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Tuesday - December 06, 2005

From: irving, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Viability of seeds that have not come up
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus


I planted some wildflower seeds per instructions and they are not coming up. Should they? or will they come up in spring?


The short answer is "maybe", it depends on several factors. First of all, were the seeds viable? Where did you get the seeds? How old were they? Had they been stored properly? Seed storage can affect the viability of seeds. High humidity and high temperatures adversely affect the viability of seeds. Some seeds have a limited storage life even if stored under optimal conditions. It is too late for the seeds you have already sown, but in future you can check the viability using the "Rag-Doll" test for seed germination on a small sample of the seeds you are sowing.

Another factor that could affect seed germination is that the seeds for some plants require special treatments before they will germinate. Your seed packet should have had instructions if this was the case. For instance, Texas bluebonnet seeds require scarification to insure a high percentage of germination. Some other species (in particular, perennials) require cold stratification to germinate.

Different wildflowers have different strategies for growing. Some that drop their seeds in the late spring or summer, germinate in the fall or winter and survive till spring as a small plant (for example, the rosette of the bluebonnet that forms in the late fall/early winter). In the spring the small plant expands its growth and blooms. Other species drop their seeds in late spring or summer and do not germinate until the following spring. If the latter situation fits your wildflower seeds, you may still see plants germinate in the spring.

Finally, it is possible that your seeds were eaten by insects or birds; or, if they were sown in a location with poor drainage and were over-watered, they may have succumbed to a fungus. If they were sown outdoors, you will just have to wait and watch for them and hope that they do germinate in the spring. If you sowed them in pots, you should move the pots outdoors so that the seeds will be experiencing normal winter temperatures and light cycles. If they do germinate before the last freeze, you can protect the tender young plants by moving them inside temporarily until the danger of frost is over.

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