Horridculture – Neglected Seedling

They are so cute when they are young.

This was not planned very well. Actually, it was not planned at all. While sorting through the seed for a vegetable garden, I found a can of seed for winter squash that was a few years old. They might be close to five years old. I really do not remember. I did not expect them to be viable, but did not want to discard them without at least trying to test them for viability.

Rather than just put them in damp rag for a few days, I plugged a few seed into a spider plant on a windowsill, and forgot about them. I really did not expect to see them again. When the first one emerged, I though it was a weed, so plucked it out. When I realized what it was, and that it came out intact, I felt badly for it, and like the original seed, could not discard it.

I do not remember why, but at the time, I did not want to go out to can it in a real pot. Nor did I want to plug it into the garden while I was still getting other seed situated. I therefore planted into an empty eggshell from those drying for coffee. I scraped a bit of medium from a potted bromeliad. It was happy on the windowsill for maybe a few weeks.

The other seed germinated too, but were more carefully removed and plugged into the garden. Since the seed was still viable, I sowed more around the junipers outside. Somehow, in the process, I neglected to put the little seedling in the eggshell out into the garden with them. It has not been happy in here, so has not grown much at all.

Now that the winter squash are already growing well outside, and the summer squash are already producing, this unfortunate seedling still needs to go out to join them.

If I were to grow seedlings inside again, I would do so in some of the cell packs that we recycle from work. They are more efficient, less wobbly, and they do not look so ridiculous.

Now it wants out!

Seed Of Doubt Gains Popularity

Seed for vegetable gardening is scarce.

Many of us who are still sowing spring seed know the doubt. Seed for warm season vegetables and bedding plants is presently scarce. Consequently, we doubt that all the varieties that we want are still available. Many unusual varieties that we purchase by mail order or online are sold out. Some more popular and reliably obtainable varieties in supermarket seed racks are going fast too.

Home gardening is very suddenly more popular than it had been for a very long time. Those who can not work at their respective professions have much more time to work in their gardens. Many want to grow a bit more produce at home, in order to shop amongst others in supermarkets less frequently. Many who have never enjoyed gardening before are now taking a serious interest in it.

This adds a few more complications to planning the garden. Choices really are limited. Some of us must be satisfied with what we get. Instead of trying new and unusual varieties, we might need to try old and common varieties. It might be a new and unusual experience, and an interesting way to learn why they have been so popular for so long. This applies to young plants as well as seed.

Although more varieties are available online and by mail order, it is now more important to purchase them early. Delivery is not as prompt as it was prior to this increase in popularity of gardening. Seed providers are overwhelmed by the demand. Since it is already late in the season, it is probably too late to order seed that start in spring. It is not too early to start procuring seed for autumn.

It is also a good time to share surplus with friends and neighbors who may be experiencing the same scarcity of seed and seedlings. Although it is too late to wait for delayed delivery of seed that gets sown in spring, it is not too late to sow some types if they are already available. If left outside to avoid personal interaction with recipients, seed might need protection from rodents and birds.

Anyone who is experienced with gardening knows that it involves challenges. This is certainly a new one.

Two at Two

This species of Rhus remains unidentified.

Apologies for the delay of posting something for noon as I typically do.

These are just two pictures of two species that were not interesting enough for my Six on Saturday post this morning. Now that it is past one as I write this, it will be scheduled to post at two, hence Two at Two.

Most of what we propagate or recycle here has some potential to be used in the landscapes. Sometimes, we salvage something just because it it too appealing to waste, even if there is no plan for what will be done with it later. For example, we now have five nicely canned but otherwise useless Norway maples, just because they needed to be removed from a landscape.

I canned the four specimens of unidentified Rhus in the picture above because I thought I knew what they are, and that I wanted to plant them somewhere. Now that I realize that I have no idea what they are, and that the one thing I know about them is that they are invasive, I really do not know what to do with them. For now, they will stay canned right here where they are.

The buckeye in the picture below were grown just because the huge seed were too compelling to discard. Although I know what species they are, I also know that they are not very popular. Actually, because they defoliate and seem to be dead through summer, they are rather unpopular. They will likely just get planted in a bare spot on the bank of Zayante Creek right outside.

That is part of the problem of enjoying our work a bit too much. We take horticulture a bit too seriously, and feel compelled to find homes for all the unwanted flora that we can salvage.

Buckeye will not be easy to find a home for.


Oldies but not likely goodies.

31,800 years or so ago, busy arctic squirrels of northeastern Siberia stored more campion seed than they could consume. Of a store of more than 600,000 such seed, which were found deep below permafrost, three immature seed contained viable embryos. These three embryos were extracted and grown into plants that bloomed and produced new seed as they would have 31,800 years ago.

A 2,000 year old date palm seed, which was found in the palace of Herod the Great on Masada in Israel, is the oldest known intact and mature seed to germinate. It was approximately 29,800 years younger than the miraculously viable embryos of the Siberian squirrel stashed campion seed, but is ridiculously older than the oldest of the old seed in my partly neglected collection. There is hope.

