Sowing 2006-2007

Sowing 2006-2007

Early 2006 I decided to take a shot at hybridizing hostas.

Why ?  To me, growing plants from seed in the garden is the most fun part of gardening.  Back in the days when I was into cactuses it already was my favorite pass time.  Every year again a miracle happened: out of virtually nothing (some tiny black or brown seeds) I was able to expand my collection with about 100 new species.

With hostas, it's even better, as every hosta that is grown from seed is a unique specimen, because hostas don't come true from seed.  And which hosta geek doesn't dream of a marvelous new hosta that everyone craves for, with his name on it ?

I wanted to start from state of the art crosses.  This meant manual pollination by hand.
The main advantage is you get to pick mom and dad, and you know the ancestry of the seedlings afterwards.

But, it wasn't to be.  Lack of time.
Carrying out those manual crosses is very labor intensive:

  • remove tepals before insects get the chance to do their work,
  • removal of the anthers, to avoid any unwanted selfing (self pollination)
  • harvesting pollen and storing it, labeling required
  • applying pollen,
  • labeling crosses made
  • keeping a register of the crosses
  • ...

And, the best time to make the crosses is at dawn, the time of day I leave for work.

May - September 2006

To make the best of it, I had to rely on OP (= Open pollination)
Just let bees, butterflies and bumblebees do their job.

There are, however, some disadvantages:

  • your pod plants all are unmarried mothers : you know ma, but not pa.
  • you'll get no crosses from plants that flower at different times.
  • The chance you get the result  you had in in mind, that already was very small, is minute.

Say you would like pycnophylla offspring with red petioles.  The chances on ms. Bumblebee having the courtesy to apply the pollen of plant with red petioles are very small.

You can influence the process a little by putting plants you'd like to cross closely together (so they should be in containers), but this is a long shot.

Still, during summer and autumn you could see me in the garden, dragging around hostas.

August 2006 - November 2006

Hosta seeds take about six weeks to ripen off.
The seeds pods that are ready for harvesting are put in an envelope with the name of the pod plant on it.
The envelopes are stored in a large shoe box.

A couple of weeks later, the harvesting of the seeds is much easier than it would be with fresh pods.
It still remains a time consuming chore. Luckily help is on the way (my daughter).
A number of flower scapes are in a vase with sugar water, to ripen off further, every one labeled with a simple piece of adhesive tape.

December 2006

I'll be sowing shortly.

I still have to choose between the following 3 possibilities:

  • sowing outdoors in March - April
    A cold frame would protect the young plants against the worst cold. 
    The use of a cold frame would provide a micro climate, with higher air humidity and a slightly higher temperature;  thus I could start sowing a couple of weeks earlier than outside.
  • "winter sowing"
    This is sowing in containers, like plastic bottles, top removed, filled half with sowing medium, put in a closed plastic bag (to get a greenhouse effect) en place outside.
    It's a sowing technique I've never tried before.  As a complete novice I want to be on the safe side, so this option is out.
  • sowing indoors (heated, artificial light, ...)
    The sowing and germinating is done in a heated seed tray.  This can be accomplished in two ways:
    1) Place the container in a heated room
    2) Use a heated mini greenhouse (build in heating or a wire for soil heating)

    The sowing installation preferably has a cover, to create the desired micro climate and in the case of a heated sowing tray, to keep the heat in.
    Additional lighting is required.  The simplest way is to use TL tubes.  These use less power than regular light bulbs and have a color spectrum that allows plants to grow well and in a natural shape. 
    If you want to spoil your hosta babies, you could use special plant TL's, like GroLux.
    The light should be adjustable in height, as they should be about 4 inches above the plants.

This is a way of sowing I'm familiar with: I've grown cacti like this for 20 years, very successfully, so this ought to work.

In the end I decide to use two techniques: sowing indoors and outdoors.  I would like to sow everything inside, but due to a lack of space this isn't possible.

December 21

My heated indoor greenhouse has been gathering dust for a couple of years.  It's only 12" x 24 ", so I'll only be able to grow a limited number of seedlings inside.

The square sowing pots I had already prepared are way to large for my newly made installation.  Therefore I go for little square jiffy pots; I can get 60 of those in the tray.  The soil is a commercial mix that I use without sterilizing.

In the light hood, made out of pine wood, are 4 15 W TL's, that will provide the necessary extra light. In due time (when I feel like it) it will be covered on the inside with reflective metal foil.

