Thursday, 17 October 2019

How to Grow Muscari Grape Hyacinth from Seeds

Over the years I have grown a lot of things from seed that I have been told are not possible, or are too difficult, or will have poor results, and are simply not worth my time.  Quite often this advice is given rather aggressively by people who have never attempted this, and never researched this, but are basing their rather strong opinions on - I don’t actually know what.  All I know is that they are usually overly aggressive in their advice and claim that anyone who considers otherwise is foolish.

I often try these things that I have been told not to try by these aggressive naysayers, but keep quiet, at very worst I will learn from the experience.  Usually I collect the seeds from fruit myself so it costs me nothing more than time.  I think spending a little time on a hobby and learning something is well worth the investment.

Sometimes the results are ok, other times they are rather poor, but more often than not my results are spectacular and I wonder why so many people tell me and everyone else not to try.  If our survival depended on crop success I could understand being over cautious and never trying anything new, but crop failure is not life and death here at the moment, so I don’t understand the reason not to be adventurous.

I mostly grow edible things, every now and again I dabble in ornamentals.  One thing that almost no one does anymore is grow flowering bulbs from seed.  Many are surprising easy to grow, while others are far more difficult.  Depending on the type of bulb it can take a few years before they can flower when grown from seed, others flower the year the same year the seed is planted.

One type of flower I have never tried to grow from seed before is muscari (Muscari armeniacum) also known as "grape hyacinth".  They are small, there are a few varieties around to cross, and they occasionally self-seed with no outside help, so this should not be a terribly difficult task. 
Grape hyacinth Muscari armeniacum seedlings

From looking on the internet it appears that very few home growers bother to grow grape hyacinth from seeds, and even less have written instructions on how they did it.  I did some research to try and find the best way to germinate muscari seeds but the advice was not consistent and was rather vague.

I found some vague instructions that said the seeds need cold stratifying, while others that say they do not need stratification but actually need cold germination.

Other than that I have found very little information, so I gave it a go anyway and figured that I would learn from it.  The seeds were from my existing plants, so I had little to lose.

I had a very limited genetic stock to work with the first year, so my crosses will likely end up looking much like the parent stock.  This is ok, this was about learning how to make the cross and germinate the seeds.  After I learn that I can try to get a few different varieties and aim to create something new.

Much like in fruit and vegetable breeding, I removed anthers from flowers before they matured and bagged the flowers from then until seed pods had formed.  This meant that any seed set was a result of my cross pollination attempts.  Collecting pollen was difficult as the flowers are small and the plants are low to the ground, I wiped the tip of my pocket knife across anthers and gently dabbed pollen on the stamens. 

You don't have to do any of this, but I wanted to learn how to cross different varieties in the future.  This year I have just allowed the plants to flower and set seed without intervention from me.  I will collect this seed when it is ripe.

I enjoyed a good success rate and ended up with a decent number of seeds to use. Once the flowers had finished I left the stalks with the seed pods on the plant to dry, then I collected their seeds.
Grape hyacinth seed pods - I had collected seed from all the good looking ones before I thought to take a picture

I was not certain how to germinate the seeds but figured they should go through the fridge.

I put seeds on damp paper in a plastic zip lock bag in the fridge, I had intended to take some seeds out after six weeks to see if they would then germinate in warm soil, but time got away from me.

Two months after being in the fridge the first seed germinated.  I planted that seedling and a few of the other non-germinated seeds in a pot of soil.  Those other seeds I planted never germinated.
Muscari seeds on damp paper towel and put in the fridge until they germinate

Around two and a half months a lot more seeds germinated in the fridge and were planted out, again I also planted out some of the other non-germinated seeds.  Again none of the other seeds have ever germinated.  They either germinate while they are in the fridge or they never germinate.

I left the remainder of the seeds in the fridge and they all germinated around 3 months after they were first put in the fridge.

