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Propagation (seed, cuttings, etc): Seed Germination 2012

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Observations on germination over this winter/spring

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 17 February 2013, 16:22. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 22 January 2012, 09:43top / bottom of page

A failing of this website is a more generalised approach to imparting and sharing information - viz: most contributions are very specific and often get no reply. Most people sow many different seed and sharing experiences across the board is a lot more valuable, especially for new members. The diaries illustrate this well. So since seed sowing is the very basis of all our gardening here goes with our experiences this year.

Most alpines are still sitting it out in a cold frame, waiting on warmer weather. However, we have sown a few species with bottom heat in the greenhouse, quite early so everything doesn't come together later in the spring. Euphorbia rigida, I mentioned earlier, has germinated very well from 7 year-old seed, and several Yuccas from 10/11 year-old seed. The latter do need quite high temperatures to germinate, ca. 20C. A number of SW American natives, Lesquerellas, Erysimum, Stachys coccinea, Chilopsis linearis, Berberis fremontii, Bouvardia, have also germinated nicely. The only problem at this time of year is the low light intensity which can lead to etiolation in some, but not all, species. Fortunately light levels have been good, and supplementary lighting can be useful if a lot of seed is sown.

A lot of other seed that requires a long stratification is being sown and put into a spare fridge (spare now all the food has been removed!) in the garage. Here it will stay for 4 to 6 weeks (or longer), with regular checking later on for signs of germination, which often occurs at low temperatures.

I will aim to show examples as the spring progress's - nothing like real examples! (The seed by the way has come from many sources as well as Society exchanges; home collected - usually the best because it can be sown early - South West Native Seed and Alplains in America, Czech seed collectors, who really distribute the most remarkable range of seed from Turkey across to China - a wonderful resource for alpine gardeners, and others. There can be no more exciting aspect of gardening!).

Contribution from Ron Mudd 22 January 2012, 16:20top / bottom of page

Thanks for sharing Tim. I for one cannot read enough about others experiences in this field. Whilst I dont grow any of the genera you mention, I operate by the guidelines that all info is valuable and I never know when using techniques that work for one plant can be transferred to another. Please continue to post your results. I'll chip in when I can.

Personally I dont care about etoilation in seedlings of bulbous plants for the first few years. My thinking being that a) they are most likely to be heavily shaded when so small by surrounding plants (in the wild that is) and b) they will go back down to the bulb and will react to the conditions they find during their next growth cycle.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 01 April 2012, 12:55top / bottom of page

Rather than put more information here, those who are interested in more detailed observations on seed germination I would warmly recommend refer to the NARGS Forum where there is ongoing entries this spring. But sometimes the garden itself springs surprises and this year we have had very good germination of Trillium rivale next to the parent plants. For many years I only had one clone and never got seed set The same has been true for T. luteum), but I have now planted several from different sources close together - however, I didn't expect such largesse.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 17 April 2012, 13:52top / bottom of page
Legume seed

After sowing most seed during autumn and winter, and a lot more as spring warms up, I am left with a batch of legume seed which needs to be chipped before sowing. Some is very small (Astragalus, Oxytropis etc) and I have often had trouble handling such seed. So now I am using this light and magnifying device, which my wife uses for sewing and embroidery. It is remarkable how you can deal with the smallest of seed - not easily but at least they don't fly away every time you try to chip them. Highly recommended.

Legume seed

Contribution from Alan Jones 26 April 2012, 12:11top / bottom of page
Primula sikuensis/Sleeping beauty

I have eight Primula sikuensis grown from seed, three outside and five in the alpine house. They were sown on January 01/11 and pricked out on June 6/11. The three planted outside are starting to push-up flowers. Four of the five in the alpine house are in flower, one since early March. The fifth plant is only now starting to break dormancy. One would have expected it to act in concert with the other plants, as all have been treated exactly the same. Why the long delay?

Contribution from Jack Meatcher 20 May 2012, 11:24top / bottom of page
AGS seed from distribution

This is my first year of sowing seed from the AGS distribution. Also, I'm new to alpine gardening so it really is a journey of discovery.

I've had variable germination so far although, this weekend, I've spotted two N.miniatus and four Gladiolus Illyricus. Lychnis chalcedonica has come up like a weed.

