Sunday, March 29, 2015

Seedling tables

In an earlier post, I showed how to collect pollen and use it to fertilize blooms to produce seeds of your own crosses. After approximately 110 or so days after pollination, they should be sufficiently ripe for either storing until the weather is appropriate for planting, or sowing directly into soil if the temperatures are right. 

It's an easy task to harvest and store seeds. Open the ripe hip with whatever works best for you, scissors, a small knife, whatever you want to use. Remove the seeds and rub the fibers and any hip tissue from them, then place in small plastic bags with the label recording the cross, and store it in the refrigerator until ready to plant. 

Once you are ready to plant rose seeds, you'll need something to plant them in. Of course, you can use pretty much anything you have handy and want to use, but if you have many seeds to find soil for and experience some more extreme heat and aridity issues, something along these lines may be just "what the doctor ordered". 

I wanted something I could protect against slugs, snails, rabbits, rodents, squirrels and the birds who love to dig up seeds and unearth seedlings. I also wanted a method of permitting them to grow outdoors in full sun without having to worry they would dry out and fry quickly. Because I have to allow them to continue growing in the seed tables all summer until the weather is appropriate for me to transplant them individually, and clean out the tables for the next crop of seeds, I wanted something with sufficient soil to hold enough water for many vigorous seedlings at one time, particularly over the hotter, drier months. 

I also wanted something readily available and at "friendly cost". Browsing my local "home improvement store" yielded the idea of using fir fencing boards. They're 8" wide and available in 6' and 8' lengths. I could also find very green, wet boards, making them easier to keep watered as the wetter wood seems to draw less water from the soil due to evaporation. Fortunately, the store will cut the lumber for you, so I didn't even have to break out the table saw to put them together. I decided on the 6' boards. For fencing use, they have sculpted tops, which I have cut off to square the board. Then, I have them cut two boards into four foot lengths, leaving the remaining lengths (not quite two feet long) for the shorter sides of the boxes. At the local prices, each box cost about $7. 

To prevent the soil from washing through the bottoms, I selected nylon window screen, which is easily cut with ordinary scissors. To support the window screen, I used plastic hardware cloth, which is also easily cut with scissors. Staple the screen across the table form bottoms and trim the excess, then staple the plastic hardware cloth to them and remove the excess. Because the short sides aren't quite 2' long, for support under the hardware cloth, I bought an inexpensive package of  2' wooden stakes used to mark property lines, sprinkler lines, etc., and screwed them to the bottom of the table forms. 

The tables are set on saw horses with 4' lengths of  2" X 4" placed between them. The boxes are then placed on the 2" X 4" supports where the cross pieces made by the wooden stakes space the screen bottoms off the cross supports so they don't remain constantly wet, making them last longer. 

Earlier versions were all too short, requiring me to lean over to plant and remove seedlings from the tables. These new tables were placed on taller saw horses, and, with the extra height provided by the cross supports, I can stand erect and work the tables so there won't be the usual back aches due to their previously too-short height. 

You may use any type of potting soil you wish. In my conditions, I've had great success with moisture control types. This size box holds nearly four cubic feet of soil, depending upon how deeply you fill them. I only left a few inches inside the box for the seedlings to grow under screen cover because once they are a few inches tall, most birds are going to leave them alone. 

I found an inexpensive, useful method of separating the rows of seeds. Thin bamboo plant stakes are easily cut with pruning shears, or bundles of them can be cut to fit the tables using a saw. 

Now, it's easy to set the seeds in fairly straight rows, placing the plant labels at the beginning of each row so you can easily tell which seedlings belong to which cross. Once they are all set in place, cover with approximately a quarter inch of your potting medium and water in thoroughly. 

With any luck, within a few weeks, you should see some new roses poking through the soil surface. The fun begins!


  1. How far apart do you space your seeds, Kim? I think I may have planted mine too close together.

  2. Kim, you have been busy, not only a new house, new benches as well, looking good.

  3. Great job Kim! Looking forward to your new creations in your new location....

  4. Hi Kim...I forgot to use the sticks for row markers this year...wish I had! Do you not put any moisture in your bags of seeds when you refrigerate them? How far apart do you plant the seeds? I'm thinking I may have planted mine too close together. Thanks!

  5. Hi Sally, some people use moisture in the bags, and I have previously, but don't now. The more moisture there is in the bags, the greater the chances of mold and the worse the mold can be, unless you use some type of fungicide in them. That's what they used to use Captan for, but it is much more restricted than it was in the "good old days". You can take other steps to sterilize the seeds and bags prior to storing them if you want to. Perhaps mine take longer to germinate after dry storage than others would when stored wet. I don't know positively. The time and effort saved by not having to thoroughly clean them prior to storage is worth it to me. I always seem to generate many more seeds than I can comfortably handle, so reduced germination isn't a down side to me.

    How far apart I plant them depends upon how important the cross is to me; how many seeds from the cross I have; how much total space I have in which to plant them all; and how lazy I am when I plant them. Some are spaced an inch or so apart while others are spread out like mulch. I know some have very low germination rates simply because that's how they usually germinate. Others come up quite well and/or there are very few seeds from the cross and are spaced farther apart.

    Of course, under ideal situations, you could plant each seed in an individual pot where it can develop as long as it wants, but that takes a lot of space, soil, tags and pots. Perhaps with much deeper pockets, greater room and maybe even greater "financial reward" from the hobby, maybe even extra hands to accomplish planting and after care, I might go "more professional" or commercial about planting. I definitely have planted many way too close together every year. I leave them in the tables until the following fall to winter before transplanting, so disturbing the roots when moving them isn't a great issue. In the hotter climates, separating them while transplanting them was best accomplished in November when I planted the seeds. The weather was cooler, damper, more conducive to permitting me to bring disturbed plants through safely due to the conditions. So, I could do my first selection, based upon the vigor and health of the seedling in the crowded, cramped table conditions, pot them and refresh the tables for planting the next batch of seeds. I couldn't transplant them safely earlier in the summer due to the extreme heat and aridity. Most would have died from being transplanted out of the tables.

