03/19/2023 tomatillos having a hard time

Both of two varieties of tomatillos have died of damping off fungus. Here’s a second try (in a different container with fresh soil) of tomatillo verde. Going to try to keep them drier this time by keeping them at the windiest part of the tray (where fan mainly hits). Been rotating all the other seedlings through to get them evenly moist but these friends seem to be more delicate.

01/17/2023 first peppers up!

Shackleton and Tuqu are eager to assist in examination of seedlings.
Tuqu the tortie cat sticks her whole head in a  recycled yogurt container used as a pot, while Shackleton the gray and white very puffy but still short haired cat looks on.
Three varieties of peppers have sprouted! This kind of help is why they (the plants, not the cats) are going immediately to the cat free guest room.
The Chimayó seedling has extremely fuzzy roots! Maybe because there was humidity trapped by the yogurt container lids? I have removed the lids now so they can get air flow to prevent damping off.

01/02/2023 pots and pets outdoors

After last year’s failed veggie seedlings due to root rot and damping off fungus, I drilled 4-5 big holes in all the pots.
I am hoping to start a lot in the yogurt containers and build up the soil around the stems, reducing the amount of repotting for the plants that can root from the stem like peppers and tomatoes and their relatives.
Briar was bored while we did the annual pruning of the dwarf fruit trees.
Shackleton got a leash walk all around the backyard (he’s exploring the prairie here) AND the front yard. Wow!

By popular request: germinating native cacti (updated summer 2022)

A few caveats

  • To my knowledge, none of the cacti around north-central Texas or central Oklahoma are legally endangered or threatened, but cacti can be highly desirable to plant collectors. So, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure any cactus seeds you have acquired are from a sustainable and legal source! The three species I have grown (below) are relatively common.
  • I am assuming in this blog post that you are growing within the native range of the cacti so that outdoor temperatures are not a concern once established.
  • I don’t really know what I’m doing. I have managed to get three of our local species (Escobaria missouriensis, E. vivipara, and Coryphantha sulcata to grow, but only the two Escobaria have as yet made it to a stage where I think they’ll live. The first C. sulcata died after sprouting, and the one I have now may or may not make it (update summer 2022: it perked up after the winter, but then a second new seedling died outside in the summer and the one later died, sometime after June 2022, but I don’t seem to have a blog post to link for it).
  • When I have encountered cactus genera in articles and resources, it appears the species in the genera Coryphantha, Escobaria, and Mammillaria seem to get reassigned among each other periodically, so I’m going to guess that similar conditions apply to all. I will specify the species given if it’s one of the three I have grown that are common in our region.

What to plant in

  • Soil needs to be well drained. You could go with cactus/succulent medium, possibly sterilized or with anti-fungal liquid added (pg 3 of Newland et al. 1981 suggests “Captan fungicide”). I did this for last year’s baby. What I did for the first time I tried was random dirt similar to where they normally live – I filled my outdoor planters with some sandy loam and gravel from a berm in my yard. The three-tiered planter had a lot of germination for E. vivipara (at least 7 up, though I didn’t count how many I planted), only a few (two? I don’t remember) for E. missouriensis, and one for C. sulcata. Not all survived, however – see “What to do once they sprout”.
  • Perhaps a pinch of local dirt from near the same species of adult cactus to ensure they get suitable mycorrhizal partners (Carillo-Garcia et al. 1999; Harding 2017). Most sources I read about did not talk about this aspect of germination, so I imagine many can make it without it, but germination or survival may not be as good. I didn’t do this, but if I try again in the future I will see if it’s possible.
  • They may need a bit of richer soil, as might be found under a nurse plant such as a tree or shrub or neighbor plant (Carillo-Garcia et al. 1999; Muro-Pérez et al. 2014). However, not too rich, as more northern Coryphantha (like ours presumably) prefer less organic matter. But not much. No details are given on how much is too much. Think about where you find the little round cacti around here normally – it’s usually up on barrens or dry hilltops, not a lush forest humus layer.
  • Make the seeds’ environment humid. Page 3 of Newland et al. 1981 provides a recommended cactus sprouting soil recipe and humidity-containing bag. As it’s for Arizona, I imagine it would work just as well for our cacti farther east here (ie if Arizona cacti can take the humidity recommended, ours probably need at least that). Edit summer 2022: we used plastic trays with clear lids to keep things humid for the 2022 Montana C. sulcata and got great germination rates (32+ out of around 50 seeds).