Muscari seeds germinated and ready for planting

So far seeds have only germinated while they were still in the fridge, none of the seeds that had been in the fridge for a few months and then planted out prior to germinating have done anything.

They may need more time, or they may only germinate while cold, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that I can get most of my muscari grape hyacinth seeds to germinate if I just leave them in the fridge on damp paper and check on them every now and again.  That is pretty simple.

Three months seems like a long time to wait for germination.  Then again, leaving seeds in the fridge for three months and doing nothing works well and is simple enough.
Another batch of seedlings, I should use a larger pot but I ran out of them

From this I have learned to emasculate, pollinate, and bag muscari flowers to achieve high rates of seed set.  I have learned how to collect ripe seed and germinate a large percentage of the seeds.  I count this as a success.

I don’t know the best time to plant seeds, and I don't know anything about muscari genetics, so I still have a lot to learn. The young seedlings are best kept out of hard frost the first year, and they need reasonable watering the first year.  From year two I treat them the same as any flowering bulb.

I had assumed that most blue muscari grape hyacinth bulbs were pretty similar genetically meaning they would be pretty genetically homozygous and the seedlings would all be reasonably similar.  I am happy to say that this does not appear to be the case. 

Even at a few weeks old some seedlings were more robust and producing a thick bulbous base, others were still very spindly and grass like.  Some grew reddish stems while others were green.  Perhaps some of the flowers might look a little different, only time will tell.

Grape hyacinths - normally I wouldn't dig them at this time of year
More muscari bulbs - not great to dig them when actively growing like this

From here I need to find a few different muscari varieties so I can try some interesting crosses, then grow out the crossed seed and wait a few years and see what their flowers look like.  Being so small I should be able to fit a lot of muscari plants into a small amount of space.  They are pretty low maintenance, so the wait should not be unbearable.

It should only be about three years before I get to see the first flowers.  Once they flower I can divide the bulbs of the ones I like best.

If you want to grow grape hyacinth from seed you will either need to collect the seeds yourself, which is simple if you have a plant, or try to buy some seeds.  I can't find anywhere that sells muscari seeds so if you find somewhere even mildly reputable please let me know (not ebay as many ebay seeds are fake and the sellers are thieves).

I sell muscari seeds through my for sale page, they are simple to grow.  Unlike bulbs you get a lot of seeds for very little money, the only down side is they take a few years to flower. 

Until I learn how long grape hyacinth seeds remain viable I will only sell fresh seeds that are less than a year old.  My plants have now finished flowering again and I am waiting for the seed pods to dry a little more before I collect them.

2 comments:

  1. I am in the UK. I collected seed last autumn when the muscari heads had gone crispy and got round to cleaning the seeds of chaff 2-3 weeks later. Then I sprinkled the seed onto soil in smallish pots and lightly covered with more soil. The pots of seeds have been left outside, quite exposed, overwinter, with no further attention. It's been cold, frosty, snowy, and occasionally down to minus 7 degrees Celsius so far. They are now, mid-February, coming up in masses. I'll probably just sprinkle a bit more soil over when the seedlings look strong enough and leave them out for the rest of the year with some watering if dry. I intend to split them and replant in clumps in bigger pots in Autumn, just leave them in a corner of the garden again for a couple of years, and hope that I'll see flowers on them in year 3. Virtually no effort required. I've done the same alongside them with collected snakes head fritillary seeds with the same result.

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  2. Thanks for providing photos of Muscari seedlings! I have a patch of M. latifolium, plant among daylilies, that I had hoped would spread and fill itself in for early color in that bed. Today I noticed the whole bed is infested with tiny, grassy seedlings, each with a tiny, black, seed coat on the top. There are so many, I was initially horrified by the thought of an invasive weed, until I remembered shaking the Muscari seed heads all over the bed last fall. The information you provide, and especially the photos, verify that these are Muscari seedlings, which is a huge relief! Thanks!

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