    I'm really only interested in the seedlings which germinate quickly, develop vigorous root systems, producing vigorous, healthy plants. There are usually very few of those from each crop of seedlings per cross. Sometimes, it seems most germinate but not all develop into decent plants. Perhaps some are inhibited by the more vigorous growers, perhaps not. Most often, in my experience, there will be a select few with massive, fibrous roots while the remainder have very "wimpy" roots with few feeders. The plants without the fibrous root systems seldom develop into good garden plants. They may have beautiful blooms and perform well when budded, but those aren't what I am looking for as they usually aren't good plants own root, so crowding them early on helps to weed those types out quickly.

  6. Thanks so much, Kim. Hope things are underway with preparing your new yard into useable garden space!

  7. You're welcome, Sally, thank you! Slowly, but slowly, things are progressing. There is an upcoming kitchen remodel, probable bathroom remodels, a sun room addtion, exterior house painting and a few other "projects" which have to be tackled before the yard can be "remodeled".

  8. Sounds like you won't be bored anytime soon! I'm eager for you to get back to the garden, but first things first...understood!

  9. Thank you! Oh, I AM bored...with unpacking, "decorating", finding homes for everything unpacked, etc., but I am playing in the roses a bit.

  10. Hi Kim. Thank you for sharing! I was just trying to work out how and where to plant my first batch of crosses when I read your post. One question if you don't mind: what is your irrigation method? I hand misted my first attempt with open pollinated seedlings ( on the bathroom window sill :-) two to three times a day with a plastic kitchen spraying can but do with a more efficient method. The ones that I attempted to grow outside either washed away when watering twice daily with a kiddies watering can ( to limit the flow of water) or simply did not make it.

  11. Hi Liezel, you're welcome! I'm glad you are enjoying it. I use the garden hose, turned on very low to flood the tables. I simply hold it upright over the soil and move it along the tops of the seedlings so it gently flows over and through them to the soil level. It doesn't uproot anything nor uncover any ungerminated seeds. It only moves the lightest particles of the soil as they float on top of the water until it soaks in, which is quite rapid. If the mix you're using is very light, this may wash it around. I use Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Soil firmed well, but not hard packed, over the seeds and it stays in place when I water. Your conditions may not require that heavy a mix, but between the ultra high UV levels and the very frequent breezes to winds which occur here, I need something heavy enough to not blow away, hold moisture between waterings and not lose it to too rapid evaporation. If you can obtain a mist head to screw on to your hose, perhaps that might provide a gentle enough "rain" to water your seedlings. Of, if you take a plastic cup and gently pour water into the containers you plant in, you might be able to accomplish your goal without uprooting anything. Good luck and please share what you find works best under your conditions. Thank you!

  12. I've enjoyed reading your comments, Kim. Here's what I might add.

    I save so much time by using just 4 females: Oso Easy Italian Ice (The best.), SunSprite, my seedling (Italian Ice x mixed.) and one wild card: One of my seedlings I haven't tried as a female that is a fine cultivar in its own right and looks like its sex organs are intact--Decent size ovaries, plenty of stamens, and 15-25 petals: More than 25and the take rate exponentially decreases, fewer and I'll get too many singles as progeny.

    That brings me to what I believe is a smart approach for small-scale hybridizers: Use mixed pollen--of the few best varieties. Given my goal of creating a competitor to geraniums: healthy, HT form, on a windowbox-size or front-border plant: Rainbow's End, a Por La Mar unnamed velvety red mini of HT form and surprisingly good health, and the aforementioned seedling. Of course, that restricts the information I get on crosses BUT the advantages are huge:
    1. I need do NO labeling
    2. I need do NO recordkeeping. I know that all my females except the Wild Card have good take rates, germination rate, and produce good stuff. I'll just note, in my head, how the Wild Card does.
    3. When I plant the seeds, I need to minimal labeling. I just have a section for each of the four females.

    For seeds from each of the four crosses, in mid-to-late November, I soak them for 10 seconds in a solution of 1 part Clorox to 9 parts water, wrap the moist seeds in a paper towel, adding a bit of that bleach solution to the paper towel so it's moist and put it in a baggie and in the fridge until January, adding newly harvested seeds as the hips ripen.)

    I plant in a planter table sort of like yours, roughly 2,000 seeds per year. I plant them 1" apart. I get a roughly 25% germination rate, which means 500 seedlings 2 or 3 inches apart. If a seedling is growing vigorously and otherwise looking good right next to a weak one, I'll scissor-out the weak one so the good one has more room to grow. If it's next to a good seedling, with a spoon, I'll carefully transplant it into its own 4" pot.

    By mid-June (I live in Oakland, CA), I've seen first blooms from 80-90% of my seedlings. Those that haven't yet bloomed yet, I dump--not a good sign and I don't have room to wait. I've also dumped all singles, muddy colors, any disease, poor vigor. I look for hybrid-tea form, health, vigor (yet still compact) floriferousness, good foliage. By the end of June, I'm down to about 10 seedlings and by November, typically 2 to 4.

  13. Those are good ideas for paring it all down to a more manageable scale. Whatever works well for the one doing it is just fine. Others also use mixed pollen and that's also fine, if you aren't concerned where the traits you like came from. Congratulations on finding what works well for you. Good luck!