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March 30, 2009

Scarifying Canna Seed

I love bulbs for their ease of growing. Whenever I plant from seed, I invariably pull up the tender shoots, thinking they're weeds, before they ever have a chance to mature into recognizable plants. So, I specialize in bulbs.

I've collected Canna seed on my dog walks for the last couple years. It's a great feeling of discovering treasure when I see their bulging forms. I stuff my pockets, then amass them into a baggie kept in a secret drawer just outside my front doorway.
I've used them to fill a tropical bed in my own garden. The next thing I'm going to attempt is to make water plants from them for my fountain. I've seen bags for sale at the hardware store that essentially contain the mud and roots so it doesn't get washed away in the fountain. That will be a separate blog post.

I've issued a challenge to myself to find more ways to make a little money this year. One easily available source of income is to scarify, sprout, and pot up these cannas to sell for a couple bucks a pot.

Cannas can be propagated in a couple of ways: by dividing the bulbs themselves (including offsets), or from seed (what produces the rhizome in the first place). Not all varieties seed, but a lot do. Canna will flower almost as quickly if grown from seed as when grown from rhizomes, and plants grown from seed usually flower the same year if started early in the year.
Canna grown from seed generally don't come true (ie the flower you get is not the same as the flower of the parent). But if you want a mixed variety, growing from seed is a good way to go. Canna seed has a good germination rate of typically 65% to 95% depending on species/variety. The seed stores well. The best reason to grow from seed is that the Canna will be free of virus disease.
The seeds have evolved with a hard seed coat, so they must be scarified in order to get them to sprout. "Scarifying" is the process of scratching this hard coating to allow the seed to grow. To scratch the seed, I use jewelry pliers that look something like this:
Using a workshop file, holding the seed in workshop pliers, and filing until the internal white just shows through will work as well. Here's a seed that's been nicked:
Next, soak the seed in warm water overnight.
As they soak the seed coating will begin to plump away.
I then use my fingernails to scratch the seed coat off a bit so the rest of the coat will get water and plump out. At the top end you will see the point where the seed sprouts.
Put the seeds back to soak again to allow more of the seed coating to fall away. Change the water each time you peel off the seed coating, until the coating has fallen off. Once the coat is gone, and sprouting is clearly evident, like this:
I plant the seeds. Since I intend to sell them this time around, I'm using peat pots made from recycled paper that will decompose around the plant when buried in the garden.
The plants will need to be transplanted to the ground when the roots begin to shoot out the bottom of the little pot. Eventually you'll have something that looks like this:
Here's a list of all the varieties of Canna, and another tutorial on how to grow them.

What's your favorite thing to grow in your garden, and how do you do it? Tell me your thoughts in a comment below.

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