Here's my first bloom on Epigaea repens, started from seed 2/15/10:
I germinated them the same as Azalea or Rhododendron. Surface sow on an acidic mix, place the pot in a freezer bag, seal the bag, and place under fluorescents at around 60F. A couple of months later, I transplanted into 3.5" pots, and grew them on in the greenhouse with part sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. They weren't hard to grow.
Seed from NARGS, 1/10, #1222.
Gene, between you and Lori Skulski, I MUST TRY starting plants under lights again; can't believe how you and Lori get plants to bloom in just one year, particularly true of a plant I envisioned as being slow growing such as Epigaea. Kudos to getting your young seedling to flower so quickly.
When I tried growing under lights years ago, in my cramped basement, damp-off was a huge problem, as was fungus gnats. There's been an ongoing discussion of fungus gnats on the Pacific Bulb Society list, so maybe I should look into suggested techniques for avoiding these critters. I also had big problems trying to acclimate tender stretched plants to conditions outdoors, and losses were heavy. Any suggestions about how you handle these issues would be welcome :)
"When I tried growing under lights years ago, in my cramped basement, damp-off was a huge problem, as was fungus gnats. There's been an ongoing discussion of fungus gnats on the Pacific Bulb Society list, so maybe I should look into suggested techniques for avoiding these critters. I also had big problems trying to acclimate tender stretched plants to conditions outdoors, and losses were heavy. Any suggestions about how you handle these issues would be welcome"
I kill fungus gnats with insecticide. I keep the growing area well ventilated after application, so I don't inhale the stuff.
Damping off: oh boy, noone is going to believe this. Back when I used soilless mix and good air movement over the seedlings, I would lose whole pots full of seedlings. They would keel over right at soil level. I tried fungicides and sterilizing the mix. I still lost seedlings. I experimented with a "dirty" mix, with garden soil mixed in, and I started placing the seed pots into sealed plastic bags, to maintain humidity around the seedlings. I also started growing my seedlings about 6 inches under fluorescent lights. No more damping off. I can't explain it, and I'm not going to fight it. I started tempting fate by recycling old used mix, by adding some more peat and pumice to it. Still no damping off. And the seedlings grow like mad in this crud. I figured out a long time ago that seedlings grow much better if there is some soil in the mix. Remember, you can get damping off symptoms if fungus gnats or symphilids are chewing on the plant roots. I can't guarantee that your garden soil is going to work as well as mine in this situation. The only thing I can think of to explain this is that my mix is a balanced ecosystem with "good guys" and "bad guys", so the "bad guys" can't take over, like in a sterilized mix that gets invaded by airborne "bad guy" micro-organisms. Sounds good to me.
These are some seeds I have germinated in my dirty mix, with great success: Ramonda, Shortia, Gentian, Primula, Lilium. And everything else that I grow nowadays. I use the same mix for everything, except I add more perlite or pumice for plants that like sharp drainage.
This is the "nicest" version of my dirty mix: equal parts soil, fine Douglas fir bark, peat moss, perlite, pumice, plus a sprinkling of Micromax trace element mix, dolomite lime, and bone meal. Once the seeds germinate, I give them a little soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks.
"Tender stretched plants": If you grow them 6" under fluorescents, and they are not crowded, they should not stretch. Look at the plants in my photos in the "indoor propagation" thread. If your light setup doesn't have reflective surfaces at the edges, the plants at the edges will lean into the lights. Use reflective surfaces, like my styrofoam, or something white or shiny like aluminum foil. Also, I never move plants directly from the lights to outdoors. That would kill just about everything. I move them into the unheated greenhouse and let them harden off for at least two weeks. Some plants never leave the greenhouse, because I know they can't survive our dark, rainy winters in the ground. Also, you can't grow healthy seedlings in temperatures over about 65F. 55 to 60F is good. Above about 70F, all kinds of bad things start happening. Unless, of course, you are growing tomatoes or house plants.
Re damping off: Many many decades ago I began germinating Rh's under lights ... standard tubes ... containers 6 inches below and containers covered (rubber banded) with poly film. I began using the old Mosser Lee milled sphagnum and have never changed. I started squirrelling it away years ago fearing losing it. I now germinate other ericaceous stuff and a miscellany of related: gentian, primula, etc. I have never had a problem with damping off. I keep containers covered til seeds are well germinated thus keeping out the odd flying egg laying things whose larva will quickly decimate a pot if not controlled. Given my situation 6 inches from lights produces an even 70F in a 60/65F well ventilated laundry room. Poly film breathes and watering is generally necessary only every 2 weeks or so. I never introduce any "native soil" etc .... perhaps 30% fine perlite for my Vireya rh's.
For the adventurous one can take tip cuttings of 1/2 rh seedlings and reroot them in moss/perlite and grow them on ... in a few months (and some foliar feeding) the results can be amazing ... often producing 2 inch strong seedlings ... and thus saving a heap of time.
It is claimed that flowering time is reduced, but I have seen no data to support this claim.
I store all my seed in the freezer .... Last week I got a note from a friend who germinated R konori seed I sent him 6 years ago. I have had similar experiences.
The balance of good and bad fungi has always been my mantra. Of course, what people call sterilized soil is really only pasteurized. That's a good thing, as it gets rid of bad things while leaving many good things intact. I never bother bleaching pots, and don't worry about contamination of seed media with unclean trowels, a scoop of old soil, etc.
I don't take any precautions to avoid damping-off either, and really don't experience it. There are no fans in my set-up, and I use clear plastic covers (of the type shown by George in the Propagation thread) over the seed trays until germination occurs. (I do get "good" growths of moss, but it's not always detrimental to the seedlings.) I also mix potting mix with perlite, vermiculite and sand, and re-use last year's excess soil that I collect up as seedlings are planted out in the rock garden, and never wash (let alone sterilize) the pots. We get very few fungus gnats, for whatever reason.
Rules?? What rules? ;) ;)
This year I am trying a new thing to combat damping off. Since I don't have a light setup, I rely on a south facing window for light, which I know is less than ideal. In the past I've lost complete seedling pots to damping off, but this year I incorporated some Bulb Dust (Wilsons Brand) into the potting mix, and haven't lost anything yet. Plants germinated to date are: Roscoea alpina, Poncirus trifoliata, Enkianthus sp. Callicarpa sp. and Primula florindae. Roscoea cautleyoides and Roscoea humeana are waiting for warmth in the fridge. As soon as temperatures come up a bit, some of these may go into the unheated poly tunnel greenhouse.