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Hosta Seed
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COLLECTING AND
STARTING HOSTA SEED

pearllake.jpg
Hosta Pearl Lake

Hosta lovers like to grow hosta seeds.  If you wish to collect the seed yourself, do not dead head the flower stems from your hostas and you will notice that seed pods result.  If left to mature and turn tan in color, these pods are usually ripe.  In October, collect the pods and when you open them, the seeds should be black.

 

It does not take long before a hosta enthusiast will cross-pollinate some plants.  Making your own new hosta hybrids is the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding hosta game of all.  A hybrid is created when pollen from the anthers of one flower is placed on the stigmatic surface of the flower from a different plant.

 

RULES OF THUMB IN BREEDING HOSTAS

The following refers to the color in the center of the leaf.  The margin color is irrelevant.

 

1.      Hosta seeds do not usually come true to the parent.

 

2.      Solid color pod parents usually produce mono‑chrome seedlings.

 

3.      Green hostas will usually produce green offspring except 1 in 100 seedlings may be variegated or gold.  If the parent has H. sieboldiana in its background some blue seedlings are also likely.

 

4.      The variegation of a leaf is decided maternally and a streaked leaf pod parent will often produce a high number of variegated seedlings.

 

5.   Edge variegated hostas will NOT produce variegated offspring except in 1 in 100 rarities.

 

6.   Blue hostas will produce some blue, some green, and some gold offspring and the gold offspring may be lutescent or viridescent along with the chance of a variegated seedling.

 

7.   Gold hostas will produce some blue, some green, and some gold offspring that will be lutescent and viridescent.  If there is H. sieboldiana in the background of either parent, blue seedlings are not likely.

 

8.      Only hostas that have white streaks in the center of the leaf will reliably produce variegated offspring sometimes as frequently as the 1 in 100 oddity.  Hostas with speckled centers seem to regularly produce speckled seedlings.

 

9.   White centered hostas will produce all white hostas that usually die in the seed pots due to a lack of chlorophyll however these parents will also produce green seedlings as well, if the plant is fertile. Some white-centered plants give odd seedlings.

 

POLLINATION TECHNIQUES

The easiest method to pollinate hostas is to let bees do it for you.  Some well‑known hosta hybridizers follow this method. They put plant varieties they want cross-pollinated in close proximity to each other.  If they bloom at the same time, bees do a fairly good job of crossing the pollen from plant to plant within this block.  However, since bees usually seek the nectar from one plant completely, before going on to the next plant, if you want 100% accurate cross‑pollination, the plants should be in a greenhouse environment or you must remove the flower petals and pollen sacs (stamens) just before flowers open.  Some breeders use tweezers to apply the actual pollen sac from one flower onto another, while others use artist's brushes. 

 

Going out an hour after sunrise and doing pollination on newly opened flowers, is the best method of doing crosses.  However, keep in mind that bumblebees usually start flying at 5 AM.  Trying to pollinate in mid‑day to late afternoon is not practical, since the bees have already done the pollination for you

 

COLLECTING SEED

Collecting, drying and cleaning hosta seed is not difficult.  When one sees pods on flower scapes, the first question coming to mind is "When will these pods be ripe enough to harvest the seed?"  Generally speaking, it takes at least thirty days, depending on variety and environment for seeds to be fully ripe, even if the pods are still green.  The best way to know when to collect the seed is watching the bottom pods.  When the pods start changing color towards a dark brown, they are ripe.  When the pod starts to split open, the seed should be collected.  If left for a day after pods have split open, the seed will fall on the ground and be lost.

 

After the seed pods have all developed (at least 3 weeks after the last bloom has faded), some people prefer to cut the whole spike, drop it inside a brown paper bag and place it in a cool dry room to dry out completely.  Using regular sheets of paper with the edges folded up box‑like; the collected pods can be dumped inside.  Drying seed inside the house, where it is warm and dry, results in pods splitting open within two or three weeks.  Dumping the seedpods into a box and shaking with some enthusiasm will result in seeds coming out of pods.  Dumping the seeds onto a spaghetti strainer, having inch holes, results in seed falling through and the pods remaining behind. 