However, the main reason for this posting is that, despite using "new" soil, I seem to have quite a few seedlings that don't match the "main" seedlings. Is the AGS seed likely to be "contaminated" with other seeds?

This is not a complaint. I'm only too pleased to have so many seeds for so little money. And there's the possible added excitement of finding I have some other plant that is equally interesting.


Contribution from Tim Ingram 20 May 2012, 13:49top / bottom of page

Jack - as a rule of thumb many people find that something like 50% of what is sown (ie: different species) will come up, but depending on the plant sometimes over a long period. If you collect and sow your own seed (which will be more fresh) the likelyhood is that germination will be a lot better overall. After a while you can begin to group plants that need different regimes to germinate well, but I think most of us inevitably start by sowing in the winter when the seed arrives and leaving it in a cold frame or outside. Good watering in spring often brings up further batches of seedlings.

I think most members who sow seed from the exchange find that seed can often be mixed or wrongly named, which can be frustrating, but the plus side of having such a wonderful variety is the great strength of the exchange and members must go to great lengths to collect and send in all sorts of rarities. I'm with you in living with the occasional mistakes. Once you know seed well it becomes easier to recognise if something is wrong. I hope you enjoy raising plants this way - it is one of the very best aspects of the Society!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 21 May 2012, 11:20top / bottom of page

Most of the legume seed that I chipped earlier is germinating well. The biggest danger is allowing the seed and compost to get too wet and these pots were simply soked overnight from below and haven't been watered since. Legumes resent root damage so they will need to be pricked out carefully before long - the compost we use, JI seed plus grit or even better perlite (2/1) helps greatly in separating delicate roots. The three pots shown are Lupinus albifrons collinus, Sophora formosa and Baptisia australis.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 21 May 2012, 11:32top / bottom of page

Of course the really fascinating thing about sowing seed is the ability it gives you also to grow rare and new plants - these don't necessarily germinate so easily. I am very pleased to see seedlings of the uncommon Baptisia perfoliata (obtained from Gardens North, a fine source of unusual seed with good advice on germination) germinating. The American shrub Fendlera rupicola is also coming up nearly six months after sowing and leaving outdoors. The final two pictures show species of Asclepias, which have become an interest for the nursery, but are not easy to raise or grow on. A couple of seedlings of A. viridis have germinated outdoors in similar way to the Fendlera. Several other species were sown and placed in a fridge for around six weeks and these have shown much better and quicker germination after being brought out and put in the greenhouse, the final picture shows A. hallii. So once you have your seedlings the next step is growing them on...

Contribution from Jack Meatcher 23 September 2012, 18:29top / bottom of page
AGS Seed Distribution


Many thanks for your response. I've only just seen it because I've been computerless for some time. Your comments about fresh seed have certainlt proved true for me this year. I've collected Aquilegia olympica, Anemone multifida "Poir", Lychnis alpina, and Aquilegia bertollonii from potted specimens. Germination has been quick and incredibly successful. The anemone and A. olympica coming up like weeds. My AGS seed has been more variable and sparse so far. So, I'm looking forward to next Spring to see if a good over-Wintering will wake them up. I'm even hoping for snow.


Contribution from Jack Meatcher 03 December 2012, 18:00top / bottom of page
Germination update

From the 2012 AGS seed exchange I had 2 N. romieuxii Jacquemoudii, 1 each of N. cernuus, obesus and bulbocodium with 2 N. miniatus germinated by 21st June. These all emerged, stayed green for several weeks and then died back.

Then, in September, more seedlings started to appear. To-day (3/12/12)there's 2 N romieuxii Jacquemoudii, 16 N. obesus, 5 N. jonquila Fernandesii, 2 N romieuxii Albidus SF110, 18 N. bulbocodium, 11 N. dubius and 1 Fritillaria orientalis. I also have 2 G. acaulis seedlings. I did sow quite a few other narcissus seeds but am assuming that a non-appearance to date is because they normally germinate or emerge later.

In June, Jenny Archibald kindly gave me some N. asturiensis seeds and as of to-day, 4 have germinated while some 2011 JA seed has also started to emerge (may be new seedlings or last year's reappearing - time will tell.

