Let the seed planting begin - with cactus!

Our warm weather and my newly-cleaned seed-starting table has inspired me to get some seed started. Since it's still too early for most veggies, I'll be planting stuff that will be staying in pots for a couple of years at least, so don't need to be timed to the calendar or weather patterns.

Today I'll be planting cactus seeds.


I'll admit I've not really been the biggest cactus fan in the past, although I've had limited exposure to them. I inherited two small cactus many years ago, let one of them die (it triggered intense itching in me whenever I accidentally touched it), but have continued caring for the one although I know nothing about it. It's now 2' tall and still going.

I bought a couple more cactus this winter and included them in my terrarium renovation, and that got me thinking that it would be fun to grow some from seed. I've seen inexpensive cactus seed packets locally before, so I kept my eyes open for them whenever looking at the seed displays.

I picked one up a week or so ago.

Although I've learned that there are many cold-hardy cactus species (mainly from reading the book: "Hardy Succulents: tough plants for every climate" by Gwen Kelaidis) all of the seeds in this packet are not cold-tolerant. How do I know? They're listed on the back of the packet:

That's fine with me, as I'll grow them indoors over the winter if I like them. So let's see what cactus seeds look like:

The larger seeds are somewhat distinctive, but the small black ones look like so many other types of seeds, at least with the naked eye. I wonder if they look distinctive under the microscope? (Maybe I'll investigate that some time in the future -- but not now.)

There appear to be six different types of seeds here, as far as I can tell. Since the packet lists nine different types, I have to assume that some of the seeds look the same, or I just can't tell the difference between one tiny black seed and another.

I almost always soak seed in warm water for a few hours (or maybe overnight) before planting, that's what I'll do here too:

It's just a way to ensure that moisture penetrates the seed's hard coating, and typically speeds up germination. Sometimes I get seeds to germinate in just a day or two using this method -- hope it works for these seeds, since germination time is listed as 7-56 days. I sure don't want to wait almost 2 months for these to sprout!

I used a normal peat-based seed starting mix, but added extra perlite and lots of general purpose sand to help with drainage. Since I've read that cactus seedlings prefer to grow sort of packed together with their siblings, I plan on keeping them in these pots for quite a while, so I made sure they had an appropriate mix.

I added a used dryer sheet square at the bottom to keep the sandy soil from pouring out. It's great for that and won't interfere with drainage:

The top 1/2" or so is a mix that doesn't include the extra perlite -- it has just the fine seed starter mix and sand:

That seemed better for the tiny seeds -- don't want a big hunk of perlite interfering with them, right?

After the seeds soaked all night, all but one sank to the bottom, which to me is a good sign that they've absorbed water:

Unfortunately soaking the seeds makes them harder to plant, as you can't "sprinkle" them -- I just used my fingertip to pick them up a few at a time:

I decided that I'd plant just four containers, and put several seeds in each one. I also decided to just put all of the big seeds in one container, and all of the small seeds in the other three, all mixed up. I labeled it too.

Then I gently watered with a spray bottle:

and covered with a sheet of prismatic plastic:

This is mainly to keep the moisture in, but it provides a little bit of protection from the bright lights -- I've also read that cactus seedlings like a little protection from sunlight. (I only used the prismatic one because I couldn't find the regular clear one.)

So if all goes well I'll be seeing my first little cactus seedlings in a few days. Or weeks. Or months.

I'm pretty excited to see what they'll look like when they're tiny. I'm also excited to be starting some new plants from seed. Before long the growing table will be packed again -- I can't wait!

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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (February 13, 2011 at 11:40 AM)  

Now THAT is an interesting project. These are all beautiful cacti, ranging from small to gigantic. Please post updates as the seeds sprout and the seedlings grow. I'll be curious to know how long it'll take before they start to look different--or maybe they all look different from the start.

:: Bamboo and More ::

Alan  – (February 15, 2011 at 8:39 AM)  

Just an update for my records: three of the seeds have germinated this morning. The smallest black ones it looks like... That's only 4 days after planting. :-)

Unknown  – (April 19, 2011 at 5:28 PM)  

Looking forward to seeing the cacti progress. I started seeds at the end of March and now have over 20 sprouts. I ran across your blog today and decided to try your method on my second seed pack with 16 different seed types however, all of the sprouts look the same

Anonymous –   – (June 20, 2013 at 6:50 AM)  

Clicked over here to this post from your successful seedling appearances! I have almost the exact same packet but have been a bit intimidated to try them- perhaps I will a soon as I get some soil-like ingredients.
Dryer sheet= GENIUS! I have been trying to figure a way to NOT throw those things away, and not to make so much of a mess when I water seedlings: two birds with one stone!
Thanks for recording everything so carefully!

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