 

However, if you are hybridizing, each pod must be treated separately and kept with a label indicating the pod x pollen parents.  It is important to have good labels when working with hosta seedlings, since it can take as long as six years before the seedlings are at their mature stage.  Using plastic labels, and writing on these with a waterproof marker is not nearly good enough.  Outdoor elements make such a label unreadable.  The sun's rays make the plastic brittle and then they break.  Aluminum labels will not rust and will last forever.  You can scratch your information right into aluminum labels with a nail or a carbide tip 'Scriber'.

 

The seed is now ready for sowing.  If you do not plan to sow immediately, put the seed in the plastic bag, then label and seal it.  Place the bags in a cool environment.  Some nurseries will store their seed in the freezer so it remains fresh.

 

Hostas, being the perennials they are make this pleasure a lasting experience. New developing characteristics appear each succeeding year as the hybrids reach maturity.

 

STARTING HOSTA SEED INDOORS

Growing hosta seed is a simple procedure. Hosta seed sprout nicely indoors, under normal house conditions, with temperatures running 60 to 70F (20C).

 

One rule that needs special attention is that your growing medium must be sterile.  Pathogens are present in all outdoor soil, so you should not use soil from your garden without sterilization first.  Sowing containers or flats, and any other materials used with the sowing, should also be clean and sterile.  If you use an unwashed flat, which was lying around outside, it will likely have a white mold that will grow on the soil surface, and when the seeds sprout, plants will damp off.  There is a product called 'No Damp'.  A few drops of this chemical, in the water you use to wet the soil could make the difference between success and failure. The flat can also be washed with a 90% water – 10% bleach solution to kill dry molds on the container. After washing thoroughly, rinse with hot water.

 

Potting soils are available at garden centers and it is better to buy these rather than, try to make your own from garden soil. Three basic soil‑less ingredients that are in most potting soils are shredded peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.  You can mix your own potting soil by purchasing a bag of each of the ingredients mentioned and adding them in equal amounts to a large container.  It is best to use course grades of vermiculite and perlite with the finely shredded peat moss rather than fine particles of every ingredient.  Other experts mix equal parts of peat and perlite for the growing medium and cover the seed with a " layer of vermiculite.

 

A "standard greenhouse flat" measuring 11‑inches wide, 22‑inches in length, and about 3‑inches deep (28 x 56 x 8 cm) can be considered an excellent sowing container. Your flats must have holes in the bottom for proper drainage, root aeration, and bottom watering.  Also available, are plastic sowing tray inserts having 10 to 20 pre‑formed rows to sow seed into and these fit nicely inside the standard greenhouse flat.  A clear plastic dome is also available.

 

A good tip to simplify watering is to place your flat inside a sealed plastic bag.  Your sowing is then inside a miniature greenhouse.  This "incubation chamber" maintains humidity around your sowing so you will not need to water again until seedlings require transplanting. This incubation chamber is rather tricky to do since everything sealed inside the bag must be sterile.  Any fungus or virus present in this sealed environment will lead to mildew growth and damp‑off.

 

When you are done planting, the seed flats must be misted with water to thoroughly soak the seed.  As soon as you plant the seeds, label the container or put a plant marker in the seed tray.  A fine tipped permanent marker will identify the plaint name, and seed source.  You will be surprised how quickly you can forget what you just planted.

 

When you sow hosta seed, keep in mind, that germination from variety to variety is very irregular and there are not many varieties that provide 80% seed germination.  Therefore, sprinkle the seed thickly since you will more likely be getting one plant for every five seeds sown.  Folding a thin piece of cardboard in half, pouring seed into the fold, and then tapping it with your finger is an easy method of sowing.