I have been encouraged by James Wells' words on sowing narcissus seeds. He sows his seed freshly collected from his own plants - in May. He then says: "Germination usually commences in late August, beginning with the more precocious bulbocodium types. Germination will be spasmodic right through the Winter..." A couple of simple sentences but so reassuring to a beginner like myself.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the passing of the days to see what else decides to emerge and excite me.

Contribution from Ron Mudd 03 December 2012, 18:45top / bottom of page

Congratulations Jack. Sounds like those Narcissus are really germinating well for you. So far, I only have N. watieri up and looking healthy.

Do you sow the seed well below the surface ( as is often advocated ) or barely covered?

Contribution from Helen Johnstone 04 December 2012, 12:44top / bottom of page

Well done Jack - how satisfying. I have requested some Narcissus seeds from the seed exchange, fingers crossed I get some. Any advice would be welcome

Contribution from Jack Meatcher 04 December 2012, 18:28top / bottom of page
2012 AGS Seed Exchange

Thanks for the "Well dones". Very encouraging. I'm not sure I'm experienced enough to give advice but I have learnt a few things.

1. The fresher the seed the better. If it's exchange seed received in Jan/Feb, then any germination will be sporadic as described in my last posting. I have read that some keep their exchange seed in barely damp sand in light-proof boxes until late August/early September and sow it then. I've yet to try this.

2. Seed sown early in the year may get some vernalisation and start to germinate in the Summer. However, be prepared for a significant "no show" until the Autumn or even through to the following year's Spring. Articles in the Journal regularly talk of leaving seed pots undisturbed for several years as germination may take that long to occur (break dormancy).

3. When I started, I sowed the seed on the top of my very gritty compost and then just covered it with a shallow layer of more compost mix. Result - not disastrous but might be better. I also made the mistake of using Cornish grit in my compost mix. In hindsight this grit is too fine and I now use 3-6mm gravel or granite - whichever I can get.

4. I have tried sowing the seed on top of the compost and covering it with 3-6mm grit. Seems OK. I have also tried sowing the seed on top of the grit layer and washing it through to the compost with water from the watering can via the rose. I tried this with the JA seed this year but I'm not so sure about it now. The four seedlings that have germinated so far are showing the split seed pods, an embryo stem and a root. I've been used to just a green shoot appearing. Is the exposed seed pod and embryo shoots more vulnerable? I'm thinking they would be better under the grit rather than randomly in amongst it. A gardener in the rock garden at Wisley told me she planted her Narcissus seed about half way down the pot - approx 4-5mm. I recently saw comparison photos of Fritillaria and Narcissus seedlings and their characteristics suggest that Narcissus seed can be sown quite deep. That may have been on Ian Young's diary on the SRGC website.

5. In Winter, try to ensure you seedlings get any sunshine that's going (it won't be too hot in Winter). Also, try to keep the pots covered to minimise rainfall on them BUT, don't let them get dry. I have noticed in the past that a good watering one day will often result in new seedlings appearing the next day.

Sorry to go on somewhat but I hope it will evoke comments and potential improvements in my techniques.

Contribution from june saddington 08 December 2012, 12:20top / bottom of page
Just wondering..

Hello Tim,

I was just wondering what type of gravel you were using when covering your seed sown pots.

It looks like it does the job.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 08 December 2012, 12:28top / bottom of page

Hello June - I've always used 'chick grit' from our local Farmer's Merchants; its free of fines and not too large.

Contribution from june saddington 09 December 2012, 10:53top / bottom of page

Cheer Tim, I must seek some out.

Contribution from june saddington 16 February 2013, 19:47top / bottom of page

Happy New year everybody, just thought I'd mention that i'm starting my seed sowing tomorrow.

It's finally warm enough to spend some quality time in the greenhouse.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 17 February 2013, 16:22top / bottom of page

June - you must let us know how you get on. Germinating seed in the spring and summer is a great highlight of gardening, even when some pots don't sprout. We have a lot of legume and other seed that germinates well with the warming weather of spring (compared to a lot of alpines which need that long spell of winter cold), and will have to post pictures of these when they start to grow. Some two or three year old pots of Trillium are growing out again now and will need to be potted on this spring. These dried out more than I would have liked last summer, and it is nice to see them growing away again well. The second pot in particular is seed from a form of T. kurabayashii with very good dark markings on the leaves - it will be while to see whether it breeds true.

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