Thursday, September 24, 2009

Germination Instructions for Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a tree whose leaves increase circulation in the brain. It is a popular herb in Chinese medicine and has been linked to improving memory and cognitive functions. The unique fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree make it a popular ornamental as well. It is even grown as a bonsai.

The germination of ginkgo is a little tricky, but there are a few tips that will increase your success. Freshly picked seeds are covered in a malodorous fruit. The ginkgo fruit contains small levels of urushiol, a skin irritant that is found in poison ivy and poison oak. To avoid this, obtaining cleaned seeds from a seed company is recommended.

Ginkgo biloba seeds have a long germination period and a tendency to pick up mold on the outer shell. The presence of mold on the outer shell does not automatically indicate that the seed is dead. It will be fine so long as the mold does not reach the embryo. To ward off mold while waiting for germination, sterilize the ginkgo seeds in a mild bleach solution (1:8, Bleach: Water) for a few minutes and rinse well. It might seem counterproductive to introduce bleach to a living seed. However, the solution is diluted, and the seeds should only be soaked long enough that the bleach soaks into the outer shell and not beyond.

The next goal is to allow moisture and air to reach past the shell. Nick the sides of the shell along the rim or that goes around the circumference of the seed. Do not damage the embryo. (There's a very thin brown membrane around the embryo too, which does not have to be penetrated).

Ginkgo trees grow in areas where freezing is normal. Ginko seeds are, therefore, used to these temperatures and have adapted to respond to seasonal changes. The change from cool to warm temperatures after the winter lets the seed know it can begin growing. If you are not planting your seeds outside during the cooler weather, you will have to artificially create this experience for the seed. The process is known a moist cold stratification. Cold stratification is easily accomplished by storing the seeds in the fridge for a month. If your seeds have not been pre-stratified, you should do this before exposing them to the warm temperatures needed for sprouting. This can be done before or after nicking.

Assuming your gingko biloba seeds have been cold stratified, they are now ready for germination. Place the nicked seeds in moist, preferably sterile sand and place them in a zipper baggie. Situate them so that the seeds just barely stick up through the sand. Adding a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to the water used to moisten the sand is another option to prevent mold.

Keep the planted ginkgo seeds at temps of about 70-75 degrees. When the seeds sprout you will see the green stems press up against the bag. When you see leaf development, transplant your ginkgo seedlings to a mix of more sand than soil. Keep the soil moisture equal to that of the sand in the bag and keep out of direct sun and heavy water.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Preparing Fast-growing Columnar Cacti for Winter Dormancy

Many cacti growers are curious about the proper way to prepare their cacti for winter. Others may not even know that they need to make any changes at all. In this guide, we will discuss the reasons for cacti dormancy and how to properly prepare your cacti for dormancy.

When an oak tree loses its leaves in the winter and ceases growing, it is dormant. Likewise, cacti also experience dormancy when certain conditions for growth do not meet the requirements needed for it. Preparing cacti for dormancy is especially important for fast-growing ornamental columnar cacti such a San Pedro Cactus or a Cereus Peruvianus. If growers do not prepare in advance, the aesthetic appeal of their cacti will suffer.

Cacti dormancy is triggered by a drop in temperatures. For some people, preparing cacti for winter is limited to bringing their collection indoors. In climates that permit cacti to be left outdoors all year round, they will experience a temperature drop and cease growth. After you bring your cacti indoors, unless you keep your house rather cool, your cacti will never receive the message that winter is here and will not completely enter dormancy. While it might seem alright to have your cacti skip dormancy and grow year round, it comes with a price.

During the winter, you may gain some height, bit it will not be they type you want. The problem is that you will not have enough light in your house. Even with the best grow lights, it is unlikely that you will match the power of the sun. And since cacti thickness is dependent on the amount of light it receives, your cacti will suffer uneven growth. While stretching may not be such a significant problem with slower-growing cacti such as ariocarpus or lophophora, a tirchocereus will respond quicker and stretch.

The process of stretching in low light conditions is called etoliation. Etiolation occurs because the cactus is trying to reach up in an effort to find light. It is recognizable by a very light green color. Severe etiolation, such as when a cactus has been in a box, can even result in white growth. Even with proper preparation, you will usually notice a bit of this color at the tip of your cacti. The key is to minimize this to keep growth uniform. As the cactus resumes growth the following season, small amounts of etiolation will be covered up. You can often tell how many seasons a cactus has been growing by the ridges formed as this cycles occurs. Some growers play around with etiolation to create oddball cacti. An etiolated cactus is not necessarily unhealthy, but it can create weak points if you plan on growing tall specimens.

