Episode 10 outtake: Growing Houseplants from Seed

Leah: Let's talk a bit about growing houseplants from seed. This is something that not a lot of Americans do, as far as I know. I don't know if it's a big phenomenon over in the UK or if this is something that you kind of pioneered with the "Sow-along." So tell me a little bit about how that got started. When did you start growing houseplants from seed? 

Jane: That’s a good question. The On The Ledge Sow-along, I can't remember how it started, whether a listener suggested or I just came up with the idea, but I decided that actually a really good way to learn lots about houseplants and how they work is to grow them from seed. It's also a really cheap way to get lots of plants, which you can then swap with friends and family and you find yourself completely overwhelmed with plants of course. So I, I decided to kick that off as part of the podcast. I have grown houseplants from seed before successfully and unsuccessfully. I remember trying one of those kits, "Grow a Venus Fly Trap!" You know, they never work. Nothing happens. 

As a child I grew cacti from seed. Over the years I've done a small amount of it, but mainly had been propagating from leaf cuttings and stem cuttings. I hadn't done a lot of growing from seed, but I got excited by looking at a few different seed companies here in the UK that offer different seed mixes and just thought, "Wow, I can buy a packet of agave seeds for like three pounds and I can have lots of agaves and that sounds like a really cool thing to do." So luckily my listeners got on board with the idea and we all sowed lots of different things. I was really amazed by how enthusiastically people took it up and were growing everything from the sensitive plant to mango seeds, to cacti and succulents. 

  You learn a lot about plants by sowing them from seed. You learn about what they look like as babies, what they need, and whether you really like that plant or not becomes established over the course of many months of tending to them. So I had a couple of lots of seeds that got to a certain point and I just kind of "forgot about them," because I thought, oh, I don't really like these. And that's okay. That's how you learn that you're not really into something is by trying something and realizing that it's just not worth the bother. Which sounds a bit harsh, but actually it's okay. It's only a packet of seeds that's cost you a few pounds and if it hasn't worked out then that's okay. So that's the kind of message that I tried to get across to, to listeners. 

Leah: Maybe it's too soon, but I wonder, have any of the plants from the first Sow-Along produced seeds? Will people have seeds that they can collect from their houseplants that they can then share and swap with other gardeners? 

Jane : Yeah, I would imagine. So I do know that a couple of people who also grew Episcias have been swapping them on the Facebook group. So definitely that's happening. My coleus, which is often grown as an annual plant, I haven't taken any seed from it, but I have taken a lot of cuttings and sharing some of those around. So yeah, I think it depends on the plant, I think that's entirely possible. So there's loads of scope and none of this stuff is that hard. I think we're kind of sometimes scared out of doing this stuff because we think, Oh that must be really difficult. But actually it's really not that hard. And as I say, if the worst case scenario is, if it goes wrong, well hey, I've lost a few seeds. It's quite a low-risk hobby. 

Leah: Maybe I'll try. I know I have blooms on my spider plant, my airplane plant, right now, so maybe I'll try to see if I can get some seeds from that and give it a shot. 

Jane : Yeah, no, it's definitely worth it. I mean, all I would say about seeds is there are some plants and this may or may apply to the spider plot which propagates so easily in other ways that you don't necessarily want to bother with the seed. So for example, I mean it, funnily enough, a lot of the Gesneriads are so easy to grow from a leaf cutting that, you know, I could have as many scenarios as I wanted from, from making leaf cuttings, but, but there is something to be said for growing a plant from seed because you are growing in your own conditions from day one, which means that it's adapted to how your growing environment is rather than buying a plant which has been cosseted in the nursery and had perfect conditions which are all controlled by computer in terms of light and water and feeding. And then it gets into your house and suddenly everything goes wrong and that's why you get this kind of peoples that are going. "What's wrong with my Philodendron 'pink princess'? It's all floppy and it's, well, you know, suddenly it's not, it's not in Nirvana anymore. So you've got to adapt. 

Leah: It's kind of in shock. 

Jane: Yeah, that's right. And you have to bear that in mind with new houseplants that they do go into shock and sometimes that's a long process to get over. 

Generally speaking, if you go out and buy a young Swiss cheese plant, Monstera deliciosa, and it goes very well for a bit and then it seems to be struggling and you’re wondering why, it’s probably because it just desperately needs a bigger pot. I think people are often scared to pot stuff on and oftentimes that can hold them back. But you know, it’s a lot of work. I understand why people aren’t rushing to repot all the time.