Thursday, May 16, 2013


Pretty exciting, isn't it? I count 8 or 9 seedlings of a plant that intrigues me so much, I collected its ripe seed and sowed it last fall.

Outdoor fall sowing works for many temperate-zone plants, which expect* a cold-then-warm cycle to cue them that conditions are favorable for embarking on life as a plant. Some plants (probably those whose seed ripens in summer) expect a warm-cold-warm cycle. Of course, you could buy a special fridge for your seed-sowing projects to recreate these cycles artificially; your apple emits ethylene gas that can inhibit seed germination. After all, you'd be a silly apple seed to germinate and then get eaten by a passing mammal - you'd never survive the digestive-tract journey! A seed is very much alive - but in a far less vulnerable form than a just-sprung seedling.

Fascinating though all that is, that is not what I most urge you to learn. Here's today's vital plant-propagation lesson:

LABEL. Label whatever envelope or slip of paper you use to collect seed; label pots or trays you sow seed in (sticks work; you can write directly on some pots, or on tape). Same goes for cuttings, of course - but today's about seeds and seedlings.

Label, label, label!  I think I know what plant this is; I'll know for sure soon enough. If I'm right, it's Mitchella repens, a plant so ridiculously easy to propagate from cuttings, I must have seeded it just Because I Can. Or it might be the mystery seed I soaked for so long, I had forgotten all about it by the time I re-found and sowed it. (If that's the case, this species benefits from lengthy soaking of seeds, pre-sowing - this looks like ~100% germination of that tiny handful of seeds!)

Here's some seed of Salvia sclarea, a beautiful blue form - as you can tell, from the labels - on the paper I'm using to clean it, and on the envelope storing the cleaned seed..  I collected this seed at the Gowanus Nursery, for Michele.  (You may thank her for this important propagation lesson.  Let's repeat it together:  LABEL.)  You can see that some of the seeds are dark brown, some creamy, and some intermediate in color.  The darkest ones are ripe for sure; the palest likely not to be.  Some in-betweens might be developed enough to germinate.

If you've been putting off growing perennial plants from seed - fear not.  Many are remarkably easy.  Sow seed in fall - or whenever it's ripe - and let nature take its course.  And label, so you'll know in spring what you've grown!

*It's usually said that these species "require" these cold/warm cycles.  That is, of course, because they evolved where those cycles occur; I say "expect" because I'm trying to take a step back and inhabit a larger context (along with the plants).  I could have mimicked this process to trick them into "breaking" dormancy and germinating on my schedule.  But no need - the weather and I and the seeds are all pretty much on the same page.  So they made a break for it when the time was right.


Kizz said...

Labeling might officially be the hardest part.

SaraGardens said...

That's funny... it's also one of the parts I have to do without help from the actual plants (or plants-to-be)!