Trouble growing seedlings of acid loving plants

alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)May 23, 2011


I posted this to the seed growing forum, but haven't gotten any feedback.

The last two years I have tried to grow sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) from seed. Plenty of the seeds germinate, but they don't progress past the cotyledon stage. I kept a couple wintergreen seedlings alive for 6 months, and they never got true leaves.

I've been able to grow a wide variety of plants from seed, only these two have given me problems. I'm guessing that it's not a coincidence that they are both acid loving plants from the family Ericaceae.

I've tried regular miracle grow potting mix as well as the 5-1-1 mix with half the usual amount of lime. That is, I used 1/2 Tbsp per gallon, hoping to keep it more acidic.

Any tips for growing these kinds of plants from seed?


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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

One of the best ways of growing ericaceae of all kinds from seed is to sow on a layer of live moss. The type is not critical, but should be at least a little "shaggy" like haircap moss.

Establish the moss in a good sized flat over a bottom layer of peat based potting mix. Then sow the seed. Cover with a plastic bag to retain a moist atmosphere. Keep out of direct sun - fluorescent lights are fine.

Once the seeds germinate, gradually remove the plastic, but maintain a humid atmosphere by frequent light misting. It's also a good idea to use rain water or distilled water rather than tap water. You can add a water soluble fertilizer intended for acid loving plants at 1/4 to 1/3 strength.

Transplant once one or two sets of true leaves are present. It's interesting to grow this type of plant from seed, but it's a (very!) long term project for most genera.

Once the seeds germinate

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 5:08AM
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Yes, Alex, a long term growing project. My method in the nursery was to have one cold frame devoted to sprouting acid growing plants. The soil mix was 1/3 milled peat moss, 1/3 sand and 1/3 gently scooped up surface soil from areas where acid lovers grew naturally plus composted soil. No lime. Whenever available I would add 'stump dirt' from decaying woodland fallen trees/tree stumps to the mix. This combination is loaded with native Mycorrhizal fungus. Sow seeds in fall when ripe. Water well and close frame for winter. Uncover in spring. Keep moist through that growing season. Close frame and leave through another winter. The next early spring pot those that are ready. Leave the rest through another winter and growing season.

Potting soil was mixture of peat moss, medium grind pine bark and a good compost type soil. Do not use Miracle Grow soil. I fertilized lightly throughout the growing process with liquid seaweed. I just found this the easiest way to handle acid growers including the two you are trying to grow. a search on the Propagating Forum for my 'Toothpick Technique' which is an easy method to propagate Sourwood.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 9:45AM
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alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)

Thank you both for the tips!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 11:43PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Here I am, late as usual.

In August of last year, I started some sourwoods in a mix of peat moss and vermiculite. They sprouted (much to my surprise) pretty quickly under flourescent lights set at 16 hours a day. After a month, I transplanted them into individual pots (they were still in cotyledon stage) and watered them with 10-45-10 fertilizer at 1/2 teaspoon per gallon. I also added 1/2 teaspoon of 70% sulfuric acid per 2.5 gallons of water, since our water is quite hard. Now in February, they are 6 inches to 1 foot tall (I fertilized them every 2 weeks), and I am going to plant them out come spring!

Just what I've tried, sorry to bore you!!!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 9:59PM
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