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?