Saturday, February 15, 2020

Pepper Seeds Slow to Germinate? Some MORE Tips

Home gardeners who grow their tomatoes from seed usually get fairly quick results after sowing the seeds indoors. Given the right germinating conditions - a soilless planting mix, good drainage, plenty of light, plenty of warmth - tomato seeds can pop up in 8-10 days.
Pepper seeds are a different story. Why is it some peppers can take weeks to germinate?

"The important thing in getting your (pepper) seeds to germinate is to keep them warm – the soil temperature should be in the 80's", says Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden, a popular seed catalog based in Felton, California. "Germination is very much related to even moisture and warm temperatures. You should see germination within 2 to 3 weeks if it's warm enough. I strongly suggest using bottom heat to achieve the warmth the seeds need – most good nurseries carry good little electric seed starting mats which will keep your seeds at the right temperature to sprout. A local mail order source is Peaceful Valley Farm Supply."
For those who want to comparison shop, another source for heating mats for your pepper seeds: Amazon.

Another trick that some gardeners employ is soaking the pepper seed for a few hours before sowing to soften the seed coat. The value of that is open to debate.

"I have never heard of soaking pepper seed overnight and have never done it in 20 years of running a trial garden,"  says Shepherd.

On the other hand, Professor Debbie Flower, formerly of the American River College Horticulture Department, sees the benefits of some "immersion therapy" for pepper seeds. "We soaked our pepper seeds in hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes," explains Flower. "That's not enough time to scarify (soften or break the seedcoat), or even get them soaked, but enough to kill exterior diseases."

Many sweet pepper varieties will show their initial leaves about two weeks after planting the seeds. But some varieties of peppers take longer to pop up than others. "The hot pepper varieties take longer to germinate, some to three weeks," says Flower.

But if you are experimenting with the really hot pepper varieties, such as the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper), it could take up to four months, says the Trade Winds Fruit website:
"Chinense species (e.g. Habanero's) generally take longer to germinate than most common peppers. Keep soil warm to very warm (75-90F) for better germination. Do not use acidic soil. Some Chinense peppers, in particular Bhut Jolokia, Naga Morich and related peppers are very slow to germinate, averaging 1-4 months germination time."

By the way, if you are growing the Bhut're playing with fire. The Ghost Pepper is rated at 850,000 Scoville units of heat. For comparison, the habanero rates 200,000; the Jalapeno is 5,000; the Anaheim equals 1,000. And sweet bell peppers? 0.
This is as hot as I can stand. The Inferno: 4,000 Scoville Heat Units

Another factor that can determine the rate of germination of pepper seeds: the pH of your seed starting mix. One of the most common ingredients in most seed starting mixes is peat moss, which is highly acidic, with a pH around 4.0. Pepper heads, including the Horticulture students at American River College, have found quicker germination when Coir (coconut fiber) is substituted for peat moss. Coir has a closer-to-neutral pH: around 6.5. The tests at American River College bear this out after trying Coir in their pepper seed soil mix. "We've had the best germination of peppers ever!" says Flower.

And don't be in a rush to set them out in their permanent garden home. "Pepper seedlings need to be grown out until they have at least several sets of true leaves, and it is at least 55° at night before you plant them out," explains Renee Shepherd.  "And they will need a little time to get used to being outdoors, as well."
Here in the Sacramento area, that would be around  mid-May. Be patient. 
Now, for the MORE tips portion: Since first posted eight years ago, this blog report has received a lot of attention. The beauty of that...lots of pepper growers have chimed in about their preferred methods for growing peppers.
One method that was seconded by many: germinate your pepper seeds in between two moist paper towels in a room that is between 70 and 80 degrees. For many, that room might be the kitchen or bathroom. When the "tails" appear after about 6 or 7 days (the tails, by the way, are the emerging roots), gently transplant them into a moist, seed starting mix, preferably one that uses the more neutral coir instead of the lower pH peat moss. Or, make your own. My preferred home mix consists of equal parts coir, perlite and fine compost. 
The improvements I would make to that germination suggestion? Use coffee filters instead of paper towels. That way, the emerging root doesn't get tangled, as happens when using fibrous paper towels. Pulling out germinated seeds from paper towels may be hazardous to their health.
Also, to insure a warm environment, here's something you could do in just about any indoor room: place the moist coffee filters, containing the pepper seeds, inside a glass baking pan. Place that on top of a germination mat. Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap to keep it warmer. I tried this at home, pepper seeds germinated with six days.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Fall, Winter Storms vs. Your Trees


