RAISING FLOWERS FROM SEED
RAISING your own plants from seed forms quite half the fascination of gardening. Plants bought from the nursery- man may give magnificent results, but they can never be so interesting as those which you have tended since they were tiny seeds.
The first step inis to prepare the . Although this looks dead, it is really full of different organisms, some of which help and some harm the plants. The gardener’s job is so to cultivate his soil that the helpful organisms are encouraged and the harmful ones checked.
In a water-logged soil, deep digging is sometimes sufficient to disperse the water and make the garden more fertile. This means digging to a depth of two feet, thoroughly breaking up the subsoil, and if necessary working in decayed leaves and strawy manure. If manure is not available, house or garden refuse is a good substitute.
Heavy soils should be dug in the winter and left rough for the frosts to make them friable. If a dressing of lime is given in the early spring, about two to four ounces to the square yard, the site will only require a final raking to make it ready for seed sowing.
Light soils need to have moisture-retaining materials such as heavy manure, decayed leaves and vegetable refuse incorporated when digging to make them better suited to seed sowing. Seedlings in light soils need a little artificial feeding during the growing season, but these soils are warmer in winter than clayey soil and therefore younghave a better chance of success.
New gardens are frequently covered with turf, and if this is stripped and buried with the broken-up subsoil it will help to retain moisture.
The main thing to remember is to keep the fertile top soil on top and not to bring the unfertile subsoil to the surface.
It always pays to buy seed from a reliable firm, as it is very disappointing to spend time and money on seed raising and to have a large percentage of failures. Seedsmen are now compelled by Act of Parliament to stamp all packets of vegetable seeds with the name and address of the seller, the percentage of purity if below 97, the season and the percentage of germination. The larger seed firms devote a portion of their grounds simply to the testing of the percentage of purity of the seed, and also have special machinery for testing seeds for germination percentage and freeing them from all weed seeds.
The main things necessary before germination can take place are water, which has to be absorbed by the seed, and then a certain degree of heat. These start the process of the absorption of the stores contained in the seed followed by the growth of the root and shoot, by which time the seed must have light and nourishment outside itself if it is to grow into a healthy plant.
It is interesting to know that all seeds do not germinate in the same length of time. Age will affect this. Last year’s seeds as a general rule take longer to germinate than fresh seed, although of course there are exceptions, especially amongst the shrubs. Some shrub seeds take quite two or three years to germinate. Many experiments have been made to test what is called the longevity of seeds. It has been found that where seed may not germinate when sown a year old, it will possibly germinate if sown when three or four years old. Aquilegia seeds usually germinate fairly well after two years and give a hundred per cent, at four years, but after five years there is no germination at all. It is best therefore to buy fresh seed each year for your main displays or crops, but if you have any seed left over from previous years, try it out in some odd corner of the garden and you may reap quite a good harvest. This delay in germination shows a wise provision of Nature to meet possible ravages by pests or droughts.
Other reasons for a poor percentage of germination are that some seeds are harder than others. This means that they cannot absorb moisture very readily, and unless chipped before sowing they may lie dormant for long periods. Also seed may be harvested before it is really ripe, and if so it germinates slowly and the resultant seedlings are poor. There are several ways in which seed could be of poor quality if seed companies did not take the trouble to harvest and test them with care.
SOWING THE SEED
March and April are the great seed-sowing months out of doors. This is because the ground is usually friable after the frosts and ready to be raked down to a fine tilth. Also the April showers and sunshine provide the ideal moisture and heat necessary for quick and satisfactory germination.
Some seeds are so tiny that it is very difficult to sow them thinly. A good plan is to mix a little sand with the seeds before sowing, or to make a tiny hole in the corner of an envelope containing the seed so that they drop out one by one. It is most important to sow the seed thinly, otherwise the plants have to be thinned out drastically, with a consequent waste of seed, or else they are left unthinned and eventually smother each other so that no plants reach perfection. When sowing groups ofin the flower border, it is best to put a tiny pinch of seed in at 9- to 12-in. Intervals. The strongest seedling can then be saved from each group, and very few are wasted.
