Category: Gardening

Variegated seedlings

Mostly I’ve been posting to my Instagram account lately, but I wanted to share a free pride and joys. I had enough Christmas cash to splurge on some more rare seeds even though my seed starting is a bit full up. I ordered some variegated haworthia maughanii seeds off Japanese hybrids that ran about $1 per seed. On top of the difficulty germinating, there’s no guarantee that the offspring would be variegated. The likelihood should be about 12-25%.

Gambling wise I did well, even though I had a mishap with a variation I made in my sowing technique that led to losing a lot of the seedlings. But I have at least three that are showing signs of variegation, and one older Bayeri seedling that spontaneously developed variegation that shouldn’t have. Happy surprises!

Now to wait 3-5 years for an adult size plant. With luck until then!

This guy is doing the thing where the roots push the seedling out of the soil instead of digging in, but other than being askew so far it’s developing at a good pace nonetheless.

Cotyledon ‘Bear Paw’ : seed harvesting

A while ago I experimented with cross pollinating my bear paw succulent and was happy to find I got viable seeds.  It’s a little unusual to harvest the seeds, however, as you don’t get the traditionally looking seed pod. Here’s a quick visual guide to help show what you might expect.

The flowers, after pollination, dry out and become brittle. Since there’s no visual pod to watch for signs of splitting, my cue is to look for the stem just below the flower to whither and dry out. In the image below, the flower on the left is ready.

After removing the flower, the original flower petals must be removed.  They are joined, and if you can carefully pull one lip down, it will usually peel off all the way around like an onion skin.

Inside, you will find the cluster of the actual seed pods. They are long and thin, and the casing is usually curled in a ‘u’ shape along a roll of the actual seeds. The easiest way I have found to harvest the seeds is to gently break the top off of the cluster of pods and then gently roll the bundle between my fingers over top of a container to catch the falling seeds.

The seeds will be extremely tiny, and you may get a bit of chaff from the pods; I’ll remove the larger pieces of chaff with tweezers, and then leave the seeds to dry in the open air a few weeks before sowing.

For a substrate, I have used a mix that is equal parts compost (or peat mix), perlite, Horticultural sand, and vermiculite.  Make sure the potting mix is sterile and moistened, and then I will gently sprinkle the seeds over the surface of the soil with my fingers. I generally dab the tip of my finger into the seed container, at which point several seeds will stick to the skin and then gently rub my thumb and forefinger over the soil mix to shake the seeds free onto the soil. I sow pretty densely. Mostly this is because the seeds will be impossible to see once they land on the substrate. Mist lightly and cover.  Once the seeds begin sprouting, I have uncovered and relied on a misting periodically and a drench every few days.  The watering timeline will change depending on your soil mix, the size of your pot, and environmental conditions, so I unfortunately can’t give a solid answer on how frequently to water at this point. There is a silver lining that you can take heart in.  Compared to other succulents from seed, the Bear Paws seen more resilient to variations in humidity and moisture, but you still want to keep them generally on the humid and moist side early on.

Given the small size of the seeds, it takes a bit for them to get a decently large size; it will be probably a few months before you start to see the first true leaves emerge.

I am not 100% clear on whether or not the bear paw is self-fertile, but I suspect they are not and it will require two different plants to successfully pollinate. I have not had too much difficulty pollinating by hand with a brush, and I am fortunate in the fact that I believe the pot of Bearpaw I have actually has two unique plants in the same pot.

It’s a little hard to tell from the picture because each plant has branched near the base, but there does appear to be two clusters of Branches near the soil line. If you have two plants, or are lucky enough to have a large pot with this scenario, it’s a fun little project and relatively easy on the scale of succulents from seed.  If your plans are anything like mine they also bloom with surprising regularity, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to give it a try!

Haworthia seedlings: pushing out

Since I can’t stress the importance of sterilization enough when talking about sowing succulent seeds… I will say that I’ve toyed with different methods of sterilizing the seeds (and the husks) themselves.  I used to use a diluted bleach solution, but I was afraid that might be too effective and decrease germination rates.  I’ve started using, instead, a diluted peroxide solution, which some university studies have shown can increase germination rates and vigor.

After talking about it in a succulent seeders group, I decided I had enough seeds from my home-grown hybrid to run a controlled experiment; same batch of seeds, same age, same tray, but three groups: one with a pre-soak in tap water, one with a pre-soak in diluted peroxide, and one with no pre-soak.

The biggest difference seems to be in performing a presoak of any kind.  Both of the presoaked varieties showed speedier times to germination, and initial vigor in the first few weeks was noticeable.  Over time this early jump start has given these groups quite a boost.  There’s an advantage to the peroxide solution, but it’s a smaller margin compared to plain tap water (a few days) and overall, the germination rates stayed pretty even – but this may be because my self-harvested seed was incredibly fresh, and seems to be a vigorous hybrid on its own.

However, as time has passed, an interesting nuance has developed that may indicate this jump start has a downside.  The section of the tray that was presoaked for four hours in the diluted peroxide started having a problem wherein the roots grew fast and did not penetrate the soil as effectively; instead of pulling the seedlings down into the soil, they ended up pushing the plantlets up and out of the soil to the point they flopped over. Some of these plantlets developed secondary roots that then anchored them, sideways, where they fell; as the original roots grew, they pushed out from the plantlet and against the soil, arcing into the air.  This is bad – exposed roots can dry out and die; plantlets in direct contact with damp soil increases the odds of fungus problems or rot.  You’ll see in this picture numerous plants with exposed roots, laying on their side.

Some of the roots were too long to simply prop the plantlets up and spoon new seedling mix in to cover the exposed root.


Despite being three months old (only), I decided I needed to address this before I started losing some; with a toothpick and a gentle hand on a pair of tweezers, I extricated as many of the wayward seedlings as I could.  Within the tray I either tried to create spots where I could bore a space to replant them (shoving roots down with the toothpick before nudging the soil mix to backfill the holes) or taking the ones with the most erraticly shaped roots and repotting them in a taller 2″ plastic square pot – the kind I normally use when I separate them out into individual containers around the 1 year mark, except I loaded them up four to a pot (since haworthia seedlings seem to have increased vigor the more densely they grow together).

Adding a bit more fresh mix on top and then spritzing around the fresh replants seemed to work, for now – but time will tell if they rebound from the disturbance.  I’ve generally tried to wait until around the 1 year mark to prick out seedlings and repot them, but these seemed vigorous and fast growing enough I’m hoping they do fine and this ended up more help than hindrance.  I’m not convinced that the fault lay in the presoak, but it seems suspicious the problem was marginally present (3/22) in the water presoaked section, and heavily present in the peroxide presoaked section (around 8/24 of seedlings).


Peroxide presoaks will likely continue to be part of my regimen, but it may necessitate adding a bit more grit on top of the seedlings once they start germination to make sure they anchor into the substrate adequately.