It’s hard to believe that almost 5 months have passed since I wrote a post sharing our excitement about purchasing a considerable number of tree and shrub seeds for the garden. (See here for the original post). With this in mind, you may want to put the kettle on, condensing 5 months worth of seed growing into one post has produced this fairly long effort!
It’s fair to say that our seed acquiring excitement was brought on by the knowledge that realistically, in just a few years from now, we could be gazing out of our French doors at an overwhelming vision of loveliness, a garden overflowing with shrubs and trees, a visually pleasing sight adding structure and interest to the garden and all at a fraction of the cost of purchasing from a nursery. We reasoned that even if 75% of the seeds should fail to germinate, the end result would still yield enough plants for the whole process to have been worth the time and the effort. Mind you, for me time is never an issue. I am the woman who purportedly has no inkling what day of the week it is. To some extent this is true and my hubby can verify this, after all, it is he who has to remind me to post the Sunday quote on my blog. And as for effort, well it’s hardly manually taxing, a bit fiddly perhaps but it can’t be considered an effort. So all in all we had absolutely nothing to lose by giving it a go. Funnily enough, the most taxing parts of this whole process were deciding which seeds to deal with first and finding a shop that sold half decent small plastic boxes with good fitting lids. The procedure for starting the seed germination ranges from simple soaking to stratification (placing the seeds in a fridge to mimic winter dormancy) so a rigid box with a good fitting lid was an absolute must.
So how did we get on?
Well, for practical reasons (and to prevent brain overload on my part) we made the decision to begin at the beginning and start the easier seed germinating procedure first, i.e the soak only seeds (scarification). Yeah, it made sense to us too It really was just a case of soaking the seeds in warm water for 48 hours before sowing them. Most seeds have been dried to stop them going ‘off’ and the scarification process helps to break or reduce the seeds outer coating therefore allowing germination.
The seeds in this group included lupins and laburnum and as you can from the photos below, our success rate with these seeds was good, the seedlings came through healthy and strong.
We had read somewhere that if the seeds are large, you can aid the scarification procedure by rubbing them gently between sheets of sandpaper before soaking them. Once the outer coating has dulled they are ready to be soaked. We decided to try this method on half of the lupinus perennis seeds just for the heck of it to see how it would pan out. We observed that the seeds rubbed with the sandpaper before soaking did not produce as many seedlings as the soaking method alone and they were not as healthy looking either.
Once we had got the first group of seeds sown (or is it sowed, I never know) and ‘under our belt’ as the saying goes, the anxiousness of dealing with so many of them seemed to diminish and our confidence grew. We were more than ready to take on the task of stratification which is just as well as the remaining seeds all fell into this category. This is where our recently purchased small tubs came into play. Luckily we have a small mini bar/fridge which turned out to be ideal for use as the seeds ‘winter’ home, we didn’t have the worry of accidentally contaminating food in our regular fridge and it’s an all round more hygienic way to go. First of all we separated the packs of seeds into groups, some seeds only needed a short chill in the fridge for 2-10 weeks, others considerably longer, anything up to 36 weeks. (It was easier to match the seeds up by their required stratification time, this meant that when the time came to remove them from the fridge, we could bring them all out at the same time without faffing about with the checking of numerous dates). We soaked the seeds for 48 hours, some of them needed 72 hours, but for most 48 hours was adequate. Next we prepared the soil for the pots, opting eventually for a mix of compost, sand and vermiculite.
The seeds were added to the pots, lightly sprayed with water and the lid securely fitted. Labels were then placed on the top of the pots to avoid any confusion!
Finally, it was big chill time. The pots were just the right size to allow them to be stacked in twos inside the fridge. At this point, I made a note on the calendar of the required amount of weeks stratification needed for each seed type.
The soak only seeds did exceptionally well and we hastily rubbed our hands together with glee. Unfortunately, after planting on these seedlings we had to sit back helplessly and watch their demise, recognising immediately where our first major mistake lay. These first seedlings had arrived jointly with the hot weather conditions and sadly we lost almost all of them due to this reason alone. The first of our scarification seeds had finished their ‘cold spell’ and after removing them from the fridge, they soon put in an appearance and seemed to be doing well, again we were delighted, even if it was only briefly, as once more this summers intense heat took it’s toll on them too. No amount of moving them into areas of shade (numerous times a day) or watering made any difference. The seeds in the category, amongst many others, were made up of 4 species of clematis, silver and paper birch, strawberry tree and the honeysuckle. If anything though, nature can be and often is a wonderfully resilient force and the fact that a handful of seedlings managed to somehow cling to life amazes me still. But cling they did and these spattering of survivors, determined to tough it out no matter what, consisted of one wisteria, around 8 senna and half a dozen laburnum. We are thrilled that these plucky seedlings have made it through and even more delighted that they are now thriving in one corner of the garden.
I adore grasses, I love the way the wind rustles through them and how you can run your fingers through the softest of them as you pass by, so having a go at growing these from seed was something that I definitely wanted to try. We had mixed success with the germination, the bear grass and the mutton bird sedge didn’t even make an appearance. In complete comparison though, the hare’s tail, pony tail and blue fescue grasses shot up extremely quickly.
All in all, we think we have done remarkably well for our first attempt and we haven’t finished yet. There are still many seeds stratifying in the fridge and due to come out of there anytime soon. These seeds are our tree seeds, various acers, juniper, hazel and staghorn. What I didn’t realise when we started this whole experience (but have since learned) is that as seeds are going through their stratification, they occasionally sprout before the chilling time is up and if they do, you simply remove them and plant them on. This has happened to 4 of the acer seeds, we potted them on and they’re growing great.
The others are due to come out of hibernation very soon and if I do say so myself, we’re quietly optimistic about these ones! Another success story are the berberis, they too are coming along marvellously.
The seeds that had a long stratification have been the most successful, they sat in the fridge through the hottest summer months and bringing them out late summer/early autumn has made a huge difference to their chances of survival.
I can envision berberis hedging along one side of the garden already. Our hopes have been raised, the garden that we so desire is slowly becoming a reality. Of course our next challenge will be to get them all through the cold winter months. I can feel another adventure coming on…..