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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seedlings- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

If you experiment with growing plants from seeds like I do, you have had experience with all these categories of seeds.   I try to order all the seeds that are a long involved process in the fall so I can get an early start on them, like those requiring 30, 60, or even (gasp) 90 days of chilling in the fridge.  Then there are some that need a warm period and a second chilling period.  Once I wintersowed  some seeds I had trouble with, and they didn't come up.   But I was surprised the second spring to see 3 little seedlings had come up.    Then there are the ones that pop right up, but don't like my soil, my watering, my fluorescent lights, or whatever, and the next thing I know, they are expired.

Here are some examples where fall sowing pays off big- Alpine Strawberries, cute little plants that don't make runners and just sit there looking charming, worthy for a Hobbit garden, and blithely bloom and fruit whenever they want.  Fall sown November 19, nearly up to my lights (11")-
And here are some sown March 20, from seeds I collected from my own strawberries last fall-
Aren't they cute?   They are ready to transplant into individual pots, and sometime in the next 3-4 months they will be outside growing and could even fruit by fall.

I decided too late to plant Knautia macedonica so bought some seeds this spring and just planted them March 9.   The instructions said they needed 30-60 days of chilling, I was depressed to think they would get such a late start.  But they sat around under my lights for a while, and lo and behold-
Two valiant little seedlings!  I don't know whether to hope for the other seeds to sprout or just transplant these carefully and try to save the other seeds to refrigerate.  Actually, 2 plants from a $2 package of seed more than pay for themselves anyway, so I am ecstatic to get some plants so soon.  These came from J.L. Hudson, who also sells Gibberellic Acid, which is supposed to help difficult seeds to sprout, and can eliminate the need for chilling.  It can also cause normal seeds to over-elongate.  Speaking of which, we come to the Ugly.   Seeds that apparently need direct sunlight and get too leggy too fast under lights, like Cerinthe major purpurascens, planted March 9-
They will be a challenge to plant out safely.  Half of them also came up as twins, if you can see that in the left front seedlings, so delicate they are probably impossible to divide.   I hope they will do well, I haven't grown them before.   Here in the PNW with summer nights staying around 50*F, most annuals sown in the ground will have trouble blooming before fall.  But Nasturtiums will do well here direct-sown, being cold tolerant anyway so you can plant them out fairly early.  In San Diego they would self-sow coming up in Fall and growing all winter to die out when it heated up in late Spring.
The little seedlings to the right are Asperula odorata, an annual for shade and cool conditions, dying out in summer.  They grow quickly and I did transplant some out last year, I'll have to see if they were able to self-sow this year.  I'm still looking for more self-sowers.  Here is another annual, Limnanthes douglasii,  I'm hoping will self-sow, also planted out last year and having a good time blooming then in a sunny spot-
On the left is Baical Scullcap, a perennial that is also medicinal and has purple blooms.   It would definitely have been better fall-sown.    Here is fall-sown Geum chiloense 'Blazing Sunset' and 'Lady Stratheden' from Diane's Seeds, some eggplants and peppers on the left and tomatoes and Cerinthe on the right-
And here are some more Geums sown in March-

They are so cute, but not much hope they will bloom this year.  So, I need to stick to the program and start those seeds in the fall, but it is so tempting to grow just a few more plants..... who can resist?

Happy growing, Hannah


  1. I grew some Knautia from seed last year and from about 24 seeds sown, only 3 actually sprouted. Amazingly, however, they were VERY vigorous once I planted them in the garden. They grew large mounds of strappy foliage last year (no flowers) and were completely evergreen over the winter. These past few weeks, they've started bulking up and have formed more leaves that I usually associate with Knautias...can't wait to see them bloom! The funny thing is, the plants I bought last summer already started seeded in my gravel path over the winter...THOUSANDS of seedlings! Apparently they just need to have a good place and they will propagate themselves better than I was able to do!

  2. Well, I was already tempted by the Knautia but passed on them last fall until I saw your photos, Scott, and could stand it no longer and bought seeds. I guess I won't be seeing blooms this summer though... patience, patience. Arggh.