Soil seed banks and dormancy cycling have been well studied in annuals, but less is known about woody plants. Cao et al. investigate the cold desert shrub Kalidium gracile (Amaranthaceae) and find that it has three life history traits that help ensure persistence at a site: a polycarpic perennial life cycle, a persistent seed bank and dormancy cycling. Buried seeds exhibit an annual non-dormancy/conditional dormancy cycle, and germination varies in sensitivity to salinity during the cycle. Dormancy cycling is co-ordinated with seasonal environmental conditions in such a way that the seeds germinate in summer, when there is sufficient precipitation for seedling establishment.