Some of the seed that I saved is not dated because, at the time, I figured that they would be sown during the following season. A few of those that are dated are embarrassingly from five years ago. I know that canna seed lasts much longer than that. So do seed of some of the most aggressively invasive exotic species, such as broom and Acacia dealbata. Vegetable seed are not so fortunate.

However, I cannot discard them without giving them a chance. If they do not germinate on schedule, replacements will be sown immediately.

The two cans of seed to the left in the picture above are for two unknown varieties of pumpkin, and might have been three years old last autumn. Butternut squash seed to the upper middle is about the same age. Hyacinth bean seed to the lower middle is perhaps a year older. Blue dawn flower seed to the upper right is at least five year old. Parsley seed to the lower right was packed for 2015.

Expiration Date

All those palm seed . . . and saguaro cactus.

This is worse than the various seed that I happen to collect at work. It is worse than the seed of various species that I brought back from Oklahoma. These are seed that I purchased online and then misplaced . . . for a few years . . . or actually several years. Some were already old at the time, so are about a decade old now. There are leftovers from seed that were sown in 2010.

There was not much expense involved. Back then, they were even less expensive than they would be now. Those that I got a significant volume of were purchased mainly because they were so inexpensive. I figured I could find homes for the surplus that grew from them later. Most of the seed were purchased from eBay. Some were randomly collected for free from my job sites.

With few exceptions, these seed are not remarkably rare. Some are common within the regions from which they were obtained. Some are in small batches of only a few, while there are more than a hundred or a few hundred of others. There are seed for several palms, many yuccas, all but one of the North American firs, and all of the North American spruces. Not all are pictured.

Some seed are in significant quantity. That is more than 300 Yucca aloifolia, and 500 balsam fir.

Neither the expense nor the scarcity of these misplaced seed is a problem. What bothers me is that after so much effort to acquire them, and after so many others put the effort into sending them to me, and after the parent plants put their effort into producing all these seed, they were wasted. As I mentioned about the palm seed yesterday, few are likely viable after a decade.

Nonetheless, all will be sown. Even if none germinate, it will be more tolerable than discarding them without trying.

These actually look as good as fresh. I will find out.


Six on Saturday: Talk To The Palm


That is how horticulturists say, “Talk to the hand.” During the past three and a half decades that I have been working with landscape designer, Brent Green, I have deduced that there is not a specimen of Washingtonia filifera in the Santa Clara Valley, or anywhere else for that mater, who is any more interested by what I have to say than he is. Nonetheless, I appreciate palms.

1. Rats! I thought that was who chewed on a petiole of my favorite young windmill palm from Western San Jose. However, this picture shows several small slices made with a straight blade!P00222-1

2. Pleats of an aging fronds of the same windmill palm demonstrate that surfaces exposed to the south deteriorate before those exposed to the north. The frond was tilted up for this picture.P00222-2

3. Windmill palm seedling is one of a few that I pulled from a landscape nearby, but could not bear to discard without at least trying to find a home for them; as if we need another palm here.P00222-3

4. Hesper palm is more interesting. I brought two here while they were nearly dead. The other did not survive. This one tried to recover, died back again, and is now trying to recover again.P00222-4

5. McCurtain scrub palm seed that I was so pleased to procure earlier is what is obscured just below the surface in this flat. I am concerned that the compost might not have been ready.P00222-5

6. Seed of other odd species of palm were found in a package that had been in storage for a few years. As if we need another palm here, all will get sown. Sadly, few are likely to still be viable.P00222-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Some Plants Need To Chill

41210thumbIt is easy to snivel about the weather when it gets uncomfortable for us. The rain gets too wet. The temperature gets too cool. Even here on the west coast, without the cold of Minnesota, the heat of Arizona, the humidity of Louisiana or the rain of the west coast of Washington, we tend to think about weather by limited human standards. What we fail to consider is that many other organisms rely on a variety of weather conditions for their survival.

Deciduous plants make it obvious that they know how to deal with cool winter weather. What is not so obvious that that many deciduous plants actually need specific wintry conditions to be convinced that it really is winter. If the weather does not get cool enough, or stay cool long enough, some plants do not go dormant long enough to get the rest that they need in order to perform adequately the following spring and summer.

For example, the reason that only a few of the many different varieties of apple can be grown locally is that most have chill requirements that exceed what they get here. A chill requirement is a specific duration of cool winter weather. Only a minority of all varieties were bred for their minimal chill requirements, so that they will produce reliably even where winters are innately mild.

Besides chill requirements, some seeds like to be soaked in moist soil before they germinate the following spring. This lets them know that it is raining, like it typically does in winter. Pecans, for example, can be soaked for a while inside before sowing, bur really prefer to be out in the garden through winter, where they can tell than rain water is actually flowing past them through the soil, and the microorganisms in the soil help to break down their shells.

It is all about timing. Chill requirements get apple trees to bloom in spring, only after they were convinced that it was already winter. If they were not so specific, they might bloom after a brief cool spell in autumn, leaving their blossoms or developing fruit vulnerable to later frost. Pecans germinate and grow only after the danger of frost, but before the weather gets too dry. If they start too early, they may not survive frost. If they start too late, they may desiccate through summer.


