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Germinating iris seeds

Mike Rosenzweig, Ph. D. wrote:

> I am trying to hybridize for the first time.  I have collected some seed pods.
> What do I do now -- with the seeds that is???????
> Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Chris responds:

Plant them and they might grow, don't plant them and for sure they won't 
Seriously now, read the following info that was published in the CIS 
Newsletter July 1995 issue. It should help you out. Good luck.

Germinating Iris Seeds
by John Coble and Bob Bauer

	We have always (since 1982) germinated our Japanese and Siberian 
iris seed indoors. From some of our first experiments with this 
technique we had 80-100 % germination. With favourable weather we were 
planting 8-12" seedlings in May with the first fan increases seen in 
July and in some crosses 100% bloom the following year. Our most 
vigorous seedling produced 8 bloomstalks on a one year plant!
	Our main reason for germinating seed indoors is to gain one year 
on first bloom and thus one year on evaluation. most important is the 
elimination of unworthy seedlings and freeing garden space for another 
crop of seedlings. This does become important with an annual crop 
planting of 1000-1500 seedlings.
	We collect our seed pods when ripe and starting to split, 
usually early September. The seeds are stored in paper envelopes-but for 
no more than a month. Be sure to shell your seed pods and search for and 
kill any worms. As soon as all seeds are collected, the seeds of each 
cross should be wrapped in pantyhose material (maybe cheesecloth would 
do).  These little tied up bundles are then put in a large bowl and 
covered with water - a saucer on top to hold the bundles down. The water 
should be drained and changed every day for at least two weeks. This 
soaking and rinsing treatment is to remove the seed germination 
inhibitor present in the seed or seed coat. Outdoors, the fall rains and 
melting snow in winter do the same thing over a 3 to 4 month period.
	After the final rinse the seeds are covered with a 10 % solution 
of bleach for 1/2 hour. (10% solution created by mixing 1 part bleach 
with 10 parts water) Pour off the beach solution and rinse quickly with 
water a couple of times. Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and 
secure with a rubber band (do not seal with an air tight lid) or we 
transfer the tied bundles to a plastic bag and secure them with a twist 
tie. The bleach treatment is to reduce the mould population that will 
want to grow on the wet seeds during the next stage, which is 
refrigeration (stratification).
	The wet rinsed bundles in bowl or bag now need to be 
refrigerated for 12 to 14 weeks. Fewer than 12 weeks will find fewer 
seeds germinating. After the 12 weeks refrigeration the bowl or bag can 
be removed to room temperature (kept closed and moist). Some seeds may 
have already germinated in the refrigerator but most will start after 
the third day at room temperature. After the third day, we get more 
germination if the seeds are warmed to 90-100 degrees F. for 1/2 to 1 
hour each day. You can set your covered bowl of bundles in another bowl 
of hot water and let the seeds gradually warm up and cool back down. We 
fill the bowl of bundles with warm tap water, let sit until room 
temperature and then drain off the water until the next heat treatment 
the following day.
	Tall bearded irises and day lily seeds are handled the same way 
through the soaking and refrigeration stages but not the warm water 
treatment after refrigeration. Bearded irises germinate best at 55 
degrees F.
	Once your seeds start germinating handle them as best fits your 
needs and situation. This will depend on the number of seeds that you 
are handling, the size of your house and those you share the house with!
	At about the fifth or sixth day at room temperature we open each 
bundle and remove the germinated seed to plastic cups half filled with 
wet sand and cover with plastic wrap. (separate cup for each cross) We 
continue this every other day for about a week. The ungerminated seed 
can then be returned to the refrigerator for a minimum of two more weeks 
and then the room temperature heat treating treatment repeated.
	The germinated seed can be potted whenever you want. The other 
ideal of this system is that only germinated seed are planted. No trays 
of empty cubes from ungerminated seed. We raise the germinated seed on 
wet sand in plastic cups near a window. When we have sufficient number 
of seedlings with green shoots about one inch tall we transplant them 
with tweezers to seedling trays filled with a soilless seedling potting 
mix. The trays are set about six inches below fluorescent lights; 
ideally the bulbs are about 1 to 2 inches above the tips of the plants. 
We use cool white bulbs and run the light 24 hours a day. We raise the 
lights until the plants are 8-10 inches tall. 
	Then we let the seedlings grow to the lights and start mowing 
off the tips every couple of weeks as they grow into the lights. We 
fertilize every two weeks with a Miracid solution of one teaspoon per 
gallon of water.
	Hopefully by mid-May the danger of frost is past and the 
seedlings can be hardened off outside for a week in the shade and 
gradually moved to full sun.  Watch these tender plants,  they  will 
probably need watering every other day while outside,  every day in the 
	Line out your seedlings in good organic rich soil and keep them 
watered all summer their first year (and mulched). The next spring you 
will have bloom. 

Edited from AIS Region 6 Newsletter, January 1995 issue. Coble and Bauer 
run Ensata Gardens in Michigan state and have introduced many new 
varieties of Siberian and Japanese irises. With climatic conditions 
nearly identical to what we have here in most of Canada, their 
tips/hints on growing iris seedlings should be very helpful to most of 
our readers across Canada. 

Christopher Hollinshead
Mississauga, Ontario  Canada  zone6b
Director, Canadian Iris Society
Newsletter Editor, Canadian Iris Society
e-mail: cris@netcom.ca

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