Sunday, March 31, 2013

Activites While on Hiatus, Part Two: The Great Seed Experiment of 2013

At the end of last summer, I decided I was going to attempt to grow some of my backyard plants from seed. After getting advice from my friends at the Ecology Center, I began collecting seeds from my various plants beginning in late August and I think I went as late as October. I collected Common Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Bee Balm, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, and Cardinal Flower.

Once collected, I mixed the seeds in dampened sphagnum peat moss and divided them according to species in separate sandwich bags. I wasn't sure if the seeds needed to be in complete darkness, so I placed 3 - 4 of the plastic bags into paper bags which then went into the refrigerator until January. This creates winter in preparation for spring germination.

When the time grew close to pull the seeds out and plant them, I moved on to the "early spring" stage. This was a little more involved than I anticipated but again, I went to my friends at the Ecology Center for advice and to borrow equipment.

Heating mats, a thermostat and grow lights are needed for the early spring.  A heating mat is used to warm up the soil to wake up the seed to germinate,and a thermostat is needed to regulate the heat of said mat. For the native plants I picked, 70ºF is the ideal temperature for germination and subsequent plant growth. I borrowed the heat mats and seedling soil from the Ecology Center, but purchased the thermostat and grow lights.

All seeds were removed and planted on January 26th. I bought a mini notebook to keep track of my experiment. I was faithful with the journal until the plants were transplanted and journaling has now fallen by the wayside. Whoops.

So far Bee Balm has been my easiest and best plant to grow. I lost a few in the beginning, but the remainder have grown like weeds. The plants are now almost as tall as the grow lights. I'm hoping the weather continues to stay warm so I can move them outside during the day and bring them in at night.

   The Bee Balm began sprouting on January 31st. Just 4 days!

This picture was taken on February 18th prior to being transplanted.

I took this picture yesterday.

The biggest thing I'm worried about right now is that while the Bee Balm stems look strong and healthy, the plants are leaning this way and that, despite the grow light being 4 - 6" from their tops. I don't know how they're going to grow further with crooked stems. That's the main reason I'm hoping to place them outside during the day; to straighten those stems.

I've had moderate success with Common Milkweed. It's a little more slow growing. I don't know if that's normal or not,  but the plants are green and the leaves seem to be growing.

The Milkweed seedlings also emerged on January 31st. I lost more of these at the beginning, but I still have a fair number growing.

I took this photo on February 11 but didn't transplant until February 22nd.

Picture taken March 30th.

I'm not having much success with the Butterfly Weed. Like their cousin, Common Milkweed, the Butterfly Weed seedlings sprouted like gang busters in the beginning, but seemed to peter out as time went on.

The seedlings also emerged Janurary 31st. This photo was taken February 18th. These were also transplanted February 22nd.

Photo taken March 30th.

I have maybe 6 of these left. They have been slowly dying off one by one. But I was warned Butterfly Weed could be difficult to grow. I'm a little discouraged, but will be happy if I have at least 2 or 3 by the end of the growing season.

My Purple Coneflowers were mostly a failure, although I did get a few seedlings out of the batch on February 1st. I attribute this failure to the fact that the medium was dry when I pulled the bags out in January. After giving the seeds ample time to germinate, I sowed store bought seeds and they emerged 5 days after planting.

Teeny tiny seedling!

Photo taken March 30th.

The Black-eyed Susan and Cardinal Seeds were a complete bust. None of them germinated. But my store-bought Black-eyed Susan seeds have done well.

Black-eyed Susan with "true leaves". Photo taken February 18th.

Photo taken before transplanting. Photo taken March 3rd.

Getting bigger! Photo taken March 30th.

I'm anxious to see what the next few weeks bring. I'm hoping for continued success.


  1. Wow! Your thumb is as green as your blog background! You are quite the little horticulturist. I would not have the patience. I commend you for your scientific methods.

  2. Your seedlings look great! Good job! I ordered some bee balm seeds this year. Can't wait to see how they do.

  3. Hillbilly Mom, I have no problems STARTING the seeds, its getting them to survive. I tried growing herbs from seed and initially it went well, but the stems grew weak and the experiment was a flop. I learned from my mistakes and did things different this time around. Let's hope the success continues!