Seed starting advice

Mary Sue Ittner
Mon, 14 Oct 2002 17:38:50 PDT
Dear Jennifer,

In starting seeds it is always helpful to find out about whether the plant is summer or winter growing. Winter growers are started in the fall and summer growers in the spring unless you have short lived seed and then you start right away and hope for the best. Over the years I have learned to start seed in deeper pots than I first did and unless they grow robustly and the leaves get very large leave them in that pot for two years at the least. If they grow robustly and look like they need a deeper pot I will try to move them up very carefully while they are in growth. Since you are from Southern California you will have the longer light periods that some of the members in the UK and Pacific Northwest may not have and won't have to worry so much about frost so I would think starting in fall for winter growers would work for you. The mix you use needs to have good air filled porosity (that is that when the water drains out there should still be air left for the roots), but when seedlings are tiny you also need to be sure they won't dry off. I usually keep my sheltered from the rain, but others have found using remay or some other cover will protect them and also protect from the birds at the same time so they actually make a frame with the cover on the top. When the seedlings die back I withhold water till time for them to grow again although we have it cool in northern California and I am hearing a lot of you give a little water year round especially to the seedlings so they won't desiccate while dormant.

 *Allium - these start well for me, but quickly succumb to "damp off"

IF my Allium seed come up, they usually grow well, so I don't know what to say about this. Many never come up and this species attracts aphids more than any I have so I am ever vigilant. Sowing thinly and being sure you have sterile pots and soil helps. We do have a number of Allium enthusiasts. Any one care to comment on this? And Jennifer Alliums grow all over the world and are so different that maybe listing species would help. Some are winter growing and some summer.

*Bomaraea caldasii--Diana is our expert on this, but I think the seed needs to be fresh. Diana?

*Bulbinella elegans--I haven't had very good luck getting Bulbinellas to come up at all so maybe Rachel or others who grow these can help.

*Calochortus venustus-- I do have luck with this one and have decided that Calochortus seed does best for me when I start it when we won't have rain. Knowing when that will be each year is the trick. So it needs to be started very early in the fall or in the late winter as if I start it when we get a lot of rain in winter I get good germination and then lose most everything. Bob Werra starts his inside in the basement under lights where the humidity no doubt is less. Since you don't have a lot of rain in Riverside this may not be so crucial. You want to get as much growth as you can before it gets hot and dries back. Anyone else? Diana wrote about Calochortus in BULBS if you were an IBS member then.

*Gelasine azurea-- This one probably should be started in the spring I think. I am sending seed to the BX harvested this summer from Jana Ulmer's plants. Alberto or anyone else want to take this one?

*Gynandriris setifola-- This is now considered Moraea setifolia. Rachel has told us a lot of the South African Irids that are winter growing are best started in the fall and need a change in day and night temperatures to germinate well. I have gotten much better results when I have followed this advice and not tried to pamper them. I have grown this one from seed quite easily that way.

*Herbertia lahue--I have started this one in the fall and it has germinated well for me. Anyone else with ideas on this one.

*Iris giganticaerulea

*Melasphaerula ramosa

*Neomarica caerulea, candida, and northiana

*Sandersonia aurantiaca-- From Rachel Saunders in the past
Soak the seeds overnight in water.  The next day put the swollen seeds into
a plastic bag and put in the fridge for 3 to 4 months.  Open the bag each
month and check that the seeds are still moist, and if not, moisten them
slightly.  At the end of 3 months, sow the seeds normally in wet drained
potting soil - this should be in late spring when the weather is warm.  The
seeds should germinate in about 4 to 6 weeks.  Keep the seedlings growing
through the summer and they will go dormant in late summer or autumn.  Do
not throw the soil away - more seeds will germinate the next year, and
perhaps the year after that too.  Our second year crop was probably just as
big as the first year!

*Smilacina stellata--I keep trying to grow some of my natives and have had only limited luck with the Smilacinas. I suspect the seed might need to be fresh or that it might take two years for it to germinate and have to go through a wet winter and then a dry summer and another wet winter. At least I have some come up the second year. In nature here where it is growing it is found in wet shady places and if I give some summer water it doesn't die back until late fall and then resurrects in the spring. Since the deer often eat the berries maybe it needs to go through their digestive system too. Diana, have you tried this or anyone else?

*Zagadenus fremontii-- You must mean Zigadenus fremontii. This has a wide distribution which would make me think it would be adaptable. This one is native to where I live, at least the big tall impressive version. The only time I tried it from seed, I started it in December and it came up in early February.  It definitely grows faster with a deeper pot.

I will look for some of my saved files on starting from seed and send them on to you privately tomorrow. I hope  every one else will help Jennifer as I realize there are a lot of gaps in my answer.

Mary Sue

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