Children and also some grown-ups bury their seeds much too deeply. The tiny seeds need hardly any covering. It is really sufficient if the soil is just patted down firmly after sowing. A good general guide is to cover the seed with twice its depth of soil.
Seeds which are too tender to be sown directly into the ground can be raised in boxes either in January or February or early March. See that the boxes, which need only be one inch or so in depth, have a few holes bored in the bottom for drainage. Place a few broken crocks over these to prevent soil from blocking them, and then fill the boxes with fine soil. Ordinary garden soil to which a little sand has been added to lighten it is quite suitable for the majority of. Seeds such as sweet , which may be some few weeks in the boxes, should be grown in slightly richer soil. Decayed leaves mixed with the sand and garden soil is sufficient.
Sow your seeds as thinly as you can and label them and then place them in the greenhouse or cold frame. If you have neither of these, a sheet of glass put over the boxes stood out of doors is quite satisfactory and sufficient to keep away frosts.
CARE OF THE SEEDLINGS
Your seeds will now need systematic attention if they are to grow into healthy plants. Water them through a fine rose directly after sowing. Water very little if the weather is cold, and use tepid water. If the weather turns warm, more water will be required. If they are made too damp they “damp off,” and if too dry they will receive a severe check from which they may not recover. Seeds out of doors can usually be left to the spring rains to keep them satisfactorily supplied with moisture. When the seedlings have formed to seed leaves it is time for them to be moved and given more room. This job needs to be done very carefully, for if the young roots are damaged the seedlings are spoilt.
A cleft stick is the best tool to use. The seedling is gently lifted with a little soil left attached to its root, and held in position in its new hole, while soil is pressed against the roots. When seedlings are pricked off in this way they are transferred to a box containing similar soil to the first, but they are spaced out in rows a few inches apart. Do not discard any seedlings, for the smallest seedlings often make the strongest plants. They do not receive such a check from their move as the larger seedlings. The boxes should be returned to the cold frame and ventilation given whenever the weather permits. The glass must always be put on at night until there is no fear of frosts. As the weather gets warmer the lights are gradually left off altogether to “harden off” the seedlings ready for transplanting to their permanent quarters in the garden.
This transplanting process is a very important part of the work of raising plants from seeds. Great care must be taken not to damage the little roots or to bruise the stems. This is avoided by using a small stick for tiny seedlings and a larger one or dibber for larger plants such as sunflowers. The procedure is to tap the box sharply on the ground at one end to loosen the soil. A batch of seedlings with the soil attached can then be lifted out and the plants gently separated from each other. As large a ball of soil as possible should be left round the roots of each seedling. Hold the seedling in the left hand and with the stick make a hole large enough to take the roots without cramping them in any way. Drop the seedling into position, holding it so that the first pair of leaves is just above the soil level. Push the stick into the soil -inch away from the plant and gently lever it over so that the soil is pushed against the roots without the stick actually coming into touch with them. Make sure that the seedling is firmly planted and then water overhead through the fine rose of a can. Shade them from bright sunshine for the first few days by means of a cloche, although if they are watered each evening after sundown they should get away quite well without being shaded. If you are planting seedlings out in formal rows, as for example antirrhinums in a formal bedding scheme, it is a good plan to scatter a little sand over the surface of the bed. Then stretch a line across where the plants are to go, and as the hole is made with the dibber, a little of the sand will trickle down and so help to prevent the seedling from damping off. The easiest way to deal with a row ofis to kneel down on an old mat. Comfort when working will mean that the job is well done.
More and more gardeners are taking to the idea of sowing theirout of doors in the autumn. This is only practical, however, in light soils, for heavy soils, as already mentioned, get wet and cold during the winter. The advantage of autumn sowing is of course that by spring the seedlings are well established, and if they have stood the frosts, are strong healthy plants ready to yield a good percentage of bloom. Also they bloom earlier than spring-sown seed.