Monday, July 21, 2014

Bagging Pods to Save Pacifica Iris Seeds

Kathleen Sayce

All irises have pods with three valves that open and spread when seeds are mature and pods are dry. Open pods toss seeds a few feet, shaking seeds out in the wind and opening a bit more from day to day. Iris pods often open at inconvenient times, usually on hot sunny days when I'm away from home. This was a frustrating reality for me when I started crossing plants and saving seeds, because I'm often hiking in mid summer, away in the hills when those pods pop open. 

I. douglasiana has green pods with three valves. Bag and save upright pods, not the sprawling stems. You will find the mature pods more easily later if they are upright.

I began collecting iris seed by designating small paper bags for each variety, adding pods to the bags day by day and week by week, cutting off the pods when the color started to change from green to brown. But inevitably, some slip past, and open on their own. Tracking seeds of choice hybrids was tough:  several times the pod opened and seeds slipped out, and were scattered in the garden in less than 24 hours. When you’ve hand pollinated the flowers after growing the parent plants, losing the seeds at ripe pod stage is tough. 

Iris douglasiana has the longest ripening period. Pods may take nine weeks to fully mature.

Iris douglasiana is the most widely grown Pacifica Iris, and its pods are ripe about nine weeks after flowering. Some species ripen a bit earlier, like Iris innominata, which has lovely yellow flowers; in five to six weeks the seeds are mature and ready to gather from this species. I learned this the hard way, going out weeks too late to bag what I thought were green pods and finding only the pod sections, brown, dry and open with the seeds long gone. 

Iris innominata can ripen seeds in five to six weeks. I know, because I lost all the seeds the first year this species flowered in my garden. I sauntered out in week six to put pod bags on the three green pods, only to find they were brown, open, and the seeds were scattered. 

There is a solution:  organza party bags, AKA seed pod bags. These days I check plants a few weeks after flowering, cut off flower stems on plants whose seeds I do not plan to save, and put mesh bags over the rest. For my original purchase, I got green bags, thinking green would blend in better over the summer. Not bad, but I now find bags all winter, even in spring, that were overlooked the prior summer! 

Mesh bag on green pod––unobtrusive, discrete, and could be easily overlooked in a few weeks when the seeds are ripe. 

When the pods are ripe, I cut the stems off, tie them together, label the bunch, and dry the pods still in the bags. If they open and shed seed, great, this saves me time prying open each pod. If they don't––and some late flowering I. douglasiana plants often do not open their pods––I slice each pod open along one side and pry out the seeds.  

If the seeds are going to a seed exchange, they go back into a clean mesh bag, labeled, and air dry for a couple of weeks. If I keep seeds to plant, I plant them immediately outside. 

The goal:  New seedlings. Note the styrofoam boxes, top layer of chicken grit, and mesh cover. The grit helps in heavy rain to keep the soil mix in place. The mesh wards off any number of animals and birds that think germinating Pacifica Iris seeds are tasty snacks. These seedlings will go out into the ground in early fall. 

I live in a summer dry, winter wet climate, which Pacifica Iris prefer. Seeds go into styrofoam boxes, in a well drained mix, covered with a thin layer of fine granite gravel (chicken scratch). A fine wire mesh cover goes over the top, to keep voles, chipmunks, jays, crows and other animals from eating germinating seeds. The seed boxes stay outside all winter, no matter the weather, and in the spring the next crop of Pacifica Iris seedlings emerge. 

I'd like to know what other iris growers think of using mesh bags, and what color of bag you recommend. I need to order more. I’m thinking red or orange for the next order. Or should I go wild and order mesh bags to match the pod parent flowers?

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