Seed sowing, a departure

I have been a member of the Alpine Garden Society for a very long time and every year they produce a most impressive seed list which for one reason or another, I’ve never had anything from.

This year that changed, I dipped my toe into the 5621 items on the list, picked my allocation of 23 packets and then the 50 items for alternatives. When you are asked to give that many alternatives you don’t expect to get very many of your first choices, so it was pretty astonishing when they arrived to find I had all 23 of my first choice list.

What I usually do with seeds is to sow them in 9cm pots and put them in the greenhouse. If they need a bit of warmth they go on my propagation bed, otherwise they go on the bench. The glasshouse is kept frost free so they get cold but not frozen. When prolonged cold treatment is called for I have put the pots in the fridge.

A lot of things just never come up, so after a couple of years I usually give up and throw them away, always with that worry that they might have been just at the point of germinating. It has meant that I’ve always had quite a lot of pots around containing ungerminated seeds, needing watering, weeding and a degree of vigilance.

I decided it was time to try something different. I came across a website called and an article on it about germinating seeds on filter paper in plastic bags. As a method it has two big advantages; it takes up much less space and it makes applying the conditions the seeds require to germinate much easier.

I used Jellito seeds website to check on the germination requirements of the seeds I had and picked out 9 varieties that needed cold treatment. I used coffee filter papers and 8 x 12cm sealable plastic bags. I moistened the filter paper, spread the seeds on it, folded it up and placed it in the bag which I then closed. I shall let the seeds imbibe water then check that the filter paper is still reasonably moist. It’ll be a daily check for a few days. Then I need to place them on edge, so the roots grow along the paper, not through it, if and when they germinate.

They’re going to get a couple of weeks warmth indoors, then a period of time in the fridge, then warm again to hopefully achieve germination. I’ll keep you posted.

For those interested the seeds I sowed were:

Erythronium grandiflorum
Erythronium revolutum
Asphodelus ramosus
Eryngium bourgattii ‘Pico’s Blue’
Gladiolus orchidiflorus
Glaucidium palmatum
Iris setosa dark blue
Polygonatum sp dwarf SBQE 310
Fritillaria michaelovskyi hybrid


14 thoughts on “Seed sowing, a departure

  1. That’s how I’m doing right now with sweet peas. The first roots have appeared and I’m going to transplant them today. Also available for carrots when it’s too cold outside to start their growth.


    1. I’m OK with dealing with germinated seeds like the alpines where I either only have a small number of seeds or only want a small number of seedlings but carrots? What’s your next move once they’ve germinated?


  2. Always learning or remembering forgotten techniques. Now what to ditch from the fridge? Maybe wait until after Christmas! You are a real master and sharer….much appreciated.


  3. I find that some of the species that are native to small ranges in California are reliant on very specific microbes in the soil, not for germination, but for healthy growth afterward. Such symbiotic relationships are remarkably precise, just like those between the species of yucca and the corresponding species of yucca moths who pollinate them (Each species of yucca relies on one species of moth, and each species of moth relies on its species of yucca.) Such reliance makes it difficult to grow simple species away from their natural range. It is sometimes necessary to collect small plants with a bit of their soil.


    1. I have a Pleione orchid which produced a seed pod this year and received wisdom is that orchids won’t grow without suitable mycorrhizal fungi in a symbiotic relationship on their roots. I want to try to grow the seeds but haven’t read up yet on what I ned to do to establish the relationship. I have another in the garden, Dactylorhiza maculata, which had self sown in a pot of something else before I planted it in the garden, around which I sprinkled seed of Dactyolrhiza fuchsii in mid November. If anything ever germinates, and I notice and don’t weed them out, then they will presumably have picked up the mycorrhiza from the soil. I get the bit about digging small plants with a bit of soil, but how do you establish that relationship starting with seed only, with no parent plant or primed soil?

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      1. I have never had a problem with it, since what I grow from seed does not rely on such relationships. My colleague might have experienced minor problems with it though. His colleagues used to send him seed for orchids from the Olympic Peninsula with the expectation that they would grow. They did, but languished. He did not know much about them, but thought that they might have been missing their mycorrhizal friends. I suspect that if that were so, they only germinated because the mycorrhiza or something similar to them happened to be in the unsterilized medium that they were grown in here. Incidentally, there was also a native Calypso bulbosa that was obtained in the wild just a few miles away. It languished too, at least after it was canned in the greenhouse. He thought that it needed some time for the mycorrhiza to get established in the fresh medium. Even though he did not make a point of taking native soil with the collected specimen, the specimen was not completely clean when collected. (Because of the Phytophthora ramorum here, sanitation is now more of a concern . . . not that it makes any difference with the way such crud gets around.) Eventually, the little orchid recovered and grew. (It is not naturally very vigorous anyway.) It went into a can that was too big for it, and the seedlings from the Olympic Peninsula were put around it. They seemed to appreciate being there and started to grow well too . . . or as well as those diminutive orchids grow. As they were separated and put into their own cans, subsequent seedlings were put in with them, only to be separated as they grew. To this day, we still have no idea why that worked, or if it is because of what the Calypso bulbosa had going on. It seems unlikely that the myccorrhiza that the native Calypso bulbosa relies on is the same as what the other species from so far away rely on, or that it was even similar enough to be a good fit. For all we know, they just take a while to get going. Also, it seems to me that if there was enough of what the seed needed to germinate, that it would proliferate as fast as the seedlings needed it. In other words, if it was there at all, there would always be enough of it to keep the seedlings happy. Regardless, they got primed by ‘something’, ‘somehow’. Otherwise it would not have been possible for them to grow.


      2. I have a book by John Tullock called Growing Hardy Orchids which I have rarely looked at because I haven’t needed to. He has interesting things to say about growing orchids, too much to cover here. Of mycorrhiza he says that they are needed by the seeds because they lack an endosperm. All commercial production is done with nutrient media in flasks, which supplies the nutrients the mycorrhiza would in nature. However, once they have their own roots, most no longer need mycorrhiza as they can get their nutrients like any other plant. He also says that many have quite exacting requirements in other ways, like needing very acid soil or wet soil, that are often the reason they fail in cultivation. They will often grow in marginal conditions where there is less competition but lack adaptability. In fact competition is one of the things they are least good at dealing with. He says of Calypso bulbosa that “it is generally considered a challenge to cultivate successfully’, so you were clearly doing something just right.

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