What will  I sow indoors ? The limited space forces me to make choices.  The seeds my daughter Romy received from America (see Romy and Arno in Hostaland) will go in first, to keep her interest going.  And I'm dead curious at to what will come out myself.

The remaining are the wavy and piecrusted ones, plants with red petioles or white backs, and some others.
Finally I go for:

H. hypoleuca (3 seeds),             H. 'Niagara Falls'  
H. tibae     H. 'Fall Bouquet'  
H. nigrescens     H. 'Thumbnail'  
H. 'One Man's Treasure'     H. 'Hoosier Dome  
H. 'Jade Cascade'     H. 'Don Stevens' (3 seeds)  
H. 'Birchwood Ruffled Queen'     H. 'Neat Splash'  
H. 'Donahue's Piecrust     H. 'Grand Slam'  
H. 'Harry Van De Laar'     H. 'Korean Snow'  
H. 'Green Acres'     H. 'Party Favor'  
H. 'Jade Cascade'     H. 'Hirao Supreme'  
H. 'Gray Cole'     H. 'Elata Highlander'  

The seeds are covered with a thin layer of sowing mix and everything is well watered in with an anti-fungus solution.

December 23

Something was definitely wrong with either the sowing mixture or the seeds.  The surface is covered with  thin grey patches of mould .  After a mist spray of fungicide, and the fungi disappear.  The following days I'll have to apply the fungicide every two days to keep moulds under control.

December 30

The first seedlings are showing: 'Grand Slam', tibae, 'One Man's Treasure', 'Fall Bouquet', 'Thumb Nail', Harry Van De Laar'.

H. 'Harry van de Laar' x OP

January 2007

January 2

The seeds from Brian and Virginia start to sprout.  Most batches have one or more seedlings now.  The only ones to let me down (so far) are the piecrusts.

January 4

The autumn bloomers with red petioles are outperforming all the others.  The containers with the H. 'Grand Slam' seedlings will be filled completely in a little while. 'H. van de Laar' en 'One Man's Treasure' don't want to stay behind.  Unfortunately, the 'Neat Splash' and 'Korean Snow' seedlings show no signs of streaking.

January 6

I water the seed tray with a mils solution of a liquid alfalfa fertilizer.

Up till now I didn't see any red in the petioles.  On the other hand, one of the 'Grand Slam' seedlings is a bright yellow.  When I take some pictures of the baby 'HvdLaar', one of the larger ones does show a hint of red.  It apparently needs some time to manifest.  Cees Visser, the originator of this wonderful hosta confirms that I may expect red in every seedling.


H. 'Grand Slam' x OP, a yellow seedling in the center The first tinges of red in a 'H. Harry van de Laar' x OP petiole

January 10

Good news: the moulds and fungi have completely disappeared.


Most of the different batches have at least one seedling.  The exceptions are H. nigrescens en H. 'Don Stevens'  In this picture you get a view one some of the batches.


Just like with the H. 'Harry van de Laar' seedlings, some yellow H. 'Eos' are showing.  I took some pictures, but they were out of focus.

January 13

It's getting simple to take care of things.  Just take a peek every day, just to be surprised by yet a number of newborn hosta babies.
My daughter Romy has 'named' two 'American' seedlings, H. 'Brian en H. 'Virginia'.  Especially' (the one in the back) seems to have enormous vigor.  After sprouting on January 2, it hesitated for a while before really taking off, but today is by far the largest of all seedlings.
Another streaked seedling from the batch from Brian & Virginia
Two yellow H. 'Eos' x OP  seedlings among their green sisters (middle and top right)

March - Mat 2007


All is going smoothly.  The seedlings were transplanted for the first time at the end of March and were moved outdoors, into a cold frame, around April 15th.







A couple of pictures, taken May 5th











October 2007


Dormancy is near.  Time to make a balance.


Major mistake was I didn't sterilize my sowing mixture and to put the heated tray with seedlings in an unheated room.  I had one power failure , that proved disastrous.



Another thing I learned: don't put all your eggs in one basket.  We sowed all the Brian and Virginia seeds in one batch.  If we only had left half for outdoors sowing !






A number of seedlings pleases me very much, but it will take a number of years before it becomes clear is there is something really special amongst them.



One thing's for sure: come December 21st, there will be some major sowing going on in the Hosta Mill



Photos taken October 10th