 

Soil temperature plays an important role as to how long it will take the seed to sprout and whether the seed will sprout at all.  Soil temperatures tend to run 5 to 10 degrees cooler than the air temperature in a room.  In temperatures of 60 to 70F (20C), the germination time for hosta seed will be about two weeks.  Cooler rooms will greatly increase the germination period.

 

Hosta seed does not require light to assist sprouting; therefore, you can place your flats in a warm, dark area of your house.  When you see sprouts showing and breaking the soil surface, place the containers under fluorescent lights.

 

You cannot grow seedlings indefinitely in the incubated state.  If you are using a soil‑less growing medium, you will need to open your mini‑greenhouse, mist plants with water‑soluble fertilizer, and reseal the sowing again to hold moisture and prevent rapid dry out.

 

You can transplant to your garden directly from your flats.  This will save transplanting hassles and maximize your production.

 

Using shallow soil in a flat, results in roots reaching the sides and bottom of the flat quickly; and this results in rapid plant growth above the soil.  If, on the other hand, you use a deep flat most of the growing energy will be directed to root growth.  You are better off to sprout seeds in shallow soil since this provides faster growth of plant tissue above the soil.

 

There are two ways to grow seedlings: 1). Professional Style – which is to produce plants as quickly as possible by doing anything and everything to maximize growth and 2). Amateur Style – which is not being in a hurry.  This is the most cost effective.  The amateurs just want to start some seedlings as cheaply as possible having no flowering deadlines in mind.  They want to grow some starter plants to move outdoors later.

 

The professional hosta seed growers use continuous light that is turned on when sprouts are coming through the soil.  Lights run continuously until the seedlings are moved to an outdoor environment.  Hosta seedlings do not need a night time rest period, so if the lights are on 24/7, you will gain 3 ‑ 9 months of additional growth by the time they are set outside.  Any hosta seedling can bloom seven to eight months later and hence, provides the opportunity for hybridizers to get the next seed generation in a given year.  Most professional growers like to transplant in uniform batches, so they wait until most of the seed has germinated and the plants have developed second leaves.  Amateurs however, will often transplant each seedling as the first leaves have fully developed.

 

Once the seedlings are transplanted, the soil should be topdressed with a inch layer of sharp sand to discourage gnats and mildew.  After watering the transplants from the top, all future watering should be from the bottom.  Fertilize only after the third leaf has appeared.

 

Second‑hand fluorescent bulbs are good enough. Here is a trick to maximize light reflection. Go to any hydroponics shop and purchase some mirrored foil to line the sides around your growing area.  This will maximize light reflection.  Using such reflectors permits you to set the fluorescent light bulbs two to three feet above your growing bench and triple your growing area.  In addition, if twelve hours of light is too costly, you can drop down to six or eight hours per day, since all light is contained within the growing area.

 

Once the air temperature is consistently above 50 F (10 C), you can plant your new seedlings outdoors. However, before that; the seedlings should be "hardened off".  This means setting the flats in shade for a couple of hours each day for 4 days, then extending the outdoor experience an hour each day until the plants are left outside all day long.  If any of the plants are going into the sunlight, they should be exposed to morning sun first and that should be increased every day as well.  Once the seedlings have gone through this process, they are tough enough to be transplanted with a minimum amount of transplant shock.

 

HOSTA SEED OUTDOORS

An alternative to this indoor planting process is to sow the seed outdoors where they will sprout soon as the soil temperature becomes 50 F (10 C).  This process begins by putting a two to three inch layer of peat moss over your garden soil to provide a good mulch against weed seed and to provide an excellent germinating base for your hosta seed.  Hosta seedlings sown and sprouted outdoors should grow large enough to survive the winter climate in one season.  The biggest problem, with outdoor sowing, is weed seeds also sprout and weeding can be a pain.  Otherwise it's an almost free and easy method of growing hosta seedlings.

 

It is exciting to sow seed and watch new life sprout forth.  Hostas, being the perennials they are, make this pleasure a lasting experience. Surely this is somewhere near the top of the list of "having fun"!