Sunday 21 April 2019

It's the season to gather nuts and berries to sow plants for next year, writes Gerry Daly

Time to gather nuts and berries to sow plants for next year, writes Gerry Daly

The best approach when collecting tree seeds is to put them in a plastic bag with some damp leaves
The best approach when collecting tree seeds is to put them in a plastic bag with some damp leaves

Gerry Daly

Autumn is the ideal time to collect tree seeds for sowing. Check to see if oaks in your area are shedding acorns if you want to raise some young trees. Trees such as sycamore and ash are much more reliable about seeding, and produce reasonable crops in most years, though much more in some years. In fact, they are so prolific they can even be a nuisance in some gardens. Chestnut and sweet chestnut will be shedding seeds soon too, and small-seeded kinds, such as birch and alder can also be collected.

The best approach when collecting tree seeds is to collect them in a plastic bag with some damp leaves or leaf mould and to sow them immediately as many varieties lose viability if not sown right away.

Tree seeds can also be mixed with damp clean, sharp sand and stored outdoors for sowing in spring, but it is a lot easier to sow immediately now.

Make sure to mark the sowing site and keep it free of weeds in winter. Smaller trees and shrubs, such as cotoneaster, rhododendron and skimmia, produce viable seeds. Plump and filled with white or yellow endosperm, viable seeds contain the seedling and the energy to power germination.

Most tree species have on-years and off-years. In the latter, the tree builds up its stores of energy over a year or more, before producing a good crop of flower buds. These need good weather during the flowering period to actually set seeds. This is true for wind-pollinated trees, such as oak, beech, maple, hazel, birch and ash, and insect-pollinated trees, such as rowan, hawthorn, holly and lime.

Trees with berries like rowan, holly and hawthorn are very good this year. Berried seeds can be allowed to turn mushy and then sown in autumn outdoors, or mixed with coarse sand and left outdoors to sow in spring having had a cold winter spell.

Many perennial flowers are extremely easy to grow from seeds. So easy that quite a few self-sow freely in the garden, such as aquilegia, alchemilla, primula and dierama. These are obviously candidates for raising from seeds. The great advantage of raising perennials like this is that it is so cheap and produces large numbers, especially good if you have ground to fill. Plants raised from seed have other advantages. They usually come without disease and pests, and young seed-raised plants normally have excellent vigour.

Other examples to collect and sow include lupin, foxglove, African daisy, erigeron, hosta, achillea, hollyhocks, evening primrose, aquilegia, coreopsis, hellebores, aubretia, rudbeckia and centranthus.

Very many garden flowers set good seeds and these can be sown right away, or stored in paper envelopes in a cool place, or a fridge, and sown next year in spring or summer. The seeds are ready for collecting when the seed pod splits and usually the seeds have turned brown or black.

There is also the thrill of possibly raising a new variety and this happens surprisingly often with garden-collected seeds.

Annuals grow, flower and go to seed in one year. Examples include calendula, poppy, Californian poppy, nigella, nasturtium, cornflower, ammi, limnanthes and taller varieties like tobacco flower, sweet pea and sunflower, many ripening about now. You can leave these to self-sow, or collect them, taking the old stems away, lightly cultivate the soil and sow the seeds right-away, or air-dry them in the kitchen and pack into brown envelopes, keep cool and dry, or in a fridge. These and the other kinds of seeds, especially the larger ones, are an ideal way to teach children to have fun with plants.

Vegetables seeds can be saved, too, and the old-time gardeners mostly saved their own seeds. Most kinds are biennials, growing one year and carrying the next. Allow one or two plants deliberately to go to seed, removing others overgrown. Only the best healthy vegetables for seeds. Allow cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, lettuce or parsnip to go to seed and collect the seed for further use. A single plant can give many more times the seed that you are likely to need, especially big plants like cabbage which can be head-height. Leave seed plants now for next year.

Buy it

With the rains returning and the soil still warm, this is an ideal time to plant perennials, for quick establishment and a great show neat year, regardless of how the top growth is looking, Mount Venus Nursery autumn sale, in Rathfarnham, takes place from September 15-30, and offers discounts of between 20pc and 40pc;

Visit it

Fans of walled gardens will be delighted to hear that Neil Porteous, head gardener at Mount Stewart, garden historian Finola Reid, and historian and writer Terence Reeves-Smyth will all be speaking at the Walled Kitchen Gardens Network forum on October 13-14 held at the Clandeboye and Mount Stewart estates, both in Co Down. There will be talks, walks and forays to other nearby walled gardens. Tickets are £140 for full weekend and there's more information at walledgardensnet

Plant it

The plant of the moment is the autumn cyclamen which comes into flower between mid-August and mid-September. Paradoxically, it flowers earlier in a cool, wet summer, reacting to the weather. It produces perfect little nodding flowers, pink or white, on short stems in a cluster, before the leaves appear. These are ivy-like and silver-patterned.

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