Germinating seeds on tissue

Today I started my first set of seeds from the list. I have not got round yet to buy seed compost and last year’s bag is open and frozen in the shed. Therefore I started with germinating seeds on tissue. I have very good experience with this with basil and tomato, sometimes even reaching 100% germination rates. I figure that this works well with light-germinating seed, but could also work with dark-germinating seeds when using a light-less box. Today I prepared basil (red basil, basil genovese and giant leave basil from Naples area), chives, lewisia and rhodochiton atrosanguineum.

For this I fold 1-2 sheets of 4-layered toilet paper tissue to 3 or 4 layers, place them in a non-transparent plastic freezer box (like tupperware boxes or empty margarine boxes), moist the tissue – draining any excess water, and place the seeds on top. I put a lid on the box and place this on the window sill where it gets warm air from the heater (this year I bought a heat mat, so I am using this).

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Plastic boxes with seeds on moist tissue on a heat mat for germination

Small seeds of 1 mm or less I place on top of the tissue, larger seeds I sometimes put under a top-layer of tissue, this way they will get more even moisture and do not dry out from above too easily. However, this top layer will make it harder to pick them out when potting on. I put different seeds into the same box – space permitting – using separate tissues if I suspect significantly different germination times, so that I can easily take one batch out of the box while leaving the other. To avoid mixing up what is which, I place different numbers of seeds for each kind and note the number of seeds. This way I can tell them appart. I use painter’s tape bits to stick on the boxes and label, noting plant, number of seeds and sowing day. If requiring complex treatment like moving into and out of fridge, I note the date for the next action and what to do.

Basil I have germinated since two years like this, each time with 100% germination rate and germinated seeds are easy to move on.

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Basil seed germination on tissue

Note how the basil seeds have already a hydrate cover, even though I put them into the tissue only 30 minutes before taking the photograph.

I have germinated leek this way, this year I am trying this with chive.

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Chive seed germination on tissue

For the lewisia seeds, this is my first shot of trying. I figured as they are light-germinating and people report success germinating also without cold treatment, I will give it a go. If it does not work, I can move them on to the fridge.

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Lewisia seed germination on tissue

I figured the same for the  rhodochiton atrosanguineum seed.

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hiton Atrosanguineum seed germination on tissue

I have plenty, as I collected them last summer myself. Kind of difficult to know what are seeds when harvesting, as not all flowers have seeds and there are lots of candidate bits of plant. Here is how they look like clean and dry.

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Rhodochiton Atrosanguineum seed

What to grow from seeds this year?

There is this time every year in January when christmas has been left behind, work has started, the initial fitness and dieting frenzy has settled to a steady routine and outside is merciless winter with lots of snow and harsh wind. For the past three years this has been the time when my mind started to work out what to grow, when and where. There is nothing better to beat the winter than watching small green shoots raising in the kitchen window, just the thought of it gets me through.

That is also the moment to take my seed box out and sort through. Seeds I collected last year, seeds that I never managed to grow into proper plants, and also reliable vegetable seeds that will perform.

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My seedbox

Today I sorted through the lot and found a couple of ideas that I had planned last summer when buying or collecting seeds. How nice of me to leave this little reminder to myself as a surprise in the middle of winter…

Well, this is what I got, I sorted into two stacks, indoor sowing from February and indoor sowing from March:

Sowing from February:

  • Lobelia ‘Red Cascade’ and ‘Crystal Palace’
  • Rhodochiton atrosanguineum (collected last summer)
  • Basil for kitchen use, red, and two green varieties (some of the seeds bought on a holiday in Italy)
  • Pea ‘Serge’ for kitchen use (the shoots, like in fancy restaurants)

Sowing in March or April:

  • Callistephus chinensis (2 different varieties that I got very cheap last autumn)
  • Tomato ‘Garden Pearl’, trailing cocktail tomato, did not work out last year as my tomatoes last year failed.
  • Tomato ‘Beijbino’ F1, cherry tomato
  • Helianthus Chocolate, annual ornamental grass, tried last year but it did not germinate
  • Cosmos ‘Antiquity’, last year I started in late April which was too late as it flowered only in autumn.
  • Petunia, 4 packs of hybride that I got on sales last autumn and some self-collected seeds from last year.
  • Stipa tenuissima ‘Pony Tails’, still got some self-seeded of those annual feather grass in the garden, but I want some for pots this year.

One pack I could not sort as I have only my home-made seed pack saying “lewisia 19.8.2012” but no instructions on when to sow.

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Surprise seed pack

In a forum discussion people report success with and without cold treatment of the seeds, so this looks like the perfect seed to start messing about with from January onwards. Cold treatment seems quite logical to me as this is a plant naturally occurring in the Rocky Mountains where it sees harsh winters. Anyways, I like the flowers and the leaves of the plant very much and could do with more of them in the rock garden. And if the indoor seeds fail, I remember that I sprinkled some seeds about when I collected those seeds last August.

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Lewisia seeds

Here is a picture of this plant:


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Lewisia x longipetala ‘Little Plum’

Yet again I notice how poor documentation is available on plant propagation. My big RHS encyclopedia of plants and flowers does have pictures and descriptions of lewisia, but no instructions on propagation, the RHS encyclopedia of gardening has categorised lewisia with alpin plants and mentions leave cuttings, seed propagation and division propagation methods for the entire category. But there are no hints to the particulars of lewisia, never mind the hybrid that I have. Even the best lists of propagation and germination techniques per plant that I have seen are only scratching the surface. Despite the internet, there is no certainty yet for gardeners. Google usually yields some hints, but by far not always. Anyways, I’ll experiment several ways and will find out.