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CULT: Seed Thoughts for Linda

In a message dated 5/8/2007 10:41:45 AM Eastern Daylight Time,  
irisgrower@cableone.net writes:

<<<All this talk on seedling. So I did let some things go to  seed. Now what 
I do.?????? [......] Now how long do I leave this pod  standing on it's 
stem.?? Just till it turns brown?? and/or starts to crack?  Then do I take the 
seeds inside house and let them dry some more before  planting?>>>

Hi, Linda.
I am in Richmond, Virginia, so my personal methods may not  be the best for 
you, but I wanted you to have some response to your  questions, so here I am, 
taking a whack at them.  Hopefully you will have  had some private responses, 
too, but as you  will appreciate, this is the very busiest time of the year for 
a lot of iris  growers, and especially for hybridizers, so the list is  slow.
There are several aspects to your questions, and many ways to approach  the 
adventure on which you have embarked. The truly simple answer, which I  will 
offer below, will probably be considered oversimplification by  many. That said, 
simple things often work just fine. For the  record, I'm talking about 
bearded iris seeds here. Some beardless  irises need to be treated differently.
The first step is to set some seed. You and the bees have apparently  
accomplished this. The second step is to let the seed ripen, and preserve it.  You 
do, indeed, let your pod stay on the stalk until it begins to  brown and crack. 
Then snip it off with some stem attached, and take it  inside to dry 
thoroughly. Stand it upright in a caper bottle, or bud vase, or  something. The pod may 
or may not become fully brown, but when ripe and  dry it will look like it 
has finished its job.
If the stem breaks off before it is ripe, bring it inside and  poke the 
broken stem into a nice potato and leave it on the kitchen counter  until the pod 
matures. When the pod begins to split, discard the potato,  and proceed as 
When the pod is dry, shell out the seeds and let them dry well in a  
ventilated space. To store, place them in a closed jar, and keep  them in the 
refrigerator until you decide to sow them. If there are no  seeds, you had a "balloon 
pod," which happens sometimes for reasons  still not fully understood. 
Most bearded irises are presumed to require a period of moist  cold treatment 
before they will germinate-- several months-- and  the trick is to plan the 
timing of their germination so that the  infant plants will have their best 
chance of survival. There  are many theories about how to do this. Most involve 
soaking the seeds  for a week or ten days in clear water at room temperature, 
changing it every  day, which is supposed to hydrate the seed thoroughly and 
leach out chemical  germination inhibitors--- which may or may not exist! I 
understand some folks  tie their seeds into a length of women's hosiery and hang 
them in the  toilet tank to hydrate. I have no opinion on the efficacy of the  
Now comes the cold treatment. Folks either sow outside--usually in  pots 
since it is easier to control the environment and generally keep up with  things 
than by sowing direct, which is also possible--and let nature take its  course, 
which presupposes there will be three or four months of temperatures  
fluctuating in the range of freezing--fluctuating is very good--or  they seek to 
simulate the effects of winter by wrapping the  seeds in moist paper towels  and 
putting them within a plastic  storage bag and keeping them in the 
refrigerator. Some even sow  in moist potting medium and place the whole container in a  
sealed bag and put it in the refrigerator.  
In any case, after a suitable period of time, the stratified seeds are  
removed and sown in pots and placed under lights, or out of doors, and  germinated, 
then grown on until they can be separated and treated as  individuals, at 
which time they may be lined up in nursery beds where  some will likely bloom the 
second year. 
Seedlings look just like tiny irises right from the get go, and they need  to 
be protected from slugs and birds and such. They often have good root  
systems at an early age and should have generous root run. Some folks use  a heating 
mat for the new infants, some a radiator, some have grow lights,  some use 
windows; it is like any other germination project in that  regard. Make sure any 
grow medium you use holds water but  does not get cold, or soggy, or pack 
Getting infants through their first winter outside can require finesse,  
depending on where one is.
Now, I want you to be aware that there is an enormous amount of  information 
about all this--probably several truck loads full--in the Archives  of this 
list, which are searchable. They are found at << 
_http://www.hort.net/lists/iris/_ (http://www.hort.net/lists/iris/) >>
I'd expect the following to be useful search terms: germinate, pod,  
germination, vernalization, stratify, seed, refrigerator, soak, tank, and  burrito. 
Some folks call the rolled moist paper towel enclosing seeds in  the 
refrigerator a burrito. 
The best way to use the archives is to think in terms of locating whole  
discussions of certain things. Once a search term leads you to identify a  flurry 
of posts, go to that thread and see what the conversation was  about. 
Quite a few folks here are hybridizers on one scale or another,  so they have 
gathered their seeds from a planned cross, possibly a  cross in a long line 
of planned crosses designed to further their goals  and make their dreams come 
true; accordingly, they are very interested in  getting every precious seed to 
germinate and grow on. These  folks typically want the new plant to hit the 
ground  running, grow strongly, and show bloom as fast as possible. Bear  this 
in mind as you read their conversations. 
Now, what shall we do with your seeds?  
If you have a lot of seeds, you can experiment with several methods.  
Possibly you might want to sow some outdoors, and some indoors. Leaving  them to 
Mother Nature is an honorable course, and one that is often  successful. Hovering 
over them inside is also honorable. A combination of  methods may increase the 
chances of success, while minimizing bother  and risk of loss. That said, 
anyone who does not get much  winter must provide cold artificially. What you 
want to avoid is  setting up a scenario where they germinate then get stomped by 
some  predictable seasonal weather extreme, whether cold, or heat, or sun, or 
wind,  or rain, or whatever is typical in your area. 
If you get enough winter,  I'd soak the seeds, then sow half of them  in a 
pot of organic material--organic matter is supposed to be  better than inorganic 
in this situation--then cover them with about a  half inch of stuff, then put 
them outside in a protected place where they  will get rained on and so forth 
but slugs and birds can't get at them and  animals won't knock them over. 
Leave them exposed, watering when Mother  Nature fails to do so, and expect to 
see some results in the spring about the  same time the parent irises in the 
garden start into growth. Some seeds may  not germinate until the second year. 
Some may never germinate. Not every seed  that is formed is a viable seed. 
You could also soak, and then chill the rest of your seeds  in the 
refrigerator, starting around Thanksgiving and sow in pots  in the early spring, or when 
you see some signs of germination  starting up in the refrigerator.  If they 
are all set to roll before  it is warm enough for them outside, sow them, and 
put them in a sunny room  with some ventilation.
Now, to make things even more interesting, some folks think  that sowing 
seeds which are really fresh, that is undried, can also give  good results! You 
could try that and see what you think.
As with any other hybrid plant, resulting seedlings may  not much resemble 
the mother, and you may not properly call them  by her name 
Might I ask a favor, Linda? Please add your USDA Zone to  your signature in 
any post on cultural issues. There are folks on the  list from all over the 
place and it helps us better understand and  appreciate what each member says, or 
asks, if we have this. 
Anner Whitehead
Richmond VA USA  USDA Zone 7
Jamestown Expedition and Settlement Quadricentennial May, 1607- May,  2007
"At one time...it was all Virginia."


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