Growing from Seed-PBS TOW

Mary Sue Ittner
Wed, 20 Nov 2002 20:19:28 PST
Dear All,

We have gotten so many wonderful responses already and once again we find that a lot of different methods work. I keep modifying what I do as different methods are presented and abandon techniques when I find some I like better so always appreciate when people share what they do. I will no doubt study what every one has said and try some new experiments.

I have a number of different techniques for my seed depending on what I am sowing. Because I live in a Mediterranean climate, I mostly grow things that I think will be happy in it so most of my seed starting takes place in the fall as I am growing geophytes that are winter growers.

I sow a lot of seed from South Africa, mostly winter rainfall species and mostly from the Hyacinthaceae or Iridaceae families. After Rachel told us that many of these germinate best with warm days and cool nights I changed to sowing these in my greenhouse in fall as that way I can create the difference in temperatures. My greenhouse is unheated. I have had much better results doing that.

After learning that deep pots work much better than shallow I start everything in a pots that are probably at least 5 inches deep. That makes it easier to leave the plants in the pot for two years. If I have only a few seeds I use plastic cups (Mike Mace suggestion.) I get heavy duty ones at Costco and my husband heats up a nail and puts holes in the bottoms. They will last for about three years. Whether or not to cover and what to use is still not decided in my mind although I have eliminated a lot of things I have tried in the past and am experimenting now with Alberto's suggestion.

I also grow a lot of California natives. Those I start in the fall outside, but sheltered from our sometimes excessive rain. It usually takes much longer for these to come up. My seed starting mix also seems to vary every year as I refine what works. Probably my native mix is not as lean as my African mix.

A number of years ago I learned about the floatation method from Bill Richardson. I've been waiting for him to respond to Lauw's question or Lee since Lee told us how he successfully transplants seed that have germinated from the water. For those who don't know, winged seeds from the Amaryllis family can be floated in a saucer of water. In a very short time a radical will appear followed by a leaf. It is very satisfying to see this happen and so quickly. I often lose a lot in transplanting them to a pot from the water however.

John Harris described his method of starting Hippeastrum in BULBS. A couple of times I have floated half of the seeds and used a modified version of John's process for the other half. I mix the soil, pour boiling water over it and when cool, I plant the seeds sideways sticking out of the soil and cover with a little coarse sand although I'm not sure this is necessary and put the pot in a plastic bag (the size that covers the newspaper in wet weather works) and tie it closed. When I can see leaves, I take the bag off. After three or four trials, this latter method has yielded good results for me and much better than floating seeds so it is what I use for Rhodophiala and Cyrtanthus seeds now. I start those inside where I can see them and don't have a very scientific way of deciding when to move them outside. I guess it probably happens when they look strong enough to tolerate the change. I move them to the greenhouse first.

After many different methods I now soak cyclamen seed overnight, plant it and cover the pot with aluminium foil to keep it dark and place it in a place where the temperatures will remain about the same, not too warm or too cool. I now do this in the fall because seeds come up really well with this technique and sometimes would be growing when I couldn't keep them going so now I sow them when I want them to come into growth.

If whatever I am growing seems really vigorous and the leaves are getting large, I will try to carefully move them into a deeper pot which speeds up the growth a lot. I transplant some things the first year while in growth to their own individual container (Delphinium, Cardamine, Libertia, Iris for example.) I know you aren't supposed to do it, but I have few losses and I think they grow faster.

Mary Sue

Mary Sue Ittner <>
California's North Coast
Wet mild winters with occasional frost
Dry mild summers

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