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Seed Germination Tips
The most common question we receive, besides availability and price, is how best to germinate the seed we supply. While many seeds have special needs, the majority of seeds that we handle benefit from soaking in water overnight.
Soaking seeds. Water is the key ingredient to start the chemistry needed for germination within the seeds. Seeds are either waiting for water to start germinating or they are slowly developing. When enough water becomes available they start growing.
You can soak seeds too long; for most seeds 4 to 8 hours is plenty. Soaking 2 days or more can deprive seeds of oxygen needed to get the sprouting underway and they will rot or putrefy. Usually you can tell if you have soaked the seed enough to start the metabolic reactions when it has swollen. Sometimes just the embryo in the seed swells (palms) but for most the whole seed swells.
For every rule there are exceptions. Some of the seeds we sell should not be soaked, like Eucalyptus or most of the seeds in the Myrtaceae family (Callistemon, Melaleuca, etc.). These small seeds soak up plenty of water when you water them in the flats. Also be aware the Toyon (Heteromeles) will turn into a gooey ball if you attempt to soak them before planting. Cactus seeds and many of the other xeriphytic plants do not need to be soaked either.
If you are going to drench a seed to disinfect the surface, it is best to do so at the end of soaking. For mechanically sown seed as well as hand sowing, it usually is necessary to air dry the seeds enough so they do not stick together. Adding sand to the almost dry seeds can help disperse them on the seedbed. The easiest way to redry is to place on a screen and dry until the seed no longer clumps together.
Soaking foliage, palm and woody ornamental seeds is the one most effective seed treatment. The seeds will germinate more uniformly and you will usually obtain a higher percentage of germination.
Germinating palm seeds. This can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely frustrating.
Palms seeds are generally harvested mature with husk or fruit on them. Due to the surface molds that develop and potential germination inhibitors, we generally clean the fruit off. Many of the varieties with a husk can not be cleaned or are partially cleaned due to the mechanical difficulty of removing the husk. A good example of this is Howea forsteriana.
Most palms benefit from being planted as soon as possible after harvest; and even if they do store for some time, best results are obtained when planted fresh. You can check for freshness by cutting the seed and looking at the embryo. With most palms, a firm moist white embryo is indicative of good seed. As time passes, the embryo will pull away from the seed coat and turn yellow and calcify.
We recommend floating off any light seed, then soaking the remaining seed overnight. We float all of the palm seed we harvest during cleaning. There are a few varieties that all float, so it is good to check with us if you have a batch with a lot of floating seed.
Most palm seeds germinate well in a sand, peat and perlite germinating media. For some, organic matter can be beneficial (Oak leaf mulch). Seeds of many species germinate in two to six months, especially with bottom heat (28°C or 82°F), however, there are some varieties that can take as long as one to two years.
Scarification and other means of accelerating germination are possible for some species. In most commercial facilities though, special treatments are too labor intensive and expensive to do.
I highly recommend reviewing articles in the Palm Society Journal and the International Plant Propagators Society on seed germination and storage. If you have any questions, please call. The methods used by various propagators are as diverse and interesting as the palm seeds themselves.
These are general guidelines and certain species and seed lots can surprise everyone. The palms that germinate in 2-4 months under normal greenhouse conditions are: Archontophoenix, Beccariophoenix, Chamaerops, Dypsis (perishable), Livistona, Phoenix, Ravenea (very perishable), Rhopalostylis, Trithrinax, Thrinax, Washingtonia, and Wodyetia.
Those that germinate in 4-12 months but benefit from bottom heat are: Chamaedorea (husk), Bismarkia (needs large containers), Butia, Licuala, Pinanga (perishable), Syagrus (Arecastrum), Voanioala and many of the tropical genera.
Seeds that take 1-2 years to germinate are: Brahea, Ceroxylon, Howea (with husk), Jubaea, Hyphaene, Hystrix, Parajubaea, and Trachycarpus. We have acceptable results without bottom heat.
Most seed failures are due to the seed being too old, improper harvesting or handling. Many times it is difficult to harvest and ship the seed where the plants are found. With some palms we are ecstatic to get germination of 10% to 30%, such as, Jubeaopsis, Halmoorea, Orania, and some of the under-story Dypsis.
The most common problem in propagation is watering, especially with seeds that take a long time to germinate. You can add sand to the germination media to facilitate drainage, if you tend to over water. Palm seed and germination media would, under ideal conditions, be moist to the touch but not constantly wet.
It is very satisfying to achieve excellent results from a batch of palm seed!
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