Harvesting, cleaning, and storing Hosta seeds.
By Joshua Spece
Last revised January 22, 2008
Harvesting Hosta Seeds
After you have your first seed pods developing, the anticipation of what the seeds may hold can be excruciating! It is important to allow the seeds to completely mature before harvesting them. Immature seeds will have low, if any, germination - a frustrating result for all of your work.
Ripening Hosta Seeds in Sugar Water
Sometimes it is not possible to allow seeds to mature naturally on the plant. A scape may accidentally get broken or an early frost may be predicted. Hosta seeds will continue to mature if the entire scape is cut and stood in a jar of sugar water.
Completely dissolve one teaspoon of sugar in four ounces of water. If the sugar is not completely dissolved, it may form a thick syrup on the bottom of the jar. The syrup can clog the vascular system so that water can not be drawn up.
Every few days the jar should be emptied, rinsed, and refilled with new sugar water. At the same time, trim off one inch from the bottom of the scapes. This helps keep bacteria from plugging the scape. If a scum forms over the surface of the sugar water, that is a sign that it needs to be changed.
Keep the cut scapes in a bright spot, but out of direct sun. The scapes should be allowed to mature for at least six weeks after being pollinated. The longer they can be kept going, the better your chances of harvesting viable seed.
Hosta seeds are generally mature six weeks after pollination. It is useful to keep track of the time if you are using late blooming Hostas as pod parents. Some cultivars and species bloom so late, the seeds may not have time to mature before the first frost. Ideally, it is best to leave the pods on the plant until they begin to turn yellow. When the pods begin to turn yellow, it is a sign that the seeds are mature. When cool fall weather arrives, keep a close watch on the pods. Once they start turning, they can split open in just a couple days and your prized seeds will be lost!
Hosta seed pods can be picked and placed in envelopes or paper lunch bags. Any information should be written on the outside. The envelopes can then be kept in a dry, cool spot to allow the pods to dry.
Cleaning Hosta Seeds
Extracting the seeds from the pods is much easier if the pods are thoroughly dry. This may take several weeks. Many pods will split open on their own and most of the seeds will fall out. Then it's just a matter of picking out the last few seeds.
The pods that don't split open will have to be opened by hand. This is not a hard job if you only have a few pods, but is very time consuming on a larger scale.
Some intuitive hybridizers use a series of sieves to separate the seeds from the debris. The pods are crushed into the larger of two sieves. The seeds and small debris fall through into the smaller sieve. The contents are then firmly ground into the sieve. The debris, including the black seed wing, falls through, leaving behind perfectly cleaned seed kernels. Appropriate sized sieves can make quick work of cleaning large amounts of seed.
Mature, viable seeds are black and flat. At one end of the papery wing is a small, swollen kernel. That is the actual seed. The wing is just there to help the wind disperse the seed. Any white seeds failed to mature for whatever reason. Tiny, black grains that lack a wing are ovules that were not fertilized by the pollen. Anything other than plump kernelled seeds can safely be discarded.
Storing Hosta Seeds
Hosta seed can be planted immediately after harvesting. No stratification or other special treatment is needed to promote germination. If the seed isn't going to be planted right away, if can be stored indefinitely.
If you plan to start your seed within two or three months of harvesting, nothing special needs to be done. Just keep the seeds in a cool, dry location. An air tight container in the refrigerator is ideal, but leaving the seeds in their envelopes in cool room is fine, too.
Hosta seeds should be frozen for long term storage. Place the seeds in a sealed, air tight container and keep them in the freezer. Many people have reported keeping Hosta seeds in the freezer for years, with no loss of viability.
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