Growing Delphiniums From Seed

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By L.

BRUGGEMANN

Much

has been written regarding the difficulties encountered

in growing Delphiniums from seed. To my way of thinking,

these difficulties have been greatly over-emphasized

with the result that gardeners either lave been reluctant

to try sowing Delphinium seeds, thus depriving themselves

of a great deal of pleasure, or they have over done

the operation, using too many artificial safety devices.

A

number of years ago it was found that fresh Delphinium

seeds, hermetically sealed in bottles and kept in a

cool place, would retain viability for many months.

I have had excellent germination from seed stored variously

either with maximum care or downright carelessness.

I have sown the seed in nine different months of the

year and find that, given half a chance, Nature does

its work, if we take reasonable care in trying to duplicate

conditions that exist when natural germination takes

place.

After

all, Aquilegia and Petunia seeds to me present greater

difficulties than Delphiniums. On the other hand, all

three self-sow in the garden and come up in myriad’s

of healthy little plantlets. And we all know that Petunia

and Aquilegia seed are hardly larger than course ground

pepper.

From

experience, therefore, I have concluded that I can,

with a minimum amount of effort and a maximum result,

be almost assured of success by merely following Nature’s

rules.

When

to plant. Your first crop of Delphinium blooms will,

in this climate(Mass. USA), go to seed in July. The

seed drops on the ground, the wind covers it lightly

with dust, and moisture and sunshine do the rest. So

then, plant your Delphinium seeds some time before August

10 if possible.

How

to plant. As we have seen, Nature does not bury

the seeds at all, it barely covers them. So press your

seed into the soil and then sift over them lightly some

sandy soil or even just fine sand.

Moisture.

Nothing will grow without moisture. Therefore, it is

essential that your seedbed not be permitted to dry

out but be kept consistently moist but not muddy. This

may be best accomplished by watering the soil well before

planting.

To

preserve moisture and protect from drying out by sun

and wind, the outdoor planting is covered with a frame

of standard cold frame size, 3 feet by 6 feet, made

of furring strips on which is tacked unbleached muslin.

This is kept on until seeds have germinated. During

rainstorms, the glass sash is placed right over the

muslin (sash) frame to prevent dripping to wash out

the seeds. Plastic will work just as well.

Temperature.

– The ordinary summer temperature, existing at the time

of the year when Nature plants its seeds, will, of course,

be ideal when you plant your seeds by hand. The more

even the temperature can be kept, slightly above 70°,

the better.

When

seedlings show. Just as soon as the seedlings break

through the ground, the covering should be removed or

spindly growth will result. When the Delphinium plants

drop their seeds at their own feet, the seedlings are

naturally partially shaded by the old plant. That’s

the condition you will wish to duplicate, and this can

be done with slatted frames made of furring strips on

which laths are tacked one half inch apart.

When

the true leaves begin to develop, transplant the seedlings

into a well prepared bed in a sunny position in the

garden which, however, is more satisfactory if naturally

protected from high winds. As the seedlings develop,

a very weak solution of chemical fertilizer will help

develop strong plants. The location should be one, which

will not retain puddles of water, which may freeze solid

in winter. My experience has been that these seedlings

thus planted in the open will winter-over, even though

extremely cold, if, when the ground begins to freeze,

they are covered merely with a quarter of an inch of

coarse sand. The following spring, strong plants should

develop and can then be planted into their permanent

positions in the garden.

For

one who may use only one package of seeds, I would plant

in seed pans. I recommend a mixture of one-third good

garden soil; one-third sand and one-third finely ground

peat moss or leaf mold. Mix together thoroughly and

sift out. Then cover the bottom of the seed pan with

pieces of broken flower pots, fill the pan with the

soil mixture and stand the seed pan in water to about

one-half the depth of the pan for about a half hour.

Much

has been said about damping off of seedlings. If clean

pots, clean soil and a little care is used regarding

moisture, the precaution to sprinkle the soil after

it is in the pot with a fungicide solution should suffice

to eliminate this trouble. Therefore, prior to sowing

seeds, mix the solution in a fine spray watering pot

and sprinkle the seed pans from the top. I place a piece

of newspaper over the seed pans all night and then permit

them to air for twenty-four hours before planting the

seeds. Planting is done as soon as excess water has

drained from the soil in the pan.

Seeds

are sprinkled evenly on top of this soil and pressed

in. I then sprinkle a little of the same soil mixture

or just plain sand lightly over the seeds. Do not water

again. Of course, the covering soil should have had

the fungicide treatment also. I then place the seed

pan where it will not dry out and where a constant temperature

may be maintained. Cover the seed pan with a piece of

glass until seeds have germinated, which they should

do within ten days. If, through any chance, the seed

pan shows signs of drying out, stand it in water again

for a short time to give it an opportunity to soak up

moisture.

When

I plant large amounts of named varieties, I select a

spot in the garden protected from the wind, prepare

the soil well, mixing in the top two or three inches

sand and sifted peat moss. I place over this plot a

wooden frame made of 6-inch boards and of the proper

size to take a standard three by six coldframe sash.

Before planting I water well, the final watering being

with the fungicide solution (use as directed on the

package) putting on the sash over night so that the

fumes can well disinfect the soil. Then after airing,

the seeds are planted in rows, carefully labeled and

covered lightly, following the same procedure as indicated

above for planting in seed loans. The frames are covered

with unbleached muslin or burlap shades during germination

and with glass sash in case of storms.

If

the seedlings are not too thick in an open bed, from

one-half to one inch apart, I have not found it necessary

to transplant them in the fall, but have left them in

the seed bed during the winter and haven’t moved them

until ready for transplanting into the permanent bed

the following spring.

During

the fall, it is wise to dust the seedlings, maybe two

or three times before winter sets in, with Bordeaux

mixture.

There’s

only one reason why I may favor growing Delphiniums

from seed sown in the greenhouse in February, and that

is to satisfy my own curiosity. Seeds planted that early

can be transplanted into the garden in June, and if

you are working with a new variety which you have never

before seen, then you have an excellent chance of getting

some seedling blossoms before snow flies.

It

seems to me that it is good business for Delphinium

enthusiasts to develop a simple and effective method

of growing plants from seeds. In the first place our

able hybridists are continually producing new and interesting

strains which most of us wish to try. Further, like

practically all perennials, Delphinium clamps gradually

develop more numerous spikes and smaller flowers. I

have found that a plant that goes three to four years

is then in dire need of being broken up, cuttings must

be taken from the old clumps. This is not too easy an

operation to perform with success. I find it much easier

to carry on my rejuvenating campaign by growing new

seedlings. Then, too, Delphiniums are not immune to

disease. In fact, there are blights, which are very

destructive and usually fatal. However, replacement

is not difficult if seedling plants are continually

coming along. Then, again, some of the more highly developed

hybrids (in my experience the “whites”) are short lived

and very often die out over winter. So there again is

a good reason for growing from seed.

Therefore,

if you plan to sow some Delphinium seeds each summer,

just as you plant peas and spinach every spring, you

will keep your Delphinium garden at its height and at

the same time know about and enjoy the new introductions.

 


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