Propagating Plants by Growing Seeds
More Plants by Growing Seeds …
Gardeners were ever optimists. Before we come to plant up our containers, whatever sort they are, we see them in the mind’s eye awash with fabulous blooms, festooned with opulent colour. But when we come to cost the plants required it is a yearly shock, perhaps a setback, to find how expensive they are to buy nowadays. We cannot blame the nurserymen. Raising plants commercially these days is a constant headache, with heavy expense involved. Wages for staff have to be found, the rates, lighting, heating, composts, pots, and other overheads all have to be covered. It is easy enough to say ‘Oh yes, but how easy it is to raise plants from seed or by division — he must be made of money’. It is, but also what the amateur never takes into account, and to which he need not put a price, is his own time. The nurseryman has to charge for time.
With this in mind I have written this post, certainly with the main aim of economy but also because it is often a great pleasure and satisfaction to see sturdy plants growing away which we have raised from a packet of insignificant brown seed or a cutting given by a friend. There is nothing, I have found, brings gardening friends closer than the interchange of plants. And this costs little, or nothing at all. I am always growing seeds to raise a few more plants than I need for myself in order to be able to give some away. When giving someone cuttings in a plastic bag, dash a little splash of water inside the bag first of all to provide humidity. Put the cuttings inside, blow into the bag to hold it open like a balloon, and tie up the top firmly. Cuttings and young plants should be handled with care a all times.
Raising Plants from Seeds
You might think thatby growing seeds would be the easiest thing in the world. But thousands of packets of embryo an inadvertantly ‘lost’ every year. For one thing, plenty are never even sown! That’s a commot fault with many people who buy them and forge them, but as a friend of mine remarked ‘They won’t grow in the packet’. True, but thousands of people are lured by the picture on the packet or in the catalogue, buy the seeds, put them away ‘until planting time’, then forget all about them.
I think this may be due partly to their being displayed in the shops and garden centres too early in the year. Growing seeds which will be of most interest to us as container gardeners, are perhaps the hardy and half-hardy annuals – subjects which flower the same year as they are sown, then die. We must sow seed again next year if we want them again. Some, like the nasturtium, will provide us with plenty of seed for the following summer, and the seed should be collected when ripe and carefully stored in a cool, dry place until sowing time.
Propagating plants such as hardy annuals is simple – they are sown in spring straight into the containers where they are to remain. Half-hardy annuals can be sown and raised in a sunroom, garden frame, or greenhouse, from which frost can be completely excluded, and then planted out into the containers when all danger of frost is past. Study seed catalogues – they are always most helpful and informative – and the instructions printed on the seed packets themselves. They will tell you which plants are hardy or half-hardy and give instructions on sowing and rearing. Any marked ‘F. 1. hybrid are specially recommended. Pelleted seed, though costing a little more than ordinary seed, can be an advantage. It is very easy to sow, for every pellet contains one seed which is easy to see and handle and thus easy to sow in the place where it is wanted. Pellets can be placed the right distance apart, avoiding the need for thinning out and transplanting. The guys at the nursery say plants grown from pelleted seed develop a higher tolerance to drought, and growth is not checked because transplanting is not necessary. Keep well watered until they germinate.
You may, of course, have things growing in your gardening containers – spring bulbs, for instance – at the same time as the seed of annuals could be sown, in early spring. If you have no system of interchangeable containers, you will need to sow seeds in pots or seedboxes to get them coming along. Otherwise you can always wait until your containers are cleared and sow seeds as late as June, but this obviously means the flowers will be later.
For raising seeds, I use John Innes Compost No. 1, or the specially made individual peat pots which are available for raising seed. When the small plants are large enough to handle – about 2 or 3 inches high – they should be thinned out and spaced at about 6 inches apart.
I was interested last year when my sister, who is not only a keen gardener, but is also a particularly keen container gardener, bought a number of young fibrous rooted begonia plants which were in small polystyrene boxes in which they had been raised, each box being only about 2 inches by 6 inches. ‘You will have to divide those plants,’ we all told her when she brought them home. But she was adamant that she wanted to try an experiment in growing them on in the same boxes. Her argument was that she had not much room on the flower-packed shelves of her glazed porch and thought they would ‘just grow small flowers’. In fact, the experiment was very successful. The overcrowded little plants bloomed small but confounded all the experts by flowering prolifically right into the autumn. She is a very good container gardener, of course, and gives her plants top-notch attention, but considering that these plants were not given any feed, and their roots must have been terribly cramped, they thrived miraculously.
Experts scoff at such goings-on, but doing the unconventional thing often comes off. This particular idea might be worth copying if you do not have a lot of room, or if you prefer smaller flowers, so long as you remember to water regularly and, I would suggest, feed once a week. Another of my sister’s notions was to grow a trailing lobelia as a standard, training it up a stick instead of letting it trail. It made a most unusual and interesting plant.
But to get back to propagating plants and growing seeds — when plants raised in pots or seedboxes are ready to go into the containers, tap the box sharply to loosen the and remove the young plants gently, handling each by its top not by the root. Similarly, when removing a young plant from a pot, tap the pot sharply against something hard and then let the plant and its root ball drop into your waiting hand. After planting in the container, water well. I like to choose a damp or showery day for the job if possible.
Some plants normally thought of, and grown as annuals, can survive the winter in a frost-free environment, petunias and lobelia, for instance. I find they make splendid plants the following year, coming into bloom early.