Monday, November 16, 2009

Propagation tips from another pro, and a bit of this and that

NOTE: This post was written by Country Mouse, though it has the Town Mouse byline.

First thanks again for the responses to Town Mouse's blogday retrospective - it is gratifying indeed to know that we are not burbling into the wind but that indeed we are all enjoying mutual sharing of knowledge and experience on our similar or different garden paths.

A wordy post this time - words are quicker for me to jot down than pictures are to dig up, and I don't have a lot of time today.

A propos of nothing: I recently read (in Introduction to California Chaparral by Ronald D. Quinn and Sterling C. Keeley), that bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) are insect and spider eaters. So when I see them on the coyote brush, digging into the fluffy flowers and seeds - they must be after insects and not seeds! I'll have to go out with a loupe and see if I can see little bugs in there. I haven't gotten any good pictures of their acrobatic antics yet this year, maybe a little later on. (I'm taking this fine book on a weekend trip I'm taking to Savannah Georgia tomorrow, for a wedding. I hope to write a review if I haven't already done so when I get back.)

I learned so much at a CNPS talk I attended recently on growing California natives from seed. The speaker was Matt Teel, propagator at Yerba Buena nursery. Here are some of the amazing and enlightening things I learned:

A good tip for collecting seeds from plants that explode their seeds when they are ripe, such as lupines, is to gather flowering stalks with seed pods just before they are ripe, and put them in vases as you would flowers. Matt puts the vases into garbage cans - you need some way to capture the seeds when the pods pop.

He also explained why it is important to clean the seeds, i.e., remove all the other plant stuff that is not seed from the seed: it rots or gets pathogens. Then the seeds rot or get pathogens. I spent a nice peaceful evening cleaning all my seed collection that is in envelopes. Also - seeds should be stored in the dark, in paper envelopes.

I learned why soaking is necessary before you plant some seeds; they have to experience a couple of good rains before they germinate. Then they won't come up and get dried up because of one freak rainstorm. So you are removing the layer of germination inhibiting stuff that the first rain washes off.

Matt also recommended not tossing your seed flats if nothing germinates - he's had experiences where the following year they all came up in his compost pile because he had just given up and dumped them out. Let them dry out over summer and water them again next fall, and you might get a pleasant surprise.

I think my seeds are not getting enough sun, maybe not enough air circulation, and probably too much water. The main thing to protect them from is heavy rain that will flatten them. And critters.

When potting on seedlings, hold them by a leaf, and not by the stem. It's much easier to crush a seedling stem than a leaf. Who'd a thunk!

Another revelation was why we pot from seed trays to small pots and then to big pots. Matt explained that it is difficult to maintain proper moisture levels in pots that are much larger than the tiny plants with their little roots. Many of us had thought that intermediate step not worth bothering about. But the plants just don't thrive as well, apparently.

And - another surprise - Matt recommends using Osmocote fertilizer pellets! He said, I know - everybody says natives don't need fertilizer. Then he held up a fertilized and an unfertilized monkey flower plant in a pot. Big difference. He assured us that the nurseries pretty much all do this. Low nitrogen ones, and use about 1/4 of the recommended amount.

I met a pleasant person after the talk, who is writing a book on gardening with California natives, month by month - Such a good approach - It'll be published by U.C. Press - I'm looking forward to that one.

And btw I ordered a batch of new books when UC Press had a huge sale recently. I finally took the plunge and bought "Jepson" as it is known - a large and, to me, highly intimidating reference manual that costs $100 - on sale for half off! I've been told that it contains much useful and interesting horticultural information, as well as the identification keys that require a good bit of technical background to use. I'll let you know!

But you know what nobody seems to know? Why we call putting seeds in the fridge "stratification." Not a single person in the room, and there were many very knowledgeable people there, could give me the answer to that one. Do you know?


Christine said...

Oh very cool. I love following your propagation adventures and sounds like you've gotten an extra boost of motivation from this meeting. Can't wait to hear how it goes when you're back in town. (or uhhh, country I guess!)

Nell Jean said...

Hi, Country Mouse, I was wondering where you were.

I put exploding seed pods in large paper bags and fold the top once.

Thank you for all the other tips.

Town Mouse said...

I heard about the magic of Osmocote as well. A native gardener tried Osmocote, some organic fertilizer, and nothing on some native grasses. Osmocote won hands down. Go figure.

Katie said...

Sounds like you learned alot. I watched the main propagator at Annie's Annuals man handle seedlings, but by their leaves she said you can't really hurt them, especially if they're really small. (WOW!)

Chari + Matt said...

THANK YOU for asking about the stratification. I've been puzzling that out since I learned the term!

Barbara said...

Wordy.. maybe, but very concise with lots of great tips. Thanks for helping to educate all of us.

healingmagichands said...

I did not find this post too wordy at all. But then, look at some of my posts!

I believe that they started calling the process of aging seeds stratification because of the method originally used. For example, if you are stratifying ginseng, you make a wood frame box with a screen mesh in the bottom. Then you put in a layer of sand, a layer of seeds, a layer of sand, a layer of seeds, etc repeat until box is full, then cover with a screen mesh. You leave it alone for a year or so, making sure that it does not dry out too much.

Anyway, layers piled on layers: Stratification. Eventually the term became applied to all processes that induce a seed to germinate, whether it be freezing and thawing or whatever series of actions will convince the embryo that it is time to sprout.

Country Mouse said...

I agree the paper bag may be easier for smaller batches of exploding seed bods than the garbage can container, Nell Jean - nurseries have techniques for large scale production. I bet it's fun to hear the seeds pinging on the sides of the can though!

Healingmagichands - thanks so much for that history of the term "stratification." Makes a lot of sense! Someone at the meeting said the term made sense to her because her seed containers tend migrate to the lower strata of the refrigerator! LOL!
Thanks as ever for dropping by with your comments - I'll be back in circulation as soon as I have processed the 40 gazillion photos I took in my short trip to Savannah!