So how do we prevent etiolation? The key to preventing etiolation is to keep your cacti in a very cool place until you can return it to the outdoors. Most growers accomplish this in a cool basement or garage. A temperature in the low 50's to high 40's is ideal. Be sure to keep your cacti out of freezing temperatures, although larger cacti can handle brief stints of temperatures on the border of 32 degrees F. It is also important to note that dormant cacti do not require light since they are asleep. This makes storage easy, allowing you to reserve your light for other plants.

While this seems easy enough, your preparation should actually begin well in advance. This is because dormant cacti will not need water during the winter. While cacti are in dormancy, their immune systems are diminished. The presence of water they are not using gives disease a chance to gain a foothold. Unless your cacti are seedlings, you should NEVER water them during the winter dormancy period. Seedlings should not be put into dormancy because they would not normally begin growing so close to winter. It is not natural for them. Furthermore, artificial lights can accommodate the full requirements for seedling growth.

Despite that you may not be actively watering your cacti, they may still be at risk. Your cacti may be in large pots with lots of soil that can hold lots of water. Therefore, it is a good idea to ensure that your soil is dried out before the temperature drop. Begin by moving your plants to a covered location, such as an awning, sometime in September or October at the latest. This will allow the plants to dry without the rain interfering. By the time you bring your plants in, they should be dry enough. Use the natural cooling of the weather to induce dormancy naturally, then maintain that coolness.

While the concept of dormancy may seem complicated to some, the solution is anything but. Keep your plants cool and dry. Let the soil begin drying out in advance. The amount of light you provide is insignificant. So you might as well let them sleep in the dark.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

How to Set Up Your Plants Before a Vacation

Depending on the size of your plant collection, leaving for a few days can turn out to be a burden. Aside from the personal attachment, you may have a considerable amount of money wrapped up in your collection. And while you might find someone to sit your child or pet, you might have a harder time finding an understanding plant sitter. But before you run to start a career in this new profession, there’s a solution for those previously rooted to their homes.

They sell these glass globes that hold water. The user sticks the tube end into the soil. As the soil dries, it draws it from the globe as needed so that a continuous supply of water is available. These are probably a viable option for those who have one or two plants. But what about the serious collector?

The solution lies in the topic of my fifth grade science project: transpiration. As a plant uses up water, it exits through its leaves and goes into the atmosphere. But if you can harness that moisture and recycle it, you can create a hydration system for each plant. Sounds high-tech huh? Well if a fifth-grader can do it, so can you.

Seriously, get a box of freezer bags. Put one over each plant and seal the bottom closed with a rubber band. You can use clear garbage bags for large plants. The moisture will collect on the top, drop back into the soil and keep the plant hydrated. This is called a humidity tent. Providing you’re not leaving on an Odyssey, this should keep you good for over a week. Unfortunately, this method inhibits airflow, which will eventually take its toll. It not only deprives the plant, but it creates an environment favorable to mold. It is also true that not all of the moisture gets recycled back to the soil, meaning the plant will eventually dry out.

Additions to the process that can be useful include moving plants into lower light conditions, reducing temperature, cutting the tips off leaves or removing larger leaves. All of these will help the plant conserve water. While you don’t want to put the plant in a dark fridge, a small reduction in temperature or sun light will slow the plant down a bit as well as hinder the evaporation of moisture directly from the soil. It is important to note that certain plants would be more tolerant of this than others. Removing the tips or larger leaves would also help conserve water because these are the parts of the plant that tend to use more than they contribute. This is why you often see the larger leaves drop first. It is also why the tips tens to turn brown first.

One last addition to this technique, and this may even suffice as a technique on its own, is to place the pot in a dish or bowl of water. Water is allowed to draw up through the soil as it is needed. This is actually a good way to water plants. The drawback of using this for an extended leave is that the amount of water is critical. If the source water in the dish dries out before you return, the plant may still dry out. By adding a larger amount of water, you may be at risk of over-watering your plant. A result like root rot can be just as fatal as drying out.

It is essential to keep in mind that different plants have different needs. The humidity tent is quite versatile. But for some plants it may be best to employ a combination of these methods. But if you’ve found the solution to leaving your plants by themselves to be a mystification, I hope this will help.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Salvia Divinorum Cultivation Explained

New growers often worry about their salvia divinorum plants. The reality is that they probably worry too much. While salvia divinorum may seem like a finicky plant, the reality is that it is amazingly resilient. With just a little understanding about the plant, all growers can carry on without losing sleep or their plants.

