Germinating Bayberry
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Giuseppe Masciari
Posted: Before April 1998

I have bought a package of seeds of bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). Two months ago I planted the seeds and I put the container into a refrigerator. How much time do I wait before taking out the containers from the refrigerator?

You can take the seedbox out anytime in the third month. Move to room temperature and germination should begin a month or so later.

Bayberry seeds (actually berries) can take 2-12 months to germinate depending on how quickly the waxy coating on the berries breaks down. The waxy coating acts as a water barrier and until water can penetrate it, germination cannot occur. If you scrape off part of the waxy coating before planting you can often get some of the berries to germinate without further pretreatment. Rubbing the dry berries against an abrasive surface such as a metal screen will remove some of the wax. One tree seed dealer suggests washing the seeds in detergent to remove more of the wax. According to Norman Deno, author of "Seed Germination Theory and Practice," even if a hole is ground through the wax germination will not necessarily improve; it is necessary to remove as much of the wax as possible. Germination is still possible without removing the wax – it happens in nature that way – but the germination will be slower and more sporadic, occurring as the wax barrier breaks down over time.

Berries, with or without the wax, should be exposed to a cold treatment. In the fall, they can be sown in outdoor beds in rows 20-30 centimetres (8-12 inches) apart covered with 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) of soil. Cover the beds with straw mulch until after late spring frosts.

At other times, the berries can be sown in a seedbox which is exposed to 5 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) for 2-3 months. The seeds should be inspected every few weeks. At the first sign of swelling, cracking and sprouting the seed box should be moved to room temperature (20 degrees Celsius or 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Germination will occur over a period of 150 days.

Bayberry needs acidic soil – pH between 4 and 5. Low pH is not essential for germination but once the seedlings are established they need acidic soil to thrive. A soil-sand-peat (1 part each) mixture is recommended.

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