Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Stratifailure

I'm really disappointed in my columbine seeds this year! Well, it's probably not their fault so I'm not really disappointed with them, but rather with the germination rate. I only have this one teeny tiny seedling, when for the last few years I've had an excellent germination rate from these same types of seeds gathered from the same columbine (Aguilegia canadensis) plants in my front border given the same stratification/scarification treatment. What gives?

There are some possible culprits:

1. The seeds weren't viable: Possible but not likely. It's very easy to tell when columbine seeds are mature. The seedheads are dried and brown and sound like a rattle when you shake them. Plus the mature seeds are a distinctive shiny black. Unlike some other seeds (i.e., Eupatorium, coreopsis) these ones are a dead giveaway for viability.

2. Mis-Treatment: Again, possible. I moist stratified these a little longer than usual this year (five weeks instead of 3-4). But I would think that would increase the chance of moisture absorption. Although, maybe all that time in the wet paper towel did some wouldn't be the first time that's happened!
(Note: I rubbed the seeds gently between sandpaper to scarify the seed coat, or outer covering. Then I placed them in a moist paper towel, put that in a ziploc and left them in the fridge for five weeks. That is "moist stratification.")

3. Not enough light and/or heat: Hmmm...for some silly reason with the columbine seeds I didn't use the fluorescent desk lamp that I pretend is a grow light for the first week after planting them. Then when I planted my broccoli and lettuce seeds I started using it. We also finally got some sun at that same time. The vegetable seeds sprouted immediately (ruling out soil or water issues because they're all in the same soil mix and same self-watering seed starter kit). But I've never used a heat mat and have never had an issue with columbine germination, even when I've started them earlier in the year, like late February.

So it remains a mystery! Hopefully I can coax along this one little guy and not kill him in the delicate transplanting process (one reason why I like to have multiple seedlings but I guess no such luck this year!). Fortunately I found some self-sown seedlings in the garden last weekend during my spring clean-up!

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at Clay & Limestone. Go there to check out more posts about native plants around the country!


Marguerite said...

Starting seeds can be so much fun and so frustrating. Sometimes it works and other times - nothing. I planted onions last week that are refusing to budge while the amaranthus is already an inch tall. All part of the mystery I guess.

Gail said...

Well phooey on them! Seriously, though, I have never grown columbine from seed~other than scattering them where ever I want them to show up! But, they seem to love growing in cracks and crevices best of all! gail

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

It seems it's much easier to dig up & transplant tiny columbine seedlings than to get them to sprout from seed outside of the garden. I forgot to winter sow my columbine seeds in a container outside. Oh, well.

Rose said...

That's too bad, Rose. But I've had so many seed-starting failures that I can certainly empathize with you. I did have some success last year with columbine seeds that I winter sowed, but they never did bloom for me. I'm hoping they'll return this year and decide to bloom.

Alison said...

Bummer that they haven't sprouted, but at least you have some self-sown ones that you can move around. Columbine is one of my favorite flowers, but they can be finicky. I scattered some in one of my part-shade beds, and some sprouted like gangbusters, and others gave me nothing.

garden girl said...

Sorry about that Rose! Maybe more will yet sprout. I do my stratification in moist soil in cell paks in the garage. It seems to work pretty well. I usually leave them out there for a couple of months for any seeds that require stratification. Germination is always spotty for me, but I still usually get a few seedlings of each variety of seed. I think the variability of temps in the garage helps - in the fridge the temp stays more constant. I've had better luck with seed sprouting from garage-stratified seeds in soil than from fridge-stratified seeds in soil or moist paper towels.

Columbines seem to do a pretty good job of seeding themselves in the garden here - a bit surprisisng to me since not much else so far seems to spread here without some help. I'm glad you found some volunteer seedlings outside!

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said...

Rose, that was very interesting. Seeds are funny things, and sometimes, they just don't cooperate. I'm so sorry.~~Dee

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