40-50 mph winds + several inches of rain over a few hours = the recipe for a typical winter storm in much of California. 


TV news crews rush to the most photogenic damage during these rare occasions: downed trees, usually leaning against a house or crushing a car.

Without the correct care of the trees on your property, winter storms and trees will not get along. Most susceptible are the trees that keep their leaves year round, such as eucalyptus and camphor, along with the conifer family: pines, firs, redwoods and cedars. All that mass of greenery acts as a sail in a heavy wind, bending trees at ridiculous angles. Another cause of winter tree failure is crown rot, which despite its name, refers to the deterioration of the root system near the base of the tree. Combine that with a couple of inches of rain onto already saturated soils, and you have tree roots heaving towards the surface, leading to these pictures popping up on the TV news:


If this is the view from your window, the day after a major rain and wind storm is not necessarily the best day for the gardener to tackle the hazardous task of cleaning up the remnants of trees, shrubs and other plants that took a beating. If wind and rain is still in the forecast, the prevalence of slippery conditions and the chance of more falling debris should limit your cleaning chores to dragging broken branches away from the scene of the crime. It is not a good day to be climbing ladders or scrambling into trees while balancing a chain saw. Leave that to the professionals.

Arborists offer this good piece of advice for those surveying the fallen aftermath of a major storm: Limb failure is largely a product of poor tree maintenance over time. Take care of your trees, or they may take care of themselves in ways you won't appreciate.
According to the University of California publication, "Inspect Your Landscape Trees for Hazards", a nice day in autumn (or winter, spring or summer, for that matter) is the time to take an inventory of any possible future tree damage before you, your house or your car becomes the next victim of a falling tree or branch.

Leaning Trees: Are your trees not as upright as the result of recent heavy winds? Can you see newly upheaved roots or soil around those trees? Then, immediate action is required: call in a professional, certified, bonded and insured arborist to do an onsite inspection and offer a solution (find one near you at Newly leaning trees are an imminent hazard. 
If you have a tree that has leaned for a number of years, that tree can still be a hazard during wet, windy weather. Taking periodic photographs can help you determine if a greater lean is developing.

Multiple Trunked Trees: This co-dominant condition can result in breakage of major tree parts during storms. Usually, these trunks are weakly attached. Inspect the point where the two trunks meet; if you see splitting beginning, call in an arborist.

Weakly Attached Branches: Trees with many branches arising from the same point on the trunk are prone to breaking during wind storms. Prune out any split branches. Thin out multiple branches.

Hanging or Broken Branches: If you see storm damaged branches hanging from the tree, remove them as soon as possible. This includes removing any completely broken branches that may be resting elsewhere in the tree's canopy.

Cracks in Trunks and Branches: Measure the depth of any cracks with a ruler. If those cracks are more than three inches deep, call in an arborist to determine the best course of action.

Dead Branches/Trees: Branches or entire trees that have completely died are very likely to come tumbling down in a storm. Dead branches are most noticeable in the summer when the tree is in full leaf.

Cavities and Decay: Large, open pockets where branches meet the trunk, or at the base of the trunk, can mean big trouble. The presence of mushrooms on the bark or on exposed roots may indicate wood decay. Call in an arborist.

The Arbor Day Foundation website has this animated guide to proper pruning techniques.

Also: Tips for Hiring an Arborist. 

And, an illustrated guide for pruning large branches (which are branches that are greater than the thickness of your thumb): the three-cut method.