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Seed Propagation - the trials and tribulations!

I love growing plants, my garden and shadehouses are literally overflowing with all sorts of different things, I especially like using seeds in particular for many reasons - the fact that most are pretty easy to grow from, I love watching the actual process of the seed sprouting and then of course the resultant plant that grew from that tiny (or big) seed!

We do extensive seed testing on the seeds that we supply to our customers. It's very important for quality control because we need to make sure that the seeds that go out are viable and also to test new or different methods of propagation and update our propagation notes if need be.

We also check any seeds that customers have had problems with to be sure that the seeds are still ok and it was an environmental issue on the growers end.

Propagating at home is different from what it’s like in a Propagation Nursery, so it is important to remember that you probably won’t get the same results i.e. the same strike rate or rate of growth. Nurseries have worked hard and spent a lot of money to set up the right conditions in their greenhouses/shadehouses, with the correct ventilation, humidity, automated watering systems etc so it’s not surprising that this would be the case.

Strike rates vary from species to species as well, some have a low germination rate and others grow like weeds! A good strike rate is anywhere from 70% upwards but some species only get around a 25% strike rate, so that is classed as good for that particular plant species.

Again it all depends on a multitude of things and not just the viability of the seeds you are growing.

Last week I decided that we’d start to batch test some of our wildflowers and in two days was pleasantly surprised to have some Rhodanthe chlorocephala rosea seeds sprout, next to rear their little baby leaves were Xerochrysums and now the Wahlenbergia seedlings are beginning to emerge, so miniscule but they have started!

It’s important to remember that seeds will sprout at their own pace and not to give up too quickly, sometimes we can help them out with pre-treatments, others you just have to wait it out. Usually they will sprout when the environmental conditions are perfect so we can try to mimic them which is sometimes successful but sadly, not always.

I have failures too, even when I know 100% the seeds are viable which is frustrating but it’s all part of the process, but that doesn’t deter me from trying the same seed again with another method. I struggled with Kennedia nigricans for so long and in the last tests that I did, I have been successful! Yay, go me!

Here are some little tips and tricks that I can share with you that I’ve worked out over the years with trial and error while growing seeds at home (and in the Nurseries!).

  • Buy your seeds of course! We have heaps of great varieties to choose from so make sure you check those out and get your seeds in time for your propagation activities.

  • Have a clean area set up for your propagation activities and space to work in without clutter.

  • Make sure you know how to propagate your seeds, read your prop notes, start any pre-treatments that might need doing and have everything you need on hand to carry on.

  • Make up your seed tags/labels with the name of the seed that you are propagating and the date that you sow the seeds so you can keep a record of your progress, make sure you label each pot/tray/tube so you know what is supposed to be in each.

  • Use a good quality propagating media, sometimes I make my own, sometimes I buy it depending on how much time I have but regardless, I usually always add perlite to increase drainage and it also extends the media which is a win win in my opinion.

  • Fill the containers you will be using whether they be trays, tubes or pots with the propagation media and water in well, and I mean thoroughly wet, it’s best to make sure that when you put your seeds down that they have the best start so a good quality wet (but not waterlogged) media is essential.

  • For larger seeds, make a hole place the seed in the hole and cover with media, around 0.5 - 1cm is usually sufficient but really depends on the size of the seed and water with a mist spray making sure to not dislodge the seeds.

  • For fine seeds like Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and Kunzea sprinkle the seeds over the top of the media and cover lightly with washed river sand or a very fine sprinkling of propagation media and water in with a fine mist spray to avoid seeds spilling out.

  • It is essential to maintain a regular watering program, keeping the media moist but not wet or waterlogged - do not allow your media to dry out!

  • Be aware that the seeds will most likely not all come up at once, they may sprout one at a time, a few at a time or very erratically depending on the time of year, species and a variety of other reasons.

  • Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, it is time to prick them out - you can use an old (but clean) teaspoon or fork - this is usually when they have developed their first or second lot of true leaves (5 - 10cm tall) and have a decent root system, pot them into individual pots but use a sized pot that is appropriate for the seedling size.

  • Keep the seedlings moist but not too wet and keep on growing!

And then the process continues with the next lot of seeds that you want to buy and grow!

Here are a few pics of what has been happening at Living Green and Feeling Seedy with our seed propagation trials. Don't forget to follow us on Instagram or Facebook and tag us in your propagation activities, we love seeing what you are all up to!

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