|Wart leaf ceanothus blossom - the end and goal of this story|
This story begins back in September, in the post "Once more unto the breach - wart leaf ceanothus propagation from cuttings and seeds," in which I wrote about making cuttings from a branch of one of the Ceanothus papillosus shrubs that grows wild on our property, and sowing seeds.
The cuttings part of the story is quickly told: they all died. But I will "Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood," and have a go another time, because I'm stubborn. I'll try at a different time of the year, maybe when it's not so hot. Maybe I need to keep them a little bit drier because they go moldy so easily, and maybe not so warm. I'll get some advice about doing it right.
With the seeds, however, I've been had some success.
|A healthy Ceanothus papillosus - wart leaf ceanothus - seedling, ready for potting up|
|These are the ceanothus nutlets, as they come off the bush.|
|A rolling pin helps to separate the seeds from the nutlets.|
I tediously picked out about 50 seeds or so. I don't know how you would do this in bulk.
To make the seeds more likely to germinate, I stratified them for six weeks, as advised in the reference book Seed Propagation of Native California Plants by Dara E. Emery. That is, I put them in a container with a bit of damp peat moss and perlite and stuck 'em in the back of fridge. With a label!
Then I sowed them in a seed flat -- that was on October 25, 2012 -- using a lot of perlite, some sand, and also a little potting soil mixed in. (I'm trying not to use so much peat as it's a non-renewable resource).
A short digression on the subject of fertilizing native plants, when propagating. Seeds need little to nothing in the way of nutrients - they just have to germinate. They contain their own food for that. Some people use pure perlite as the germination medium. I put a little potting soil and vermiculite in the mix. I might try perlite alone one of these days and see how it goes. With perlite it's easy to shake the mix off the roots.
Seedlings (aka propagules) don't need much food either, but they do need a little. And when they are bigger and potted on to 4 inch pots - a little more. Wart leaf ceanothus lives in chaparral and sandy soil, so it's evolved to live in low nutrient soil. But that doesn't mean it won't like a little bit of food as a young 'un. Just not a rich diet.
I attended a talk one time given by the main propagator from Yerba Buena nursery. He showed the audience two sticky monkey plants in pots - one vigorous and bushy, and one doing just OK. The difference was a bit of fertilizer. He says - we know what it says in the books: no fertilizer for native plants. But here's the result: you be the judge.
So since then I've started putting a bit of organic fertilizer or slow release Osmocote in the pots. I haven't been at this long enough to know if it's worth it yet or not. But he said all the nurseries do this.
Back to the seedlings... Three to four weeks after sowing them, all the wart leaf ceanothus seeds that were going to germinate had germinated -- perhaps a 40% germination rate overall. Seeds I had gathered in 2010 did better than 2012 seeds - I'm not sure why.
|Wart leaf ceanothus seeds were cold stratified for six weeks. They germinated around three-four weeks after sowing|
You can "prick out" seedlings after the first true leaves appear and put them in 2 inch liners (pots). The two seedlings at the bottom of the photo above are ready. But others in the flat were not yet ready so I waited a week or two more to give them all a chance. No seed left behind!
Here they are after being in their two inch pots for about 8 weeks.
|The difference between a healthy seedling (on the right) and one with a problem (on the left)|
|A healthy seedling showing roots that had grown around the bottom of the 2 inch pot - and the method I use for potting up into the four inch pots, which are deep ones|
When to pot on from 2 inch to four inch pots? I think that when the roots are bending around the bottom of the pot it's good to give them a deeper container. However, if you don't want to grow things on right away - they can live happily in 2 inch pots for a long time. I'm just impatient to get these guys going.
A handy potting up method: I pot little seedlings and bigger ones alike using a method I learned from Denise at our propagation group. She fills the pot half full and diagonally, lays the seedling in so the roots are deep and spreading, then fills in the other side of the pot. A little minor adjustment to center the seedling, and you're done.
Why not plant directly into large containers? There is some thought that plants don't "like" containers that are much larger than they are - like putting a baby in a king size bed instead of a cot. I'm not sure how much evidence there is for that, but it could be tested I guess. The other reason is that it wastes a lot of planting medium - and space - to put them all into big pots - not all the seedlings are going to make it.
ED: Ed Morrow that is - I'd like to update this post with his much more cogent comment about container size: "The reason for using the size appropriate pot for seedlings is moisture. if a pot is too big, gravity pulls all the water to the bottom of the pot and out of the range of the seedling's roots. An appropriate sized pot is one where the moisture in the pot is in the root zone of the seedling." -- Thanks, Ed!
When to plant them out? Well, shrubs can take a a year or a couple years to be sturdy in a gallon size pot. But I've decided to try direct planting one of the vigorous seedlings from the two inch pot to the place where I want a wart leaf ceanothus to grow. I'll let you know how it fares compared to its equally sturdy peers who are growing in pots.
|Looking down on a ceanothus seedling in a garden bed - with a deer/rabbit cage around it - yet another experiment.|
Wart leaf ceanothus enjoys sun most of the day, and is extremely drought tolerant.
So -- from the fifty or so seeds, I got 22 seedlings, of which seven are not so great. That isn't a huge success rate - but it's enough for my purposes, even if they don't all survive. I'm not growing to sell. I'll share some with friends and plant the remainder here and there in the garden areas of our property, see what kind of conditions they thrive in.
I might try formative pruning on a few, to see if they grow a little more compactly and densely, which is preferred in a garden generally speaking. Most plants you buy from a nursery have had some formative pruning.
If I get better at this, and if people want to use these local native shrubs in their garden, I'll grow more, for their attractive flowers, year-round foliage, and wildlife value - bees and butterflies love the nectar.
It's such a lot of fun mucking about in the garden these days! -- And there is so much to look forward to as winter warms into spring.