There are lots of websites and videos which show you how to start your seeds inside, but the question is “What do you do after the seeds have germinated?”
I have started seeds indoors for many years and have pretty good success. The problem I always have is that the plants get tall and have weak stems and don’t do as well as I’d like when they go outside.
Mary Ann Fink has given me a number of suggestions which should help.
Pinch the end of the plants when they get two or three sets of true leaves. This will encourage the plant to send out lateral shoots and be bushier instead of just tall.
Use an oscillating fan to push the plants back and forth. This will encourage them to make their stems sturdier.
Finally, give them a pat on their tops. This is supposed to keep the plant smaller and sturdier and not quite as tall.
Another tip I have learned from a plant propagation class is that when you want to harden the plants off, you need to reduce the watering of the plants. You want them to dry out between watering.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to start saving seeds and then start their period of cold-stratification. Shaw Nature Reserve has a nice PDF on this process and how each species is slightly different.
I’ve already done a detailed report on the process that you can find here.
I’m going to test their three month refrigeration process against leaving seed outside in pots and see how Mother Nature compares.
Here’s a picture which shows that Miracle Gro and Gravel tied as the the best medium for rooting plants. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but Gravel had 5 flower buds and Miracle Gro had twenty. Gravel also was a bit bushier with larger leaves. Miracle Gro was definitely taller, but was less filled out and had smaller leaves. Gravel also had a lot more roots coming out the bottom. These are the same plants planted at the same time. Either one would do well for rooting cuttings.
From left to right you have:
Perlite – Fertilome w/o fertilizer – Charcoal – Gravel – Miracle Gro.
Why root plants? Why not just collect their seed? That was a question posed to me and here’s the answer.
When you root a plant, you are getting the exact same plant over and over. There is no deviation. When you collect seeds and then start new plants, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because you are adding some biodiversity, but you are not going to get exactly the same plant.
In actuality I do both – root plants and collect seeds plus I divide plants in the spring.
Every year as fall approaches, I’m looking to keep the strong plants and get rid of the weak plants. I collect seed only from strong and vigorous plants which have characteristics that I like. You’re never quite sure how they are going to turn out, but you know they come from good parents so that’s a plus. I also literally pull out diseased plants or plants that are just not doing well. You don’t want to encourage those characteristics. I have some plants that have bad mildew while other plants of the same species don’t have it nearly as bad. I’ll collect the seed from the non-mildew plants.
Lantana is quickly becoming my favorite nectar plant. I have a couple of plants that have been growing now for 3 years in a row and they’re doing great. They have even dropped seedlings, so I have many more lantana plants in my garden. The problem is that most of the seedlings don’t look as nice as the parents. They are tall and spindly and not quite as colorful. They do however seem to do well in less sun, so that’s a positive. Lantana is the plant I mainly grow from cuttings. I’m also experimenting with a couple of other plants, but don’t expect good results. Some plants are more traditionally grown from root cuttings or by division. That’s another way to get exactly the same plant. I do that with most of my perennials.
So the answer is – it’s not an Either/Or proposition. I do both plus I divide plants in the spring. The trick is to know which plants to save seeds and which plants to root. I’ll be doing a separate posting on that topic. If you want to know about a particular plant, let me know and I’ll give you my answer.
- Verbena bonareinsis – seed
If you haven’t already, now is a good time to take some cuttings from your plants to root over the winter months.
I’m going to do a few experiments and try different rooting mediums. My current teacher for Horticulture 101 doesn’t say which type is better, but says that he has good luck with Meramec river gravel – it’s cheap, has the right texture and does a good job.
That’s what we are using in class. I bought the same type of sand at Home Depot – they call it Quickrete Premium Play Sand. It’s a coarse sand – not like what you might find at a beach.
Make sure you take a look at my posting on the 14 steps I take to make cuttings. It’s actually fairly easy.
Here are the different mediums I am using for cuttings.
- Coarse sand – this is what they use at Meramec Community College. They don’t like fine sand as the roots have a tendency to rot.
- Fertilome Ready to Use Ultimate Potting Mix – TERRIBLE – it is very hard to get his mix wet. I had to put some in a 5 gallon bucket and slowly add water and mix it with my hand. It will probably work fine, but is a pain at the start. This mix doesn’t have any fertilizer in it.
- Perlite – a bit dusty, but easy to work with.
- Charcoal – I have some ground up charcoal and thought I might give it a try also.
- Miracle Gro Potting Mix – this does have fertilizer in it, but I have had good results with it in the past. I wet it thoroughly before inserting the cuttings.
- Results – Miracle Gro or plain Gravel tied as the winner.
I brought in a few cuttings from my tropical milkweed, asclepias curassavica, last fall and later put them in pots. One easy way to double your number of plants is to cut them in two, and put the cuttings in a pot of their own.
The plants prefer wet conditions while rooting so keep everything moist. I like to keep water in my tray.
Make sure you wear gloves – the white sap is toxic and can cause blindness if you rub it in your eyes.
Deadheading is the process of cutting off the spent blooms of flowers to encourage other blossoms to form and bloom. It’s a time-consuming, almost Zen activity which all good gardeners must do. The trick is to learn which flowers benefit the most from dead-heading and which plants it doesn’t help. Here’s my guide to dead-heading plants in the butterfly garden.
Butterfly Bush – needs constant deadheading to get it to re-bloom. The smaller sizes are easier to deadhead.
Dianthus – perennial – Most dianthus bloom once and that’s it. Deadheading is generally impractical and not done. I cut it back and save the seed.
Echinacea – I dead head some, but leave others for the gold finch to nibble on. I do it more for aesthetics. It will help a little, but at some point later in the season they will stop blooming. Try and keep varieties that do well and attract the butterflies and dig out and pitch the rest. Make sure you save the seed of the great plants and plant in the fall.
Gaillardia or Blanket Flower – This is a vigorous grower and can use a lot of dead-heading.
Globe Amaranth – no deadheading needed.
Lantana – not necessary to deadhead.
New England Aster – normally this blooms in the fall, but this year it bloomed in June. I’m cutting it back to the ground to see if I can add a 2nd blooming – July 15th.
Salvia – perennial – No need to dead-head. When this is finished blooming, cut it to the ground and it will come back and give you a 2nd bloom.
Shasta Daisy – deadheading will help the plant look better, but won’t keep it from blooming forever.
Slender Mountain Mint – this perennial will bloom most of the year with no deadheading needed.
Verbena bonareinsis – this tall verbena is an almost constant bloomer and doesn’t need deadheading.