SEED RAISING FOR SUCCULENTS

Impatience is an almost universal trait of character, and cactus growers are not altogether immune from this malady. We demand mature plants for our collections, but we are missing a lot of pleasure if, by impatience, we overlook the fascinating pastime of raising succulents from seed. The essentials for successful cultivation are few and simple. Many people have been disappointed and discouraged in their first attempts to grow seedlings and feel it is a somewhat complicated process. This is not true. The growing of these plants from seed is so simple that anyone with normal intelligence may easily succeed.

The information about to be given will not be sufficient to cope with every emergency, but it will make possible sufficient initial success to encourage the reader to go on with this delightful and interesting hobby.

The seeds of some succulents will germinate as soon after maturity as they are placed in favourable conditions, whilst the seeds of others cannot be coaxed to grow before the following season. Of course, this does not apply only to the seeds of succulent plants, but to many other plants also.

To raise plants satisfactorily from seed it is necessary to provide a suitable temperature and compost and moisture, and once the little plants are showing, light and air are essential.

Since succulents are for the most part tropical or sub-tropical plants, it is to be expected that the seed will germinate best at relatively high temperatures. The ideal is a uniform temperature of about 80°F. The method used to secure this uniform heat depends much on the means available, and the ingenuity of the grower. Simple apparatus can be easily made in the form of a box with a glass cover, with an electric bulb so arranged under the seed pan that it will give sufficient additional heat. More elaborate propagators can be purchased from firms who manufacture them, and many of these excellent propagators are thermostatically controlled and are ideal for germination of seeds and the raising of seedlings.

Not everyone, however, can provide even an improvised propagator, but this need not deter anyone from attempting to raise seedlings, for alternate arrangements can be made to utilize such warm parts of the home as a hot airing-cupboard, or perhaps a place can be found on top of a radiator, etc.; and finally, if it is not possible to provide heat, delay sowing the seeds until May, for by then the weather is warmer and congenial for growth. If one can provide the necessary heat, the seeds should be sown early in the year, in late January or February, to obtain the maximum growth before the next winter.

There is much difference of opinion as to the best compost to use in the seed pans or pots, but it is generally recognized that John Innes Compost No. I with some sharp sand added will produce very satisfactory results. Sterilized John Innes composts are obtainable from seedsmen.

To prepare the seed receptacles, first make sure they are thoroughly clean. Indeed, if new or sterilized pots or pans are used, so much the better, for, in addition to using sterilized compost, the risk of your seedlings damping off is greatly reduced. Some coarse material such as crocks should be placed in the bottom of the containers to ensure the necessary drainage. Cover this with a fine layer of peat and then fill up the container to within half an inch of the top with the compost. The fine layer of peat is provided to prevent the drainage becoming blocked. Sprinkle a little coarse sand on the surface and sow the seeds thinly and as evenly as possible on the top. Small seeds should not be covered, as any resistance offered to the germinating seed may cause it to fail. Larger seed should, however, be covered to a depth of not more than the thickness of the seed.

Water may now be applied by gently sprinkling or spraying the surface until all the compost is thoroughly damp, or the container may be set in another dish of water until capillary attraction has brought moisture to the top. Although it is a little more trouble, the latter method is to be preferred.

Top water is apt to cause the soil to “puddle” and seal the surface so as to exclude air which is as vital to the young plants as is water.

Cover each container with a small glass sheet, as this ensures quick germination. Moisture will sometimes accumulate on the under side of the glass, and if it falls it may injure the seedlings or wash the compost from above the seeds. It is therefore a good practice to remove the moisture once or twice a day.

As soon as a reasonable number of seedlings appear, remove the glass from the container and allow more air to reach the plants. The surface of the compost should be kept moist at all times. Any neglect that permits the newly germinated seeds to become dry, even for a short time, is fatal to them.

The seed containers should not be placed in direct sunshine because the young plants cannot withstand the strong light. The containers may be kept in the shade or the glass may be covered with paper to ensure shade.

Admit some air when the seeds germinate, but continue to provide shade. If growth is rapid it may be necessary to prick out the seedlings in the first season, but generally they appear to do better if left undisturbed until the following spring.

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