Garden, 35: 11 (January 5, 1889)
Conifers From Seed

In raising the different hardy Conifers from seed, the treatment given them will depend to a great extent upon the quantity of seed it is intended to sow, for where large quantities of plants are raised, the seed of many kinds is sown in the open ground, and generally a sheltered border is chosen for the purpose. But with small quantities of seeds, or in the case of choice or delicate kinds, by far the better way, and that usually followed, is to sow them in pans or boxes, which are protected by a frame during the earlier stages of the young plants. In the case of seeds that are to be sown in the open border, the general way is to prepare the soil for their reception by raking it to a fine and even surface. On this the seed is sown, gently patted down with the back of the spade, and then covered with some finely-sifted soil. The depth at which the seeds are covered will depend upon their size. For the smallest a quarter of an inch will be sufficient; while in the case of the large kinds an inch is not too much. The soil prepared for covering the seeds should be of an open, sandy nature, and it is an advantage if some charcoal dust is mixed with it, as this tends to prevent the young seedlings damping off. If there is none at band, wood ashes are a good substitute. The best time to sow seeds in the open ground is about April, as the soil will then have been nicely pulverised by the winter's frost and just in condition for seed sowing. Besides this, there is all the growing season before the young plants, which pass through their most critical stage before the winter. When the seed is sown, a few Spruce branches laid over the bed will be of service to prevent too rapid an evaporation, and thereby assist the germination of the seeds. By some, the seeds are sown in drills, but the better way is to sow them in beds, taking care, however, not to make them too wide. A very convenient width is about 4 feet, as from either side it is easy to reach half way across. The spring following the sowing, or at most the next year, the young plants must be bedded out in rows, and afterwards transplanted as they require it. Great care must be taken where Spruce branches are employed not to leave them on too long, as the seedlings must, as soon as large enough to handle, be at once removed, and if possible a dull, damp day should be chosen for the purpose. A sharp look-out must be kept for mice, which will often do considerable damage, not only by eating many seeds, but by turning up a great many more than they devour, and if not quickly covered the (perhaps germinating) seed soon perishes. Where it is intended to sow the seed under glass it does not much matter at what time of the year the operation is carried out, though the spring is the best, but still the principal thing to consider in this respect is not to keep the seed out of the ground any longer than is absolutely necessary. Whether pots, pans, or boxes are used for sowing the seed matters little, butt hey should be quite clean and supplied with ample drainage in the bottom. Over this may be placed a little rough soil, and the pot, pan, or box should then be filled to about an inch of the top with a compost consisting principally of good open loam, with an admixture of sand and leaf mould. When this soil is prepared, that which is intended for covering should be passed through a sieve with a quarter of an inch mesh, when the rough portions of the compost will be available for placing immediately over the drainage material. As in the case of seed sown in the open ground, a little powdered charcoal or wood ashes mixed with the soil is of service. When preparing the soil for the reception of the seed it should be pressed down moderately firm and made quite level on the surface. Then, in sowing the seed, overcrowding must be guarded against, and the soil having been lightly sprinkled on and watered through a fine rose, the pans, or whatever is used, are then ready to be removed to a frame. This should have a good bed of coal ashes in the bottom, as by this means thorough drainage is ensured, and the worms are also kept out. This last is a very important consideration, and if coal ashes are not used, some other means must be resorted to in order to prevent the ingress of worms. After sowing, all the attention necessary is to keep the soil in an equal state of moisture, and to open the lights of the frame a little way in order to allow of a free circulation of air, and directly the young plants make their appearance the lights must be kept off entirely, or, at all events, put on only in the event of very heavy rains. This last is especially necessary in the case of some kinds which are rather apt to damp off during their earlier stages, and this is, of course, often brought on by an unusually heavy watering. A sharp look-out must be kept for the first signs of decay, which are readily noticed, as the young plants thus affected fall over, for the seat of the mischief is almost invariably just above the soil, at what is usually termed the collar of the plant. Where large quantities of one kind exist, a good deal may be done to arrest the disease by keeping the soil rather drier and still continuing to expose the plants to as much air as possible, but where the aim is to raise every available plant, the better way, on the first appearance of decay among the seedlings, is to prick them off into other soil. For this the boxes or pans should be prepared in the same way as for sowing, except that the soil is only just below the rim, and the young plants must then be carefully dibbled in at such a depth that the seed leaves are just clear of the soil. In pricking off the utmost care must be taken of the young and fragile roots, and for this purpose the piece of wood employed as a dibble must not be too sharply pointed, otherwise the roots are all pressed together, while they are better if somewhat spread out. Care should also be taken that the soil is made firm around the roots, as a common error is, in the first place, to make the hole prepared for the young plant deeper than necessary, and while towards the surface the soil is pressed tightly together, a cavity is left at the bottom, which is very likely to cause the death of the young plant. From the boxes or pans the next shift should be into sheltered beds in the open ground, and in every case pot culture should after this be avoided, as the roots of most Conifers are very difficult to disentangle when once they have been grown in a pot, for they do not ramify to the extent that those do which have not been curtailed in this manner, and, consequently, even when they attain the dimensions of good-sized specimens these pot-grown trees are very liable to be blown over by the wind. Should it, however, be desired to plant out a Conifer that has been grown in a pot, the roots must be carefully disentangled.