Salvia Divinorum, a member of the mint family from Oaxaca, Mexico, is one of the most widely known and entheogenic plants. Salvia has a long history of shamanic use in the Sierra Madre mountains, particularly among the Mazatec tribe. These Mazatec healers were known as curanderos. In 1961, Gordon Wasson, who had developed an intimate relationship with these remote people throughout multiple journeys, was invited to experience the ritual brought on by the juice of salvia divinorum leaves. Wasson returned with his colleagues, namely Albert Hoffman, to collect specimens of this undocumented species. Wasson, along with Albert Hoffman, was the first to bring a live salvia divinorum specimen to the U.S. It is the clones of these original salvia plants that are the most widely distributed. They are known as the Hoffman and Wasson clone.

One other popular clone, known as the Blosser strain, is named after Greg Blosser. There are also several rarer clones such as the Cerro Quemado, Luna, Resilience, Julietta, Paradox and Owens. (There is one supplier in mind that carries all of these strains, but we cannot recommend them since we have ordered from them without getting everything we paid for despite numerous promises. ) The reason that so few strains of salvia divinorum exist lies in its virtual inability to produce viable seed. It may be that salvia adapted to being cloned so frequently that it no longer needed to rely on producing seed to reproduce. Following this theory, we can say that it has been domesticated.

Most often, salvia divinorum will not flower. The plant requires pure darkness at night, which is often polluted by artificial light. Flowering is also triggered by an even twelve hour light cycle. But getting saliva to flower does not mean it will produce salvia divinorum seeds. And if seeds are produced, they are hardly ever viable. Saliva divinorum is, therefore, reliant on cuttings to reproduce. This means that each clone is precious, and so it is essential to treat them with proper care.

The transition of a salvia plant from one environment to another is know as acclimation. The key to acclimation is to change all factors gradually. We read about conditions needed for salvia, but what is often unspecified is that we do not need to place it in those conditions right away. It has to be ready. That means don't put your plant into heavy light immediately, especially if it has been in a dark box. Keep salvia at ambient room lighting and move is closer to the light source over the course of a week. This is much like the way the intensity of the sun increases as the season begins.

The biggest headache and what sets salvia divinorum apart from traditional houseplants is its relationship to humidity. Salvia plants that come in the mail will frequently arrive in a humidity tent, which is usually just a clear plastic bag placed over the plant to seal in the moisture. The same goal may be achieved with various apparatus. While a salvia plant generally has sufficient humidity while inside the tent, most growers do not want to have their salvia inside a humidity tent forever. Since it is difficult to match the conditions it has come from, you will want to change the humidity gradually.

Start out leaving the humidity tent completely on and sealed for the first five days or so. You can air it out once a day just to keep fresh air inside. For the next five days, leave the tent on top of the plant with the bottom open so fresh air can mix with the moist air under the tent. After that, take the tent off for a few hours a day, increasing the amount of time each day until you no longer need the tent. At first, be sure to replace the tent whenever you're not around to monitor or when you see drooping. Even after that, don't be in a rush to get it into full sun. If you're moving outdoors, start the plant out in complete shade. As mentioned earlier, salvia is a remarkably resilient plant. Salvia can recover from a severe droop if you replace the moisture in time. If a severe droop happens, you can reduce the stress of recovery by removing larger leaves or cutting them in half.

Aside from the humidity change between environments, humidity can change between seasons and weather patterns without you realizing it. Many new growers tend to panic and overcompensate, which often does more harm. Salvia plants will often sustain themselves outdoors during the summer months. As salvia plants are brought in, they may suffer. This is somewhat natural. While your conditions may not be ideal for good leaf growth, it does not mean your salva divinorum is in danger of dying. During this time, do not worry so much about curling leaves or a few leaves falling off. It is much akin to native plants losing leaves in the winter months outdoors. Just like the suggestion to cut leaves off, plants will drop leaves on their own to reduce stress. It may be an indication that the environment is stressful, but it does not mean your plant is dying.

So what if your plant is losing a lot of leaves? Before you panic, make sure your roots are healthy. As long as the roots remain healthy and the stem does not dry out or rot to the point that there are no viable nodes left, the plant has a chance of recovery. Even stems without leaves have been known to recover. This is why good root care is vital. A good well-draining soil, usually made up of about 50% perlite is ideal for proper drainage and airflow. This will keep the roots healthy. To keep the soil free from bacterias and molds, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide in the water will help. A layer of diatomaceous earth, which is made up of the the skeletons of algae-like organisms, will help prevent insects. Trimming any dead material from the leaves or stems will also remove places for molds to take hold.

