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Seedling Discussion

Hi Jim,
       This is my seventh year of hosta seedlings, and I've learned a few things, but many still remain mysteries. One of the biggest mysteries has been the question of viability. Why does a batch of seed from a plant whose seed germinated easily in previous years fail completely one year? 'Christmas Tree Gala' normally produces plenty of good viable seed, that germinates well and grows at an average pace. 'Breeder's Choice' this year failed for me. I'm still trying to figure it out, and I'm not getting any closer to an explanation. I can say that just because a plant's seed failed to germinate the first two years doesn't mean that it won't the third year, so if it's a cross you want to make----keep trying.
        It seems to me that the seedlings that are most vigorous almost always grow into the most vigorous plants, and that the ones that are slow from the start don't ever get growing any better. I would venture that the named cultivars, with few exceptions, were all in the most vigorous third of the batches they came from. The ones in the less vigorous two-thirds just don't grow as well as the already named plants I have from other breeders, so unless a seedling has some traits you really desire for future generations, don't worry about it if it's slow.
>Some batches are extremely slow growing others want jump out of the
>flats and run to the garden. I am not trying to be simplistic here. Those of
>you that have produced hundreds of thousands (or even 1 thousand) of
>seedlings in the overall scheme of things how much weight is placed on this
>one consideration of growth rate and vigor?
     A lot of what you are seeing is tied to the parentage. Seedlings with a lot of sieboldii influence tend to be up fast and grow fast, yingeri tends to flower very quickly (by March when started in early November), tardiana tends to be very slow.
The more mixed the parentage, in general, the more mixed the seedlings will be. This includes the range of vigor in a batch. Vigor must be considered in the context of the plants you are working with. If you have an interesting line developing that is weak in the vigor department, you can cross something into the next generation to improve the vigor.
>Some batches had a high mortality rate,
>lethal factor with white leaves, generally weak spindly appearance, seemed
>more susceptible to wilting or damping off, slow growing, appears to have an
>inherent weaknesses in the cross. Do I trash a batch like this or keep the
>best and cross in some strength in the future?
      Don't worry about the whites (unless they live), they'll just disappear. As for disease resistance, I've come to the opinion that it's a waste of time to use Benlate or something similar in the flats for anything other than the first month.
The ones that can't survive on their own after that seem to have too much susceptibility to survive later outdoors. As for a batch that is weak and spindly, you might want to save a few to watch, but usually they won't amount to anything. One thing I don't understand is that if you get a good strong-growing batch from a particular cross one year, that same cross the next year might produce a batch that's weak and slow-growing. I've had this happen, so don't think a cross is a dead end based on one year's results.
     I'll try to get to the other questions tonight. It's warm and sunny here today and I've got to get out and get some work done out there. The important thing in working with hosta seedlings that I've found is this------ It is a field full of mystery and excitement where you never really know what's coming next. As soon as you start thinking you are getting some grasp of what the rules are, another exception pops up  and leaves you wondering. As the seedlings mentioned by Curtis Bell recently show, there will be surprises that you never could expect. When these grow older, their own offspring can yield even bigger surprises. I don't see a day when I could ever grow bored with them.
                                                                                                          ......Bill Meyer

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