How to get them to sprout

  • Germination rates vary and fresher (ideally this season’s) seeds seem to be better. Love and Akins (“Second summary of the native seed germination studies of Norman C Deno: species with names beginning with letters C through E“, 2019, Native Plant Journal, vol. 20, issue 1, pp 65-97; not freely available online, so you’ll need to get it via interlibrary loan from your local library if you want it), actually have results for E. vivipara (22% germination in 1-4 weeks, at 70°F. with “a few more” seeds sprouting the following year) and E. missouriensis (65-80% in 1-6 weeks, specifically noted as being from freshly collected seeds, temperature not specified). For one Mammillaria species, less than a year old is best and two years was the maximum but germination was lower (Flores-Martínez et al. 2008). Another source said 2-3 years old at most, but I could only read the abstract as the rest of the article was in Russian. I would err on the side of planting sooner rather than later. My 2019-collected Coryphantha sulcata seeds (ie two years old) only had one germinate in 2021 and it took from Sept. 28 to mid December.
  • Surface sow. Most species, and this probably includes our local species (the three above at least) need light (pp 426-427, Barrios et al. 2020), so put them on the surface of the soil. Muro-Pérez et al. (2014) also argue against burying for a different species of Coryphantha.
  • Most cacti do well around 20-35 degrees C (aka room temperature or warmish), with an optimum of around 30 C (Figure 4, Barrios et al. 2020), including for temperate zone cacti (which is where we live).
  • I’m waiting to get this article via interlibrary loan and will update the post if it has anything new: R. BREGMAN, F. BOUMAN, Seed germination in Cactaceae, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 86, Issue 4, June 1983, Pages 357–374.

What to do once they sprout

Bad news, good news

The Penstemon cobea seedling appears to have damping off and so the seedling is falling over and collapsing. Dang it. I’m not sure why since it’s out in the sun and wind and the pot has drainage holes.

Very exciting good news though is that we have a Texas buckeye (Aesculus arguta) seedling!!!!!!!!! We put seeds out in September 2020, kindly provided by Jeanne. The understory forest begins.

The big freeze: an outdoor stratification event?

Supposed to be really cold (with highs not above freezing) later this week, so I figured I should get my lately acquired native and wildflower seeds in the ground. These included desert globemallow, blue flax, Liatris mucronata, and mystery Aster sp. (the latter two from Mom, thanks Mom!!). The first three I also put some seeds in the fridge for manual stratification and the first two I saved a bit to try planting in the fall if the spring planting doesn’t take.

I also had a few indoor seedings to catch up on. Judy kindly sent me some Chimayo chile pepper seeds, my Jimmy Nardello peppers never sprouted, my ground cherries only had two sprouts, and the poor Tommy Toe tomatoes died of cat and damping off.

Seeds before I put their 1/4″ dirt on them.

Plant window ventilation

No more cases of damping off since Wes has added the fan for me. Many plants were ready for watering! So I think the fan is helping dry things out.

The plant window has some permanent residents like various succulents and a venus flytrap, but is mostly full of young plants right now.

Airflow to prevent damping off?

Wes rigged up a small fan with power supply to pull air through the plant window. Fingers crossed it works! There’s always taking the baby plants in and out each day for sunshine but I’d really rather not. Because I’m lazy.

The small fan. You can see the plexiglass gap there and a larger gap is at the top, which you can see in the next picture.
The cause of all this nonsense (Gram the cat) walks by the clamp I need to put back up to hold the plexiglass in place. Briar supervises.

Damping off fungus attacks

Well we are having some damping off fungus in the plant window.  Lost the only surviving tommy toe tomato seedling and a lot of onion seedlings are falling over. I had hoped we left enough air circulation despite our cat blocking plexiglass but apparently not. The chef is looking into tiny fans to put there. I’ll have to start another tommy toe too.

Onion seedlings falling over from damping off, which is caused in seedlings ny overwatering. I set them outside in hopes that some might make it.