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I'm starting my first major seed germination project this year. So far I've got rudbeckia, thunbergia, violas, impatiens and lettuce (which I'm going to try to keep growing indoors so we have a fresh source of salad greens.) Everything's going along great. But then last weekend I saw a package of seed for helleborus and picked them up on impulse.
Now, as I'm reading the seed packet directions, the recommendation is to cold stratify them for 3 months. Just today, I filled a small tray with moist sterile starting mix, sowed the hellebore seeds, and covered them with a thin layer of mix. Then I popped them into the refrigerator.
My question is this--is 3 months really the minimum cold stratification period for hellebores? Can I push and try to get them to germinate after a month so I might have a chance of planting them outside by May or so? I'm certain I won't get any flowering this year either way, but it would be nice to get them outdoors before the weather warms up too much so they heave a good headstart for next year.
What are your experiences starting hellebores indoors?
Unfortunately, the seed packet said nothing about soaking the seeds, so I didn't do that. I'm torn between following the directions on the Tom Clothier website and just sticking with what the seed packet tells me to do. I guess the worst that can happen is that they don't germinate and I'm out the $1.50 I payed for the packet of seeds.
Since cold stratification tries to duplicate winter, I would check that tray regularly to make sure it was still moist. If they start to germinate and then find it dry, they will just die. The bad thing about using a fridge is that the temp doesn't fluctuate like it would outside, and that fluctuation is really helpful in germinating seeds. You could try just putting some ice cubes on them every day. They will melt in there like snowmelt. Just be sure to not let it get soggy.
I use a method Norm Deno described, Outdoor Treatment, where the seeds are folded into a damp paper towel, put in a baggie that's left open, and instead of putting the seeds in the fridge, you put it in an unheated shed or garage in January and let it stay there for three months. This works really fabulously for all sorts of tough perennial seeds. I have not tried germinating hellebore this way, though.