Tag Archive | seeds

Hostas from Seeds

Note: this article first appeared in our July 2019 member newsletter

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Many who know me, know that I’m somewhat fanatical about hostas. Okay, I’m a lot fanatical. To fuel my obsession, I recently discovered several Facebook groups dedicated to hosta gardeners – the American Hosta Society, the Science of Hosta and Hosta Auctions are just a few. It’s a great community of gardeners united around their affinity for what many consider the “friendship plant.” The groups that intrigue me the most are Hosta Seedlings and Growers of Hosta Seeds.

I’ve loved starting vegetable and annual flower seeds for years. Many flower seeds that are started in March will already have blooms in late May. I’ve not really ventured into starting perennials, but seeing some of the seedlings featured in the Facebook group, I’m hooked!

After a hosta flowers, it will often produce a seed pod – one for each bloom. Some hostas are sterile or rarely set seeds. Included in this list are the common varieties of Krossa Re- gal, Undulata, Royal Standard, and others. There are more than 8,000 registered varieties and most will produce seed. however, the vast majority of offspring will look nothing like the parent plant. The only exception is the hosta species known as Ventricosa. It reproduces through asexual embryo formation and its offspring are identical to the parent.

Many new hostas that are introduced to the market are created by intentionally crossing different varieties. Cross-pollination is done by gathering pollen from the anthers of one plant and applying it to the stigma of another. Breeders hope to combine the best traits of two plants into one. Perhaps they want to capture the rippled edge of Dancing Queen and combine it with the upright form of Silver Star to produce an upright rippled hosta. Other traits may include color, corrugation, cupping, size, growth habit, flower, a waxy or shiny leaf, and the list goes on.

Of course, there’s the old-fashioned way of cross-pollination – just letting the bees do the job. Open pollination can produce some beautiful varieties, too. The hard part is culling seedlings and determining which are worth keeping and which end up in the compost heap. Some hybridizers will grow a hosta seedling for a couple years before deciding whether they will register it or not. Hostas are notorious for not showing their full glory until maturing for a couple years.

I’ve collected several open pollinated varieties from my yard and also purchased some streaked seed crosses on- line – this is the most promising way to get streaked or variegated varieties.

Tips for Starting Seeds

  • Collect hosta seeds in the fall and store them in a cool dry place or your refrigerator. Hybridizers are currently pursuing hostas with red petioles that reach up into the leaf, as well as hostas with yellow and red flowers. They do not need stratification, so they can be planted at any time.
  • Plant about a dozen seeds per each small cup (with drain- age), or in flats filled with a sterile seed starting mix.
  • Remember to label your containers.
  • Moisten the mix and press seeds on top, then cover with black plastic – hosta seeds do not need light to germinate. The black plastic helps retain moisture and also minimize algae and pests.
  • Once they germinate, remove from darkness and cover with a clear plastic cover, then place under grow lights.
  • Do not let seedlings dry out – keep mix consistently moist, but not wet. Water from a bottom tray.
  • Once they grow to the three-leaf stage, add a week fertilizer.
  • Check out this website for much more detailed information and try your hand at hybridizing hostas!



Giantland Sunny Mouse Ears

Wisconsin hybridizer, Jeff Miller of Land of the Giants Hosta Farm in Milton, has several varieties he’s introduced to the market. Among them is Giantland Sunny Mouse Ears – the first gold variety of the popular Mouse Ears miniature hosta series. It is an unconventional pairing of ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ and ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’ with very thick, round chartreuse leaves.

One of his latest introductions is Giantland Garden Goddess. He named it in honor of his wife, Penny.




Appleton Seed Library

by OCMGA Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn, Interviewed by Master Gardener Bev Kindschy

Appleton Seed Library is a relatively new endeavor that has gained a strong following in a short amount of time. Master Gardener Bev Kindschy interviewed Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn who envisioned the program and has been behind its success.

What is the history behind Appleton Seed Library? ASL was conceptualized in the winter of 2015. Throughout the course of the next year, I studied the history of seed libraries, visited four different branch locations within our state, attended the annual Seed Savers Conference in Decorah, Iowa, worked on design elements/handouts, took seed saving courses, and created the vision and execution to open the “drawers” at Appleton Public Library. For me, I really wanted to promote community building, elevate the importance of heirloom seed saving, and engage in collecting the stories of seeds themselves. Being an artist by nature, the idea of curating a creative project like this was a great fit.

What was the need you saw? Seeds are an overlooked link to human survival. Historically, seeds have always been a shared commodity; today we face their control, patenting and stricter regulations. After listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” interview about seed libraries, it helped me understand the importance of seed biodiversity, appreciate local flavor via produce and the importance of creating a common place for like-minded folks to share in this seed based reciprocity. The ecological impact, enjoyment of growing seed to seed and the nutritional aspect all resonate with me. Regionally, the closest seed library is in Waupaca, so the need for one in the Fox Cities was present.

How did grant writing go? All seed libraries are designed, governed and established in various ways. Having some “seed money” was a clear need I identified early on. As I considered all the ways to raise money to launch the program, I was connected with the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley. Learning the grant writing process was fairly easy because I had a niche that definitely could impact a diverse array of patrons and help promote sustainability. What hurdles did you have? The biggest hurdle I face is the lack of other core members to help maintain, grow and foster the potential behind all that a seed library could be for a community.

