A quick post about slow propagation

How are the seeds doing?

"How are the seeds doing?" Hedge asked.
That's what I've decided to call the person whose gardening efforts at Jikoki Zen Center I've been helping (one day a month) for the past year or so, because we were talking about hedgerows recently, and it's a nice name. Hedge. Such an odd word. Apparently it comes from old German and Dutch words which all mean -- hedge. Old words, old, unchanging practices.
Anyway, I didn't want to disappoint him but I had to:
"Actually none of your seeds have germinated yet."

Actually -- of all the seeds I've started in the past few weeks, only one species is sprouting -- and that one is doing so mightily: Monardella villosa (coyote mint).

Coyote mint started leaping up almost the day it was sown. Well, within a week anyway.

It's also the one that's been acting most like an annual in my garden, at least in the sunny parts.
Lupines can be like that too - more like annuals. So I've also sown a lot of lupines: Lupinus arboreus, L. latifolius, L. albifrons, L. hirsutissimus. (Not L. nanus - I'll wait till February for all the true annuals.)

Lupines, recently sown

This year I'm sowing in deep four-inch pots, roughly nine seeds to a pot. Instead of thickly sowing big flats, and having too many, but not having the heart to kill any.  And also I am hoping not to have to transplant them twice: maybe I can go straight from the deep pots into the earth. Not sure.
I'm not sure of much, I guess, but I keep doing stuff anyway. And most of the time some of it works. Kind of like nature. When I started this blog I was much more certain of things. Kind of like life!
Some seeds I've started are a first-time experiment.

Trillium ovatum (western wake robin) and Maianthemum racemosum (feathery western solomon's seal) have complicated life cycles that take some years to get to the flowering plant stage. I'm keeping their pots a little bit moist over summer. We'll see how that goes over the next few years.
Though it doesn't have the complicated life-cycle, I'm including Cynoglossum grande (hound's tongue) in the slow propagation category. Mainly because I haven't had luck with that yet and I've tried a few times.

Hound's tongue and a few other woodland species I'm growing this year.

I've been wondering if I should keep the long-propagation-cycle pots dry right now - but dry in a pot is a whole nuther thing than dry in the earth. And actually we've had a lot of foggy mornings, even drizzly, this year, so far. So the earth hasn't been that dry either.
Actually I did try to grow Maianthemum this way once before. Back when they were called something else - what was it now? -- Best not to remember.
(Like when we changed over from old money to new money in the UK: best to just go with the new and not convert all the time. That was back before the flood sometime! Oh. 1971. Doesn't seem so long ago to me. )
That time (returning to the earlier Maiathemum experiment) I put the seeds into pots and put them out in the garden and ignored them.
Didn't work. I'm pretty sure they just dried out and died, those seeds. I didn't have the luxury of a shade house then.

July and August are not months when plants in California typically start sprouting. The hot dry summers in California are sort of like freezing-cold winters in most other parts of the world, at least parts farther from the equator than we are here.
California, as I keep reminding everybody I meet, has a mediterranean climate. Much of it does anyway.
So whenever I sow seeds at this time I have a lot of hesitations and questions. It just feels unnatural.
Yet, this is the time to start many seeds, according to Seed propagation of Native California Plants by Dara E. Emery, which is the bible for us propagators.
But like the bible perhaps Emery's advice requires some interpretation before application of its wisdom in my case. It was written for different circumstances than those that meet me today. I'm growing for my own property, not to generate gallon plants for sale in fall. I can plant when things are younger and smaller.
(BTW and OMG! check out that Dara Emery book link I gave above - except the tables regarding individual species (for which you would want to buy the book) -- it gives all the text online at Calscape, a terrific CNPS app. for native plant gardeners. Plus a link to where you can buy the book.)

I want to find an annual rhythm that works for my kind of work, planting propagules out into their native environment as soon as they are big enough to at least survive birds pecking them. If I wasn't lazy, I would volunteer at a restoration nursery. And maybe one day I will.

Oh gosh. This was supposed to be a short post.

By the way, it might be interesting to contrast my haphazard approach with the tenets of biodynamics. I heard a podcast about this lately. Gardening tasks occur on a very fixed calendar based on lunar and astrological or maybe astronomical sort of lining up of celestial positions. Also water is swirled one way for a while, then another, to energize it (I may be misrepresenting here, since I was listening while cooking dinner and sometimes the dinner was foremost in my consciousness). If you are interested, you can listen here on the Cultivating Place podcast.
It's a great podcast btw! - and the one right after the Biodynamics episode is an interview with the creator of that amazing Calscape app! I feel like an old K-tel advert - But wait - you ALSO get a link to THIS great interview with Dennis Mudd!

Where was I - finding a rhythm? No - I'm moving on to Happy Surprises, and the Great Truth that some things always don't come up when you expect them to.

I was disappointed this spring that the Hooker's fairy bells I sowed in November didn't germinate. But NOW they have!

I sowed them late in the year - November. I was hoping they would come up in spring - but no! they came up late July into August!
(I've been reminded more than once by horticulturalists such as Pete Veilleux not to throw out pots or flats of seeds that don't germinate the first year. Sometimes native plant seeds will germinate the second year.)
How amazing is that? Pretty amazing. Pretty uplifting. Pretty inspiring!

In fact it inspired this whole new round of seed propagation I just did (some according to Dara Emery's schedule, and some with the long view in mind).

And it inspired all these thoughts that have swirled this way then that around the topic of slow propagation. Kind of like the old fashioned washing machine agitators of my childhood!

Sorry - it wasn't such a short post after all.


ryan said…
I've propagated a number of things this way. Iris, Lilium, Tellima, Lupine, maybe a few other things, maybe heuchera and Aquilegia. I put the seeds into potting soil in the shade outdoors in June but I didn't really water them, just let them sit in the potting soil. Then I kept an eye them when the rains came, maybe watered them if the soil looked dry, but mostly just looked after things after they germinated. I got good germination results that way. A couple of things did the same things as your fairy bells and came up much later than I would have expected. My theory was that sitting outside in the potting soil broke down the germination inhibitors and that they'd germinate whenever the temperature was right. But I mostly just grew things that are relatively easy to germinate so maybe it wasn't necessary.
Pretty sweet to have a bunch of fairy bells and monardella. They're both really nice.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks Ryan for sharing your success. I agree about the germination inhibitors - makes a lot of sense. I'm trying to be nuanced about the water - based on where the plants are growing on the wild and how dry it is in those places right now - plus the fact that the pots do dry out so completely and - well it's a fun game to play.

BTW my lupines are all enthusiastically leaping forth now! Happy day! Even Lupinus albifrons - now if only I can keep it alive... I have not yet grown one successfully though I have germinated quite a few. I think I'll go looking for info on that topic.