Friday, August 22, 2014

Starting Seeds . . .

There are probably as many ways starting seeds as there are hybridizers and probably all of us still experiment. This is the method that I find most satisfactory for me.

Remember, for a larger image, right click over the picture.

I always date and record the parents when making a cross. Having the date gives me some indication as to when they will be ready to harvest, sometime between 50 and 55 days. You cannot always count on a seed pod turning brown when it is ready, so I give them the pinch test. Take a pod between your thumb and forefinger and pinch it lightly. If it cracks open, It is ready to harvest.

A pod that has been harvested. Notice that there are 3 chambers in the pod. This matches the 3 anthers, the 3 chambers of the pistil and if you open up a flower to the base, the ovary also has 3 chambers, after all, this is where the seed pod is formed.

As soon as the seeds are harvested, and before drying, I place them in a plastic zip lock bag and place them in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator where they will stay for at least 3 weeks before planting. Probably if you leave them in the fridge longer, germination will be higher. Notice the cross tag stays with the seeds. I know other hybridizers who will let their seed dry out before refrigerating. Whatever works best for you!

Years ago while speaking at the original CanAm meeting, Melanie Mason and I had a discussion as to whether soaking seeds prior to planting gets them started more quickly. I was pro soaking and Melanie was opposed. So I thought the next year I would do a little experiment to prove her wrong. I soaked some seeds for 3 days and then planted them. I also planted some seed the day I started soaking the others. The soaked seeds began showing green above the potting soil in 4 days (soaked 3 and germinated in 4) a total of 7 days. The seeds planted began showing green above the potting soil in 7 days.Melanie won that one!

This is a seed that has germinated. You can see the "tap" root to the right and the green foliage beginning on the left.
I begin with a 1020 tray with a 6 compartment insert. These compartments are approximately 2" X 5" X 7". I would really prefer to have them deeper, but this is what I use for germinating seeds.
I fill each compartment with a seed starting mix slightly compacted. I then score 4 rows in each compartment. This helps me keep the seeds in a straight row.

12 to 15 seeds are planted in each row which gives me an average of 50 seeds per compartment. This gives me a total of about 250 seeds per flat. Notice each cross is marked with the parentage.

The seeds are then covered with about ½" of the seed starting mix. I number and date each tray so I will know approximately when to transplant, normally about 6 weeks.
Seeds begin showing above the seed starting mix at 5 or 6 days.
Here are 4 trays which total approximately 1000 seeds in a 24" X 40" space. You may not be able to see it, but I use an old electric blanket for some bottom heat. The blanket is wrapped in plastic sheeting to keep it from getting wet. I am a proponent of bottom heat but this does not come from any scientific research.
These are the seedlings at about 4 weeks. In a couple more weeks they will be ready for transplanting. Yes, the roots are intertwined in the trays and some roots will be damaged when removing the seedlings but if you are careful, damage can be kept to the minimum.
Here is an image which shows the seedlings and the roots when removed from the starting trays before transplanting.
Remember when I stated that we continue to experiment to find a better way? One year I tried starting seeds in peat pots with little success. I know that Bill Waldrop and others start their seeds directly in peat pots with great success. It just didn't work for me.

Please don't interpret me as an expert on starting seeds. This is the method that works for me and I am sure that you will find a method that works for you. This information may be worth exctly what you paid for it. This year I started my seeds in late July so they will be ready to transplant soon.

Life is very, very good.



  1. Lee, Thank you for passing on this information on seeding. The 'how to tell when the pods are ready for picking' was all new to me. I've always left mine until they opened by myself but that meant putting a thin cloth bag over every ripening pod - fine if you only harvest a few each year but impossible if you make a lot of crosses. I will be doing it your way from now on!
    Diane Kehoe
    Riverbank, Ladner, BC, Canada

  2. Hi Lee,
    Very intersting.
    I do the same to harvest seeds. I make them crack...The results are better that way.
    I just wanted to write about something I wonder about : lets imagine that someone has rust on his daylily. Then he makes a cross and put a label. Then rust comes on the label. Then he puts the labels in the bag with seeds. Is there a chance that daylily rust survives and contamine the babies ?

  3. Hi Lee,

    Really enjoyed reading about how you "start seeds." This late summer Labor Day of 2014, I am pleased with the number of seeds that I've started, yet unhappy that I didn't have the germination rate that I wanted. Anyway, reading about your method gives insight.

    Would you believe that I'm still collecting seeds? Would you believe that I've just planted most of them without refrigeration, and yet they are germinating.


  4. I am not sure where you're getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for excellent information I was looking for this information for my mission.