Since I had a ten day Florida vacation planned, I thought I’d try and germinate my tropical milkweed seeds while I was gone.
The trick is to keep the seeds moist and warm during that time and make sure they don’t dry out. I not only watered the seed bed well, but I also covered it with a plastic well-fitting top. I put the shop lights right above the plastic lid. I then left on vacation and after ten days, this is what I came home to.
I came home to hundreds of seedlings and look forward to transplanting them into other containers.
Here are the basic steps I use with almost all seeds.
I use the 36 per tray plastic cells in a 1020 tray. Usually available at nurseries. Also get the clear tops. I find that the 72 size cells are too small to get good root growth.
I cut out one cell so that I am left with 35 cells. I water from the bottom through that hole.
I put this 1020 tray in a heavy-duty plastic tray. I buy those from Burpee.com. It prvents leaks. The 1020 trays are usually made of cheap plastic.
I use my preferred potting mix as a base – BX Pro-Mix with some Osmocote. You can find this at either a nursery, Walmart or Menards and some smaller hardware stores. Any Pro-Mix product should be fine.
Make sure the mix is well watered before you add the seeds.
I put 1 to 3 seeds on top of the mix. It depends on how expensive the seeds are and how many I have.
I top the seeds with a light layer of vermiculite.
I spray the vermiculite with water.
I label each cell with the date, seed name and number of seeds. I use vinyl blinds that I have taken down. These are easy to cut and label with a pencil.
I also put in about 1/8 inch of water in the bottom of the tray in case the mix needs to absorb some water.
I cover the tray with a plastic clear top.
I lower my Lithonia T8 shop lights to within 1/2 inch of the plastic top.
I keep the lights on 24/7 to keep it warm.
When the seeds are well germinated, I take off the clear top.
I also use a rotating fan on the seedlings.
Most of the seeds I grow need about a soil temperature of 70 degrees. That’s what Shaw Nature Reserve uses and what has worked well for me in the past.
In the past I have used heating mats to achieve this temperature, but I noticed a difference this year since I have started using different lights.
I now use and recommend, Lithonia Lighting, 4-Light Grey Fluorescent Heavy-Duty Shop Light. They use T8 bulbs. I now uses these bulbs close to the seed trays with a plastic cover. LED light bulbs have 1800 lumens/bulb. The traditional T8 bulbs put out 2600 lumens/bulb. I prefer the traditional bulbs because they put out more light.
As you can see from the picture, there isn’t much difference between trays with or without bottom heat. In fact the bottom heat tray seems to have poorer germination. I did notice that the bottom heat trays got up to 97 degrees while the trays with just the 4 bulb lights got up to 77 degrees. I eventually turned off the bottom heat since it seemed to be to high.
I probably won’t use my heating mats in the future since my new lights put out enough heat to get seeds to germinate.
If you have seeds leftover from previous years, rather than throwing them away, test them out now and save yourself some money.
I like to test them out by using conditions similar to what I normally use. I put in three seeds in each cell and mark each with the name of the seed and the date. I cover the seeds with a plastic lid to keep things moist and also use a shop light to keep things warm inside.
If the seeds germinate, then you know you can use them this year.
I used some vermiculite I had, but you can use any good potting mix. I don’t plan on keeping these plants – they are just letting me know the germination rate.
Note – I am also testing some new seeds from dollarseed.com
Kale – 3 days
Marigold Cracker Jack – 3 days – Dollarseed.com
Zinnia – California Giant – 3 days – Dollarseed.com
Tropical Milkweed – 7 days – Dollarseed.com
Maltese Cross – Dollarseed.com
Dames Rocket – Dollarseed.com
Purple globe amaranth – Toms – 3 days – almost all seeds germinated.
Tomatoes – 4 days
Zinnia – small gold – 4 days. – one seed germinated.
I was recently asked where I found my seeds for the different plants I grow.
The best place to get seeds is your own garden. Save them in paper bags and label them.I like to let them dry on the plant and then put them in a paper bag. If you save your own seeds, then you don’t have to buy them.
The 2nd best place will be MY garden.I save lots of seeds every year in St. Louis. You are welcome to come over and get seeds in the fall.
The 3rd best place for seeds is Google. Do a search with the scientific name and you will find numerous seed resources. Many times I will visit the Missouri Botanical Garden and find a new plant I want to try. Take a picture of the plant and its name and then there’s a good chance you can find it online.
Another option are some of the Facebook online groups. Sometimes, many of the people are willing to share seeds for the price of a SASE.
Collecting seeds in the fall is the easy way to start hundreds of plants for no cost. If you figure that many plants can cost $10.00, you could save hundreds and thousands of dollars by collecting and planting your own seed.
I’m opening up my gardens to anyone who wants to collect seed. Oct. 6th – Saturday – 10 a.m. 9016 Robyn Rd – 63126
Bring: paper lunch bags, black marker, pruning shears or scissors.
Here are seeds available in my yard at this time of the year.