Wednesday, October 01, 2008

That Seedy Time of Year ...

Fall has fully descended upon us at this point, with crisp, generally clear days and even crisper nights, and normally, this means a severe lack of firepower in the garden (except for the Toad Lilies now gloriously in bloom ... more on them soon). Not so with our friendly volunteer Celsosia sports depicted in this first shot! Wow, orange, red and yellow all rolled into one place where they decided to grow this year ... I just couldn't resist posting this particular shot to demonstrate the sheer variety of their various incarnations this year. I'll refrain from my usual sales pitch (you've heard it before!), just to say that I am really glad these little guys come back for us every year ... though they may be slow to get going in mid-summer, by fall they're really into their true glory and add some sorely needed punches of color to the front boulder bed. Farewell Coneflowers and Hibiscus, buh bye Bee Balm, you've long since given up the ghost of blooming and are looking, well, pretty seedy, which ties nicely into what I'd like to discuss briefly here tonight ... seed collection.
This shot shows one of the yellow sports out front in full seed production mode ... and if you grow Celosia, you're probably aware of this stage, when they lose their brilliant colors and become rather non-descript while they put on the tiny promises of flowers to come in the following year. If you're interested in collecting (or merely broadcasting) seed, this is the time to pay close attention to them as they gradually take on that sort of dirty white and fluffy aspect, because they're producing literally hundreds (if not thousands) of tiny shiny black seeds in those puffy white little pods. At this point, the gardener has a couple of options: let them go at frost and do nothing other than pull the dead plants and shake them around the garden a bit, or if one decides to take the industrious route (which I often avoid, I must admit), and collect the seeds to either broadcast around sunny areas of the garden or save to sow in early spring the following year. In either case, some seeds are bound to get inadvertently broadcast in the garden because collection is imprecise to say the least. I usually put a plastic grocery bag over the seed heads when they are fully dried (usually after frost), and just shake the seeds out or just cut the stalk, hang it upside down with a bag around it. If you choose the latter method, make sure to keep them in a dry place and ensure that there is air circulation around the seed heads, because otherwise they may mold (I know this from experience). Personally, I prefer the 'shake into the bag' method once they are dried as they give up their seeds much more readily. Once collected, unless you plan to broadcast them in situ, store them as you would any other seeds, in a dry, dark place over winter and start them in the early spring either in starter pots or sown directly outside when the ground has started to warm up.
If you choose to broadcast seed around the garden, you should be aware that Celosia seeds need warmth to germinate and you won't see them emerge until late May, June or even July in cooler years (as this one was). We usually just take what we get when they come up on their own, but this year, we plan on being more aggressive about spreading seed around in various spots so we have a few everywhere. We also plan on starting some inside in pots, particularly the Cristata cultivar we've not grown in several years, as well as some of these marvelous 'Caracas' we discovered this year. I suspect that we'll have plenty of 'Caracas' coming up where they are this year, because due to the immense numbers of flower stalks, we won't be able to collect all of the seed produced. I'm just fine with that, because we won't have to go looking for this variety to buy in the spring! We'll have plenty of them, I suspect....
Think, for a moment, how these fascinating flowers really do their thing ... and 'Caracas' provides a great example ... what we perceive as 'the flower' is really just a bloom stalk with hundreds of densely packed individual flowers who each produce at least one seed. If you look closely at the enlarged version of this shot, you can even identify some of the "inner bits" extended to attract the bees and other pollinating insects. Note how seed production in these shots starts at the bottom of the stalk and then proceeds upwards ... that's how you can determine the maturity of a particular bloom stalk. Wait until the color is almost gone from the flowers and you can see the seeds in the opened "pods" and you're in business to collect!

Just a few other observations from around the garden ... the Calendulas are still going strong (they started blooming in May!), the Purple Morning Glories are blooming profusely, and in addition to the Celosias seen here, I planted some late Zinnias that are just now blooming away to provide a bit more color to the Fall garden ... add in the Moss Rose and other annuals, and we've got a few nice spots of stubborn summer color still hanging in there on the first day of October!

I should say that I've been a bit lazy on the Toad Lily spectacular to come, but we've got so many really good shots that we've not yet pored through them completely to choose the best ones. I do hope to get a post up on their current bloomfest by this weekend if not sooner ... posting may be sporadic due to work demands, but if I can put aside the time, I'll try to keep up with what I'd prefer to be my 'normal' schedule! Whether I can keep up remains to be seen ... but October's shaping up to be an exciting time around Casa IVG with Halloween coming and pumpkins ripening in the back garden ... the corn is now drying up rapidly and will soon be making its transition to the front Halloween display. Lots of change in the offing during the next month, so stay tuned....


Roses and Lilacs said...

You describe this stage as nondescript but in your closeups, these two-toned flowers are lovely. You certainly have me convinced to try some next year.

Gail said...

I am back in town and wanted to stop by and see you! How timely a post for we lovers of Dark Caracas! The information is going to be helpful!
I agree with is a beautiful shot of the celosia and Dark Caracas is stunning as her flowers turn silvery white.


olivia said...

Hi all.

IVG -- that second photo is gorgeous. Love the lighting and the framing and how the background is in soft focus. :-)

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Marnie... I knew I'd win you over to the Celosia side eventually! :-) Try a few of those Park's varieties, and you can do the cockscomb type to dry next year!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hey Gail,
Hope you had a good trip ... I'd read you were out of town, but I've not been able to keep up w/blogs as much as I want lately (see earlier post why).

I included the stuff on collecting because 1) I think it's fun stuff and 2) because you and some others had been asking about collecting seed. Now you know! Ain't Caracas the coolest???!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Olivia,
LOL, the lighting was purely coincidental (had been cloudy most of the day), but Fernymoss thanks you in advance. :-) I liked this one a lot, despite a bit of blurriness in the detail. We just wanted a representative shot that showed how/where the seeds form!

That said, it does have its charms doesn't it? :-)

Gail said...


Yes it is!

Sorry you are so darned busy! Life gets in the way of blogging;->


boran2 said...

Thanks for posting this, IVG. And I love your celosias.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hey Gail,
Yeah, funny how that happens, but for right now, I'm going to do what I can, despite the work. There's still so much going on out in the garden and so little time these (alas shorter) days!

I need to get back to comment at your place, though I did see that spectacular post on the blue Salvia you have! I want that! In fact, need to get out to see how our Black and Blues are doing, last I looked they looked pretty happy still.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hey B2,
My pleasure, as always! Want me to save some seeds for ya? I should get collecting soon this weekend.

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