Saturday 26 March 2016

What's your poison ?

Spring is finally with us, with all its excitement and pleasures - and one of the greatest is seed sowing.

This season we will concentrating on our new subtropical area in the garden, and I am thoroughly enjoying propagating new plants to fill it with.

We have bought some 'big boys' - tree ferns, hardy palms and a phormium, but I am growing lots of 'infill', both flowers and foliage, to give the area a feeling of lush, abundant growth which is fundamental to exotic gardening.

One of the best annual fillers for exotic foliage is Ricinus, and I have grown some every year for a very long time. Not only are the leaves dramatic, but the seedpods are unusual too, almost like colourful sweet chestnuts!

I usually just sow and grow one single packet every spring, but because there is plenty of bare earth to fill, in the new garden, I am growing a bumper packet of 5 varieties from Jungle Seeds.

The varieties included in this packet are :

Ricinus Carmencita Red - a measly  5' tall !

Ricinus Carmencita Pink - same measly 5' !

Ricinus New Zealand Purple - a new one on me, but it sounds fantastic as it grows to 7' and has dark, shiny foliage.

Ricinus Blue Giant - lives up to its name and reaches up to 10', with large glaucous leaves

Ricinus Zanzibarensis - can reach up to 10' in a season!

Although I have never had any problems with germination of Ricinus seeds in the past, I decided to sow one packet early (Carmencita Pink), to compare with height and health of later grown plants. In the past germination rates have been high - so they should be, as the seeds are quite expensive.  I was extremely disappointed with the germination rate of the Carmencita seeds, which I sowed in early February, as up to date there has only been one seed which germinated.

Now, this could be due to my bad guardianship, or to a rogue batch of seeds, or to a million other reasons, but one thing is for sure - I want to give the other Ricinus seeds the very best chance of germination.

So, I went online and did my research, and, yes, someone has conducted trials regarding the optimum conditions for germination! In the trial 4 ways to treat the Ricinus seeds were used. One group were not soaked at all, one group was soaked for 12 hours, one group for 24 hours and one group for 36 hours. A significantly higher percentage germinated after 24 hours soaked in water. Q.E.D.

I must stress at this point that Ricinus seeds are extremely poisonous and should be handled with great care. I make sure that mine are stored in a safe place, and that they are never left lying around at any stage. I wash my hands well after handling them, and I even threw the tubs away that these seeds were soaked in.

After my failure with 'Carmencita Pink', I made sure I followed sowing instructions closely,and, once  the other seeds were sown, I put them all in the propagator to cook. 

In the photo below, the plant you can see on the far left is the only 'Carmencita Pink' to germinate. It is growing strongly, and enjoying the light and warmth. I will be interested to see how it compares to the others throughout the season. Will the others catch up in height, or will its early start be a benefit?