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Germinating seeds

There are so many different methods of germinating Clivia seeds and I have probably tried most of them over the years. Everything from putting the seeds in a Chinese take-away container with sphagnum moss, placing them in a plastic bag with sphagnum moss to adding a dome or cover on top of the seed tray to create a mini-greenhouse effect. I have even tried leaving the seeds in a glass of water to see if they would germinate at some expert’s suggestion.

There is no right or wrong way of germinating seeds. Some methods work well for some people and the best thing is to stick to what works for you.

What I will outline here is a very simple method that works well and is easily achievable for the layman.

Do I need to wash or soak the seeds when I receive them?

Growers generally wash the seeds when they are peeling them from the berries. In most cases this is with a dish washing liquid that does have some anti-bacterial properties. The seeds should be clean and free of any membrane material or dirt when you receive them. I do wash any seeds I receive from other growers in water with dish washing liquid added. This ensures that I am starting with clean seed as often international seed has been rolled in Sulphur Powder which tends to sting the eyes and taste revolting if it get on your hands and eventually your mouth.

Years ago I used to soak seed for 24 hours in either diluted bleach, Super Thrive or HB101 but at the end of the day, I don’t believe it made any difference to the germination of the seed. As long as the seed is fresh and clean, it does not need to be soaked. I have at times received shrivelled up seed and have soaked it in water to see if it improved the outcome but I think that was wishful thinking.

What is an easy way of germinating Clivia seeds?

Fill a small pot with seed raising mix which is easily available at Bunnings or possibly your supermarket. You can also use potting mix or a number of other types of medium, but I have found seedlings do well in seed raising mix.

Wet the mix thoroughly and place the seeds on the top of the mix. Do not bury the seeds. They are happy sitting on the top. You will notice on each seed there is a small raised bump. This is called the radicle and is where the root will grow out and hopefully downward. Sometimes it is necessary to gently turn the seed over once germination has happened so the root grows down into the mix.

Place the pot in a warm position but not in direct sunlight. Keep a water spray bottle handy and each day give the seeds a little spray. They like to be a little damp but not too wet as this will encourage rot. Germination should happen within a few weeks.

This method allows air flow around the seeds and lessens the chances of fungus, mould and rot.

If you see small flying insects hanging around the pot, spray with Pyrethrum. These could possibly be Fungus Gnats which will harm the health of your sprouting seeds or seedlings.

Do I need to use a heat mat?

Years ago people used to place the seed trays on top of the fridge as they received bottom heat from the old fridges, but I believe new fridges are different now and these days, they are built in to cabinets. Heat mats or bottom heat certainly speeds up the germination process but is not necessary.

I use heat mats which can be purchased online for around $50 each as I have so many seeds to germinate each year that they have to queue up to get on the seed trays. By speeding up the germination process, I can get through the germinating process in half the time it would have taken without heat.

If you are not in a hurry then there is no need to buy a heat mat.

What happens after the seeds have germinated?

After germination a root will grow down into the mix. Sometimes it may be necessary to poke a little hole in the mix with your finger and gently place the root into it if the root is growing sidewards. The roots need to be kept a little damp and not dry out. When they are growing out of the mix, they can dry out easily.

Soon after you will see a small green leaf developing. All going well there is no need to do anything other than keep them a little damp by watering the pot thoroughly once per week. If you think the mix is drying out too fast for the one week watering, then water as often as you think is needed to keep them a little damp but not wet.

Growing Clivia from seed can be a fun and fascinating road of discovery. Each different cross can be so variable and the bad news is, it is an addiction without a cure.

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Seed lists

Every year the seed lists seem to come out earlier and earlier. It is almost like a competition to see who can get their list out the fastest. Why does this occur?

When the seed lists come out, we all get a bit excited and order copious amounts of seeds. Then another comes out and we are still excited and order. Gradually by the time the seed is actually ready to harvest, we are all ordered out and have spent too much money so don’t order anymore. The late seed lists miss out. The earlier seed list is the best marketing ploy and attract those in a seed-drought and are ready to order and spend money.

There is nothing wrong with having an early seed list, but potential buyers should be aware that it is easy to fall in love with the beautiful photos of parent plants and the excitement of ordering seed, particularly international seed. Often the description offered by the seller is less than adequate and the two lovely photos we fell in love with may result in a quite ordinary flower five years later. If the expected outcome is not stated, it can’t hurt to ask the seller what they expect from the cross. You may also have to wait for up to 6 months from when you paid for your order for the seeds to arrive.

A few tips with reading seed lists and ordering seeds

  • Early seed lists are generally pre-ordering where the order happens from January and the seeds will not be harvested until June/July (for Australia and South Africa). This is quite common and has its advantages for the seller and buyer. Usually payment is required in advance though some just ask for a deposit.
  • If ordering from overseas, be aware that Australia has certain requirements. Read the blog post on the changes to seed importation so you are aware.
  • Also keep note of the exchange rate if ordering from overseas. From pre-ordering to time of harvest, the cost of the seed may have increased due to the currency fluctuations.
  • Not all seed will germinate for whatever reason, so when ordering, assume that some may not sprout and order enough for this possibility. Some sellers are generous and add a few extra seeds should this happen, but many don’t.
  • If it is an international seed list, check the postage. Most sellers offer reasonable postage rates to send overseas but I have come across a few that offer outrageous postal costs as they include administration costs and handling fees. This can make the seeds end up very expensive. ALSO, recently there have been additional charges in Australia for inspection of seeds.
  • Check the quantity and crosses of seed when they arrive. I have had parcels arrive that have all the wrong seeds (someone else’s order), half the order missing (where I had to pay postage for a second time from overseas) and seed arrive that is brown and mouldy.
  • Be aware that mistakes can happen. Even the most careful of growers may find that a stray bee has pollinated a flower before they had the chance to. I have many seedlings that on the breeding should have had non-pigmented bases and yet they are pigmented and will most likely flower orange. There is always a risk when buying seed.

Buying seeds in a risky business but also an exciting time. They could potentially grow into a beautiful flower and although many plants will flower ordinary, there is the possibility of some outstanding outcomes.