"To see things in the seed, that is genius." ― Lao Tzu
Autumn is upon us. One of the things I love about Autumn is the chance to collect seeds to sow next spring. I'll be hunting down acorns, collecting sweetgum seed pods and pulling hundreds of Japanese maple seeds off the trees in my backyard. They are still green, but it's getting close to the time to pick and store them
Here are the six steps I follow for germinating dozens of Japanese maple seedlings in the spring:
1. Starting in early Fall, as soon as I see the first pair of seeds on the ground, I pick all the seeds I can, and let them dry out until it is time to start the cold-stratifying process. I store the seeds in a cool dry place until they are ready to start stratifying. I put mine in a paper bag in my garage.
2. I pick the date I would like to plant the seedlings outside. This will vary a lot by zone. I'm in zone 10, so a late February or March date works for me. In other zones, it might be much later. It should be after the last possible spring frost if that's an issue where you live.
2. Calendar a date roughly 90 days before the planting date to begin stratifying the seeds. For me, that may be late November or December. Others might be looking at beginning to stratify in February for a May planting day.
3. Break off the seed wings and soak the seeds in warm to hot water overnight. I use hot tap water. Never use boiling water. It'll kill the seeds. After the seeds are in, I let it drop to room temp without worrying about rewarming the water.
4. 24 hours later, I put the seeds in tray with a planting medium. I use plastic trays from microwaveble food, but you can use anything. My preferred medium is coarse builder's sand and peat moss in equal portions. Vermiculite or other media works, too, as long as it is sterile. (If it isn't sterile, moisten and cover it and cook it in an oven in a pan for 90 minutes at 200 degrees and it will be.) Make sure the tray of soil and seeds is moist, but not dripping wet. Put it in a plastic bag and poke a few holes in the bag. Put the whole thing in a refrigerator or wine cooler in a place where it will not freeze.
5. Leave the bag alone for 60 days. After 60 days, start checking it about once a week. If there are sprouts, pick them and plant them in a flat or seedling pot with good draining soil. I mix in a lot of diatomaceous earth. After 90 days, sow anything that hasn't yet sprouted in a flat with similar well-draining soil. Don't plant too deep - barely cover the seed and the sprouted root with soil.
6. Water thoroughly after planting, then allow the soil to dry almost completely before watering again. If you live in a cooler climate or one with wildly varying spring temps, consider using a heating lamp, or better yet, a heating pad under your flat, set to 70 degrees. I bought a heating pad at my local hydroponics store for just $20.
For a few cents worth of soil (plus a heating lamp or pad if you went that route), come late Spring, you'll have plenty of free seedlings. It's the cheapest and easiest way to grow bonsai trees.