Thursday, May 16, 2013
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!)
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.