British Cactus and Succulent Society

Highlands & Islands Branch

Plant Management


A seed-sowing set-up from Teesside Branch

Some seed after 10 days


Seed Sowing

This fascinating and absorbing aspect of cactus culture is often overlooked by growers, yet it needs no special equipment or facilities. Even a window-sill is acceptable if certain precautions are taken. Producing one's own plants adds a third dimension to the subject and gives one an improved perspective. It should be said that the following is a summary of 'best practice' and not a council of perfection. Take up as much, or as little of it, as circumstances allow. There are some excellent examples of what can be done, and how, at these sites

Seed Sources - there are various ways of acquiring seed. The least satisfactory is packets of mixed seed from a garden centre. A second source is to collect one's own seed from one's own plants. This is satisfactory if one is not looking for 'true to type' plants. The 'march of time' has meant that two of our most reliable nurseries now offer only offer 'mixed seed' packages. Lastly, and my preference, is for wild-collected seed by a professional collector so that seed has a known provenance such as plant name, where collected, when collected, preferably an identity number and a collector's name attached. The best source for that is undoubtedly Steve Brack's Mesa Garden, in Belen, New Mexico, USA. See Steve Brack in 'links' for his URL.

Seed Compost - any compost with a peat or humus content is likely to be unsatisfactory because of the possibility of damping-off. Chinosol is excellent for preventing that, see below. Franz Buxbaum makes an interesting suggestion; he recommends crushed brick-dust. This has the virtue of being inert, it absorbs and retains water well, and does not pan. It is prepared by collecting suitable material from new bricks (no moss etc), screening it through a fine sieve (like a coffee sieve) so that fine dust is removed, and a final particle size of about 1mm is achieved. However, it is advisable to check its pH to ensure that the brick dust did not contain lime. If it did, then it can be removed with a dilute nitric acid solution, and then thoroughly washed again. A second type of seed compost is washed and sterilised river sand, not beach (sea) sand as that may contain a lot of crushed shell. Yet another possibility is fine gravel from a quarry which should be washed and sterilised in the same way. Washing in plenty of running water, followed by half-an-hour in a hot oven, or 5 mins in a microwave. Use a plastic container with a lid for the latter in case some particles explode!

Seed Preparation - wherever your seed comes from it has to be properly prepared before being sown. This means thoroughly washing it and inspection with a X10 eye-glass for any plant tissue sticking to seed (a sure source of fungus). Such material can be removed by rubbing in the palm of one's hand and inspect again. This inspection process also has the virtue that seed can be seen to be viable or otherwise. When this process is complete, sterilise seed with Chinosol as explained below.

Actual Seed Sowing - for small quantities of seed a convenient way is to sow in individual pots which have been thoroughly washed and sterilised using Chinosol solution as below. Do one type of seed at a time. It is so easy to get interrupted in the middle of something and loose one's place in the process. Ensure that labels are written in readiness, showing as much detail as is available. Fill the pan with your chosen compost leaving about 1cm at the top, then put the label in. Flood the pan with a Chinosol solution, from below, until it just shows wet on the surface. Leave for about 10 minutes then drain. Drop the seed on to the surface but do not cover at all. It is a good idea to use a fine mist to moisten the surface and at the same time bed in the seed. Label adequately and put a sheet of glass on top. The first seed sometimes germinates in a few days but most take a little longer, sometimes even weeks. Areoles may show in about a month in some genera. Guard against direct sunshine until seedlings pass the cotyledon stage. Whether to prick out or not is an open question - it depends on genera to some extent.

Chinosol - is a German fungicide available in tablet form. One 0.5g tablet makes up a one litre solution.

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