As a general rule, salvia divinorum likes temperatures between 70-90 degrees F and likes partial shade to full sun. There is a lot of variation within these parameters. Growers tend not to understand why their salvia plant is not doing well even though they are falling within these guidelines. You will also find people reporting success with varying temperatures and lighting conditions. The important thing to understand about salvia divinorum is that light, water and temperature are all relative to each other. For example, a plant in full sun in 90 degrees will need more water than a plant in the house under artificial lighting. Adding that same amount of water indoors may cause a plant to develop root rot from standing water, whereas a plant outdoors may easily dry out if watered the same amount. It is true that evaporation in the soil plays a part here, but the plant will use more water too. Along the same lines, you may notice a plant that is burning (turning red) under lights that are less intense than the sun. This might seem odd considering salvia divinorum is from Mexico where the sun is stronger. That's because there is no set amount of light that is always appropriate for salvia divinorum because its needs are relative to temperature and the condition of the plant. By acclimating conditions gradually, you can help assure the plant's condition will change with its environment so that they can be more in tune with each other.

Another idea that new salvia divinorum growers struggle with is the idea of misting. Misting is an effort to increase the humidity. However, many experienced salvia growers have decided not to mist plants at all. In a situation where humidity needs to be raised, it is better to use a humidity tent draped over the top of the plant for a few days. A humidifier is more appropriate if you are willing to invest in one. Misting is really an artificial humidity, or possibly not really humidity at all. The droplets of water are much larger from a mister and have a tendency to collect on the leaves rather than absorb while suspended in the air. The collection of water can lead to rotting of the stem or leaves. It seems that regular misting causes salvia to become dependent on this moisture rather than it acclimating.

The common response to most new salvia divinorum growers is to see all signs of wilting as a lack of humidity. It is important to realize that wilting can actually be caused by too much humidity. Leaves that have become saturated will be heavy and droopy. This tends to happen to plants that are left in 100% humidity too long. This is exacerbated by lack of airflow and water collecting on the salvia leaves. Most often, this will happen to plants that are left in humidity tents too long. These leaves tend to be thinner and softer than "healthy" salvia leaves. They also tend to have a silky sheen. It is important to realize that it will be unlikely to save these leaves. Salvia produces new leaves that adapt to the new environmental conditions. You can often notice a physical difference. Old leaves, suited to tolerate past environments will tend to die off in the new environment. Therefore, if you receive a plant that has thin leaves that begin to fall off when you try to acclimate it, you should not panic. This is pretty common for plants that have been rooting in a humid environment for several weeks or months. This is normal to a large extent. Again, it is important to be sure to make sure you have healthy roots. Pay more attention to new growth than the original leaves. If you are getting a good flow of fresh growth, your salvia divinorum is doing fine.

Whether or not you think salvia divinorum is finicky, you should be better equipped to handle it now that you understand certain principles. Salvia divinorum needs to acclimate very slowly; be patient and do not panic while it goes through these changes. Keep your roots healthy; they are the lifeline of your salvia plant. The humidity tent is your friend; keep your mister for your seedling trays. Not all wilting is from lack of humidity; they can be saturated as well. New salvia leaves are suited to their current environment; old leaves are expendable as long as the roots and new growth is healthy. Lastly, give up on trying to find salvia divinorum seeds. Understand your salvia, and you'll have all you need to grow.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Germination of Cacti Such as San Pedro Cactus, Peruvian Torch and Other Spiny Friends