What successes? The heirloom seed sharing community is generous; I’ve connected with an array of wonderful large and grassroots seed companies that are working hard to maintain seed diversity and heritage. I’ve successfully held a celebratory ‘Seedy Saturday’ event to celebrate the years we’ve been open to the public; both years have drawn over 100 community members. I’ve created a ‘Seed Stewards’ program that helps to maintain seed stock inventory. In 2017, we had five local growers signed up to grow our various seeds and that number is rising for 2018.

What is the status of your project today? April 2018, we celebrated our two year
of seed sharing and seed education. We’ve dispersed over 2,000 seed packets and have held over a dozen hands on learning and educational workshops. We continue to remain open to various community partnerships, and will begin working to integrate our seeds into local school garden programs.

Do you have any call to action? To impact the community as I’d envisioned, I definitely need more OCMG’s to step into various roles; organization, volunteer support, education, long range planning, seed packing, etc. I also wish to document local seed stories from people who have acquired saved seeds from a lineage of past growers. If you know an old farmer/gardener or personally have seeds that you save from year to year, I’d love to set up interviews. I’m looking to develop a core group of OCMG seed savers to assist in sustaining the seed stock which would be a more intensive mentorship than our current ‘Seed Stewards’ program.


For more information about seed saving and the Seed Savers Exchange, read our previous blog here.

Our Vegetable Inheritance

downloadAmong food and garden lovers alike, the current buzzword for value is heirloom, a very good description of open-pollinated vegetable seeds. Unlike hybrids, heirlooms can be saved year after year, and although we always think of the word as extending toward the past, it’s just as relevant to the future: heirlooms aren’t just what our great-grandparents grew, they are also the varieties we can leave to our great-grandchildren.

Heirlooms are most famous for offering great flavor and for enabling the gardener to “grow your own” from start to finish. But they offer a lot more than freedom from the need to buy seed every year.

Adaptability, for instance. Heirlooms are the special province of individuals and of small, regional seed companies, who do not need to sell zillions of packets in order to make a profit; and that means they tend to be better attuned to specific local conditions (drought in the Southwest, humidity in the Southeast, cold in the North) than “one size fits all” hybrids.

Hybrids are created through carefully controlled parentage, and as a result they are uniform. Every plant will be about the same size, and it will bear its fruit in the same narrow time frame. These characteristics are important to the mechanized operations of commercial growers, but they don’t do much for home gardeners.

And though hybrid varieties are often disease resistant, they are identically so. If a disease strikes that they cannot resist, every single plant will suffer.

Heirlooms, on the other hand, are individuals. Even when they are grown from seeds that came in the same packet, each plant is subtly different from every other. They grow and ripen unevenly, so you get a longer harvest period. And they are unevenly vulnerable to diseases. When trouble strikes, some plants will no doubt be afflicted, but others may come through.

All this is not to say there’s no place for hybrids, but hybrids are not in danger. It’s heirlooms that rely on home gardeners for their continued survival, heirlooms that offer independence, and heirlooms that give gardeners a chance to do their part for the preservation of genetic diversity.

To learn more, and to gain access to a huge assortment of delicious possibilities, consul the Garden Seed Inventory, available from Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101; (563) 382-5990; http://www.seedsavers.org. It explains, eloquently, why heirlooms are important. And it is the source of sources, listing very nearly all the open-pollinated (nonhybrid) vegetable seeds available commercially in the United States, along with the names and addresses of the companies that supply them.

Within OCMGA, we have a dedicated group of members working with Seed Savers — watch this blog for an article about their efforts.

Sunflowers for Birds


Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflower

Time to start planning that flower garden for this summer. Sunflowers are one of the best plants you can have in your garden. You can attract the following bird species: cardinals, chickadees, house finches, titmice, grosbeaks, nuthatches, goldfinches, red-bellied woodpeckers, and pine siskins.

Pick the Right Variety

You can find many sunflower options on the market today, but not all of them are suitable food sources for birds. When selecting sunflowers, make sure they produce a good supply of seeds. Some of experts’ top picks include Mammoth Grey Stripe, Paul Bunyan, and Aztec Gold.

Growing Tips

Sunflowers are truly one of the easiest plants to grow, but they do have a few requirements. They need at least six hours of sunlight per day and well-drained soil. They benefit from organic matter, and also keep the area under sunflowers mulched for better results.main-qimg-5977490348a0e3209b5297e1e5303e06-c

Ready for Seeds

Sunflowers have the best seed buffet in late summer to early fall. For longer harvest time, stagger your planting, early spring to midsummer. This way, you can attract birds for months.

Harvest Tip

Gather your sunflower heads, and put them in a dry place to dehydrate. You can then hang them out by your feeders, extending the sunflower season all the way into fall.



by Sharon Morrisey, Consumer Horticulture Agent in Milwaukee County

p1010092Get a head start on next year’s vegetable garden by making seed tapes during the cold, wintry months. Start by selecting carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, turnips, and mustard that you want to sow directly into the garden. Ordering these in January avoids the possibility that they have sold out.

Use two-ply toilet tissue or thin paper towels to make narrow strips to glue the seeds to. Space seeds according to the sowing instructions on the seed packet. White school glue or a paste made of flour and water will hold the seeds in place. Place a second layer of paper on top, or fold the strip in half lengthwise so you can cover the seeds while the glue is still wet. Roll or fold the tapes into bundles for storage until spring. Of course, it is critical to label the bundles immediately to avoid unpleasant surprises once planted and growing in the garden.

Next spring, create a wide furrow at the proper planting depth for each crop, place the seed tape in it, and cover with soil. Water gently and keep watered until germination occurs. The whole objective is to be able to avoid the nasty job of thinning seedlings. Not only is thinning seedlings laborious, it disturbs the ones left behind, sometimes causing irreparable damage.