Without these cold conditions, some seeds will not germinate at all.

Generally speaking, there are two ways to grow tree seeds: the natural way, which often includes sowing the seeds outside in autumn, or through “assisted” germination, which is initially done indoors.

Here we’ll focus on the natural way; the way that seeds sprout into trees in nature. For “assisted” germination (indoor cold stratification) click here.

Most seeds, when sown in autumn without any pre-treatment, will begin to germinate the following spring. With autumn planting, seeds are planted outside, sometimes directly in the ground, but more often in containers, before the temperatures fall below 8° C/45° F.

Note: you can cold stratify seeds outdoor in 1. buckets, pots or boxes 2. seedbeds or nursery beds or 3. by direct seeding them on the site. The instruction below showcase the cold stratification using a bucket/pot/box size container. If you’re dealing with larger seeds such as chestnuts, oaks, walnuts plant your seeds as recommended in STEP 3 in a nursery bed.

What you’ll need?

Estimated cost: 

1. Seeds – acquire them by harvesting or buying from a reputable supplier
2. (5 Gallon) Bucket/Pot/Box
3. Potting soil

  • Peat moss/coconut coir
  • Perlite
  • Vermiculite
  • Compost

4. Wire netting


How to cold stratify seeds (outdoor)

Estimated time: 1h 

STEP 1: Prepare the potting soil

  • Mix 4 parts of compost, 2 parts coir or peat moss, 1 part vermiculite, 1/2 part perlite


STEP 2: Get the container and fill it with the potting soil

  • Don’t fill it all the way up, leave some room at the top so that you don’t get spillovers when watering the container.


STEP 3: Plant the seeds

  • Don’t plant too deep, the seeds should be just below the soil surface, at no more than twice their thickness.


STEP 4:  Place the container outside in a sheltered area

  • Make sure it’s out of the wind but somewhere where it will receive direct sunlight.


STEP 5: Cover the container with wire netting

  • To protect the seedling from birds and animals.


STEP 6: Check periodically and water if necessary

  • Once the seeds germinate in spring and grow into seedlings that are large enough to handle,  transplant them individually into cells, trays or small pots.




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