You see them in your office or local hardware store, maybe even your local Mexican restaurant. But many people never stop to think that cacti actually start out as seeds. I mean it makes sense being a plant and all. But I get the same reaction all the time when I tell people I sell cacti seeds. "Cacti grow from seeds?!?"
The reality is that cacti do grow from seeds, and anyone can grow them. It's not that difficult and is more than rewarding in the end. I warn you though, the hobby of cacti growing and collecting can be nothing short of addicting, and there is a growing community of cacti growers, particularly the Sacred species, which includes San Pedro Cactus, Peruvian Torch, Dona Ana, certain Ariocarpus species and even Peyote, which is illegal in the United States but it extremely coveted and legal to grow elsewhere around the world.
With a growing interest in starting cacti from seed, I see many people asking about how to begin. This method will not work for every species of cactus, but is ideal for those of the trichocereus, carnegiea, astrophytum, obregonia, lophophora and ariocarpus genus. It will work for other cacti seeds as well. The first consideration to make is soil mix. While you can make your own cactus soil mixtures, this is not really worth it for the new grower. Unless your making a large volume of soil mix, it will be more expensive to buy the multiple materials needed when you could easily buy a commercial cactus potting mix. When it comes to commercial cactus soil, I prefer Shultz's and am not a fan of Miracle Grow. If it is the only option, it will serve the purpose. Some growers will add perlite (up to 50%), which is a white, porous volcanic glass that is used for drainage. Its nooks and crannies provide an enormous amount of surface area to hold water without letting the soil get soggy. If I am going to add perlite, I find that it is beneficial to use a mixture such as this for the bottom layer. For the top layer, strain out the larger debris so you end up with only the finer particles.
Your next consideration is the pot. This is not a hard choice. I prefer small Chinese soup containers and other take-out containers. Fill your pot with either cactus soil or the soil/perlite mix so that you leave at least an inch of room left. Use a mister to moisten your soil without it getting soggy. Put about half an inch of the finer (strained) soil above that. The finer layer serves to keep the seeds from landing on any debris that they will have a hard time anchoring their root into. Then mist the top layer before you add your cacti seeds. While the seeds of astrophytum are a little larger, those of trichocereus, ariocarpus and especially obregonia are particularly small. When you look at a san pedro cactus or a peruvian torch, you wouldn't expect that they come from such small seeds. Misting before applying the seeds keeps them from being sprayed away so that they become unevenly distributed. After misting, take your seeds and press them into the surface of the soil. You can crowd them because you will be able to separate them later. Do not cover them at all with soil because cactus seeds need light to germinate.
Cover the whole container with clear plastic wrap. If using a take-out container, you can simply keep the lid on loosely so that air will still get in. Keep your soil temperature at about 70-75 degrees F and provide window light until the seeds sprout. Eventually you can put them under fluorescent lights. The seedlings will not have to be transplanted for at least six months.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Germination of Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa/ Chocolate)

Theobroma Cacao, the Aztec's Food of the Gods, is one of the trickier plants to grow. Cacao plants are quite rare in the United States, and viable seeds are even rarer. This is because the seeds have an extremely short viability. Only seeds obtained in the fruit or those that have been recently removed are suitable for growing. Dried cocoa beans are often sold for edible and aromatic applications, but do not be fooled into thinking you will be able to grow these. More importantly, beware of vendors selling these seeds for growing. If the beans are dry when you get them, they are no good.

The above picture shows two ripe Theobroma Cacao seed pods that we at World Seed Supply have been working with. The fruit on the right was opened first in the condition it appears while the one on the left a was allowed to ripen to a similar color before opening. The majority of the seeds in that first fruit were actually germinating right in the pod when it was opened. It is important to slice around the perimeter of the fruit so that you do not damage the cocoa seeds in the center. It is a good idea to squeeze the slices cacao pod to break it fully apart rather than slicing too deep. Once you have the two halves, you will seed a conglomeration of about 15-20 cocoa beans stuck together with each individual seed coated by a white fruity material. This material is the second factor that makes growing cacao tricky.

The white fleshy material on the outside of the cacao seeds is problematic because it is tough to remove and is an ideal place to harbor molds and disease that could harm the seed during germination. Although a bit unorthodox, we began the process by chewing and sucking off as much of the cacao fruit as possible. This decision was made only with the knowledge that the fruit is edible, and it proved to be quite tasty. Afterwards, a very sharp kitchen knife was used to shave off more of the remaining substance without damaging the brown seed coat. While one seed was being worked on, the other seeds were left soaking in water to keep from drying out and to keep any of the reminaing fruit material workable. After the shaving, the seeds were rubbed extensively with a dry towel until they were relatively clean. Needless to say, this was quite a chore for 15-20 seeds at a time. Fortunately, the fruits were done on different days.

Once the seeds were cleaned, we placed them in a bed of moist spagnum moss. This is the long-fiber kind sold in craft stores and used for hanging baskets. This should not be confused with peat moss that is used as a soil component. As we said, most of the seeds in the first cacao fruit were germinated already. Some of them were already into the advanced stages of germination. A few of these ones were put right into jiffy mix with spagnum moss around the top to keep the seed head from drying out. Over the next week or so, those in the bed were gradually moved into the same conditions. As the second fruit was opened, they took the place of those seeds in the spagnum bed. It should be noted that the seeds were monitored for mold. It seemed that a bluish green mold was active, but they were rinsed with a mild peroxide solution as needed.

Eventually, all of the cocoa seeds were transplanted into the jiffy mix with 100% germination (minus one healthy seedling that was dropped). The seedlings were then placed next to a simple incandescent bulb. In the week or so following transplantation, the ring of spagnum moss around the seed head was kept moist until the seed head grew tall enough to rise above it. At this point, the seed head was misted occasionally. As you can see, theobroma cacao leaves are now beginning to emerge!

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