SEED WORKSHOP NOTES - part two, Sowing

Sowing in summer Seed needs three things to germinate, moisture, air and water. It is possible to keep seed pots moist by using a polythene ...

Sowing in summer
Seed needs three things to germinate, moisture, air and water. It is possible to keep seed pots moist by using a polythene bag and a clothes peg, a water or soft drinks bottle cut in half and used like a mini-greenhouse over the pot or even cling film ! Do not pack the soil down too hard, and soak from the base after sowing as this draws the seed down into the compost. It is also a good idea to use a layer of small grit or vermiculite on the surface of the compost to help drainage.

Germinating clematis seedlings

getting down to sowing


Even if the ideal periods for sowing perennials are spring or early autumn, late August is a good season for beginning to sow. The trick is to learn how the plant would germinate and grow in nature. So try to sow the seed at the same time that it would be sown naturally.
For seeds needing cold stratification, like acanthus, the easiest way is to sow them and put the pots outside for the winter, letting Mother Nature do the work. You just have to make sure the pots don’t dry out. Seed only starts the germination process in the presence of moisture; once this process has started, drying out is fatal to the seed embryo.

Most perennials will need at least two growing seasons to reach flowering size, while some require more time. So, if germination occurs in autumn, over-winter the seedlings in a greenhouse or a cold frame. Don’t throw out a seed pot just because nothing seems to have happened, sonce some plants take two or three years to germinate.

Here is a list of some perennials to sow in late summer: Alyssumsaxatile (syn. Aurinia saxatilis), aster, campanula, catananche, centaurea, gaillardia, gaura, geranium, gerbera, perennial grasses, nepeta, dianthus, papaver, salvia and scabiosa.
Biennals are best started in late spring or summer for transplanting to their permanent homes in late summer or autumn: violas, Cheiranthuscheiri (syn. Erysimum cheiri), Bellis perennis, Hesperis matronalis, etc.


put a few seeds into your hand 
Fast-growing hardy annuals are usually sown in spring but they can be sown in July and will flower later in the season, as for example: Eschscholziacalifornica, Centaureacyanus, Delphinium ajacis (syn. Consolida ambigua), Dimorphotheca aurantiaca, Iberis amara, Linaria maroccana, Reseda odorata, Calendula officinalis, Chrysanthemum carinatum, Alyssum maritimum (syn. Lobularia maritima) or Tropaeolum majus.

Sowing in autumn
Some hardy annual flowers can be sown early in the autumn outside and stand the winter season without any protection; they will be stronger and will flower earlier. Generally they are meadow flowers that germinate in autumn and stay as seedlings during winter before flowering in summer. Others, less hardy, may be sown either in situ, covered with a light protection in case of frost, or in pots over-wintered in a garden frame.


Ceasalpinia seedlings 
Many perennials, most shrubs and trees from temperate or cold regions and some desert plants need a period of cold to break dormancy and encourage them to germinate. Sowing seeds outside in the autumn, usually in pots, allows them to experience the ups and downs of winter temperatures and encourages them to germinate in the spring. If germination occurs in autumn, over-winter the seedlings in a greenhouse or a cold frame. 

Don’t throw out a seed pot just because nothing seems to have happened, for some plants may take two or three years to germinate. Some seed, like peony, may germinate one year by putting a root down into the pot which you will not see, and they produce their top green shoot the following year. If in doubt, keep the pot !


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