P91109KCalifornia flora is remarkable. It all does what it must to live comfortably in every ecosystem, climate and geographical region here.

California horsechestnut or California buckeye, Aesculus californica, is one of the more unusual native species. It is so in tune with the climate that it makes other deciduous trees seem to be inexperienced. Of course, to those who are unfamiliar with it, it just looks dead right now.

In chaparral climates of California, some deciduous trees start to defoliate early, before the weather starts to get cool in autumn. California sycamores, for example, can start to defoliate late in summer if the weather gets too warm and dry for them to want to hold their foliage any later. Such defoliation is more the result of minimal humidity than the result of chill.

California horsechestnut takes this technique one step further, by shedding spring foliage even earlier in summer, then refoliating once the rain starts in autumn, and then defoliating again as the late autumn foliage succumbs to frost through winter. It is ‘twice-deciduous’. It is a weird process that should not work, but obviously does.

It seems like a tree that is defoliated most of the time would exhaust its resources and wear itself out. However, California horsechestnut somehow stores enough resources to produce weirdly big seeds. These in the picture above are the same that were featured in ‘Six on Saturday‘ last week, while they were still in their husks.

Squirrels might chew on a few of these seeds, but do not bother storing them. They are mostly ignored by wildlife, perhaps because of their objectionable flavor. So, without squirrels to bury them, they fall to the forest floor near the trees that produce them, where they are too bulky to sift through the detritus to reach the soil below.

It makes one wonder why they put so much of their limited resources into seeds that are too big to reach the soil, but unappealing to wildlife that might otherwise disperse and bury them.

They know what they are doing.

Once the rain starts, and the seed sense that the weather is damp, they germinate on the surface of the detritus on the forest floor, and extend their tap roots through the detritus to the soil below. The seeds are too bulky to reach the soil directly, but contain all that their primary tap roots need to survive without desiccation until they reach the damp soil.


Horridculture – Soaking Seeds

P91030Hooey! It’s a bunch of hooey! Sweet pea seed that gets sown this time of year for next spring does NOT need to be soaked before sowing. In fact, unless there is some strange species of plant that has become that dependent on human intervention, NO seed need to be soaked prior to sowing. Not only is the technique completely unnecessary, but it is completely unnatural as well.

Think of it. In the wild, plants grow, bloom and produce seed. This seed does what it can to disperse and get into or onto the soil to germinate and grow into new plants to repeat the process. Some seed appeal to squirrels for burial. Some prefer to be partly digested by animals who eat their tasty fruit. Heck, some are reluctant to germinate until heated by a cleansing forest fire.

Plants employ quite a range of techniques to disperse their seed and promote germination. As strange as some of these techniques seem to us, they are all justified. They all exploit processes of the respective ecosystems they naturally inhabit. For example, seed that crave heat know that the fire that provides such heat also incinerates competing plants, leaving them vacant soil.

Regardless, there are NO plants that produce seed with an expectation that anyone will collect and soak them. Dry seed that need to rehydrate can and actually prefer to collect the moisture they need from the moist soil in which they grow. If the soil is too dry for them to rehydrate, they do not waste effort trying. They merely assume that they should wait for rainier weather.

Furthermore, seed that are needlessly soaked prior to sowing must be sown shortly after rehydrating. Unlike dry seed, rehydrated seed can not be returned to their original packet and stored for later.

Save Some Seed For Later

90717thumbFlowers do not last forever. Whether they last for only a day, or weeks, they all eventually finish what they were designed to do, and then whither and deteriorate. They only need to stay fresh and appealing to pollinators long enough to get pollinated. After all, that is their only job. The next priority is the development of seed and any associated fruit structures that contain the maturing seed.

After bloom, most flowers are just ignored as they deteriorate and fall. Those in big shrubbery, vines and trees are out of reach anyway. Others are either too numerous or too insignificant to worry about. Of course, fruit and fruiting vegetable plants get to produce the fruits that they are grown to produce. Then there are few flowers that need to be ‘deadheaded’ after they are done blooming.

Deadheading is simply the removal of deteriorating flowers. The remains of sterile flowers might be deadheaded because they are unappealing. Deteriorating flowers that would like to produce undesirable seed or fruit after pollination might get deadheaded for the same reason, and to conserve resources that would otherwise be consumed by the developing seed and associated fruit.

However, there are a few flowers that might be left intentionally to provide seed for later. Different flowers finish at different times, and their seed gets sown in particular seasons, but most of those allowed to produce seed should probably be deadheaded through most of their season, with the last few blooms left to go to seed. The same applies to fruiting vegetable plants like pole beans.

Many flowering plants are genetically stable enough to produce progeny that will bloom mostly like the parents. Most are likely to be more variable, or revert to a more genetically stable form, even if it takes a few generations. Sunflower, cosmos, marigold, calendula, morning glory, columbine, snapdragon, campion and hollyhock are all worth trying.

California poppy, alyssum, nasturtium, money plant (honesty) and a few annuals that do not get deadheaded are often happy to sow their own seed.