Bone Meal and Hosta Seeds?

bernd ny zone5March 2, 2012

I noticed there just were messages about hosta seeds and seedlings on this forum, here is mine which I have also posted in the Hosta Seed Growers Forum, have no reply yet:

I wonder if you could tell me what I did wrong. In one of the readily available articles for hosta seed growing I read that using bone meal in the seed starting medium and even over the seeds is very good for germination and growing hosta seedlings. So I went to HD and bought a bag of Miracle Grow Organic Choice Bone Meal.

Since some seeds had not germinated yet, I applied a dusting of this bone meal on top of covered seeds and around seedlings in one of my trays. The next day I noticed which looked like a white lawn, probably a mold or fungus, wherever I had put this bone meal. So I sprayed a Bonide Zineb fungicide solution. Next day that mold or fungus had even spread. I gave it a stronger fungicide spray, which did not help. So today, having seen enough of that, I scooped carefully this coating out of the cells, around any seedlings, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, and replaced it with fresh starting mix.

Did I use the wrong bone meal? Perhaps 'organic' means that it was not sterilized?

Did I use the wrong fungicide? I also have Bonide Fung-onil available.

Thanks for any help!


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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Bone Meal is an organic product by definition. Therefor it is not sterile. I don't know why people recommend using it for seed germination. I wouldn't use it. It is a soil amendment and an organic fertilizer. I wouldn't think you would need it for germination. If Gesilla can germinate Hosta seed on a paper towel, that shows all you need is moisture and proper amount of heat.

If you want to use a sterile growing medium, then don't use "organic" products. Microwave the soiless mix you are using and then provide both the macro and micro nutrients using a chemical fertilizer.

As for the fungicide, the only one I have heard of being used in seed growing is Captan. Captan is used to prevent damping off disease among seedlings. You can also use air circulation in the form of a low speed fan aimed directly at the soil surface to prevent damping off.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 8:54PM
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I think Steve is right on point. I use a soiless mix Promix BX that has fungicide in it. I also spray a Captan solution on the surface when first planting the seed. There are some other good products to prevent damping off. I remove the clear dome off the trays about a week after germination. I mist the seedlings with a spray bottle a couple times a day. I never let them dryout and always water from the bottom. Rob

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 9:36PM
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donrawson(Z 5)


I know the article you're referring to. IMO, beside the fungus, it's too easy to burn the seedlings when using the bone meal. If you would have left the bone meal, I doubt you'd have any seeds survive after germination.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 9:47PM
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Pieter zone 7/8 B.C.

Bernd, I have an article written by Bill Nash posted on my website that advocates the use of bonemeal to enhance germination, that may well be the one you're refering to. I'm the first one to admit I never tried it myself, but, based on your experience I think I'll remove it....


    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 10:43PM
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bernd ny zone5

Thanks, that is what I also learned from the Seed Grower Forum. Trudy there, as one in the past, are using bone meal halfways down in the medium to accelerate seedling growth. Though I read there, very large hosta seedlings might not be desired due to space limitations. I do not think I will use it when I start growing seedlings already in October. Since I lost some seeds (they were very late anyway), I will no longer use bone meal on top.

I will go again to a nursery department and look for Captan and a sterile bone meal, if available, but will buy only the Captan.

I do not know how to contact Bill Nash, but perhaps he microwaved the bone meal for x minutes to make it sterile? I read his very instructive article again, but no mention of sterilizing bone meal. He wrote that there is a much better (double) germination rate with a dusting of bone meal on top of the seeds.

As an experiment I just microwaved sterile starter mix with a dusting of bone meal for 8 minutes. (Watch out that it does not burn up and the family complains too much). I will report in a few days if fungus formed.

Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 8:39AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Interesting, Bernd. Does Nash say why he thinks Bone Meal enhances germination?

My sense is that a seed contains everything it needs to germinate given the correct environmental conditions (i.e. moisture and heat). Some seed benefit from light or scarification or some period of freezing, but I fail to see how a fertilizer would help with germination. Still if a proper experiment shows it to be true, then perhaps it does. I'd just like to know why.

Once a seed germinates, then of course it would benefit from a small amount of fertilizer.


    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 8:56AM
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bernd ny zone5

I can only report what I read in the articles by Nash, Axmeer and Josh Spece of the AHS and In the Country Garden websites. Germination rates vary due to the age of the seed, if it was completely dried out, the pod parent, etc. Yes, Bill Nash writes that bone meal dusting on top of seeds and a layer of medium over it can double the germination rate, and that was found in trials. Freezing usually is not required.

I had received seeds of 4 streaked cultivars, and they nearly 100% germinated. Others were lower and some much much lower. Perhaps only kidding, but perhaps the position of the moon has something to do with it, because that seems to effect vegetable gardening, that is when to sow.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 9:28AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


you took the easiest thing on earth.. put seed on top of media ...

and turned it into a chemical/fungicide organic cesspool of vermin and horror ... [yeah.. fungus gnats are next]

bottom line . .and i will yell ... YOU KILLED THEM WITH TOO MUCH LOVE ..

there are a lot of things you can do.. but in my experience... SIMPLICITY usually is the failsafe ...

AND THE LAST CLICHE ...oops .. i usually succeeded until i started over-thinking it all.. and then screwed it up .. royally ... trying to get fancy ...

i mean really ... whats next.. hydroponics??? ... lol [now i will wonder how that project is going]


    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 10:12AM
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bernd ny zone5

Yes Ken, then also think about that after all that work I will throw out most of the seedlings. But see it this way, I had something to do during that recent snowfall, sorted out that organic bone meal has fungus seeds in it. It's like raw milk, all bugs are still in it.

I bought and used Captan. I asked and checked another bone meal at a store, does not say on the packing if sterilized either.

"Killed them with too much love'? No, I followed instructions by an expert.
(I have awful nice seedlings to enjoy though right now, but no good camera)

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 1:23PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i only tried it a couple times.. but babes can not handle the chemical insult to the tender leaves ... mine all died.. every time ... and that is why you have to rely on the sanitary aspects .. so they can grow large enough before you might need to apply substances to the leaves ....

what the expert didnt tell you .. is how many times he utterly failed.. before one of his hair brained schemes worked ... lol

i will repeat: SIMPLICITY usually is the failsafe ...

after all.. you could have sown these seeds in the cracks on the driveway.. and had a pretty good crop ... they are hosta after all ... did you know they will grow on the driveway ...???

so how did bonemeal .. which is literally ground up dried/baked bones.. work its way into your vernacular????

only love can answer that.. lol ...

anyway.. live and learn .. i learned more by experimenting .. than i ever did from reading a book .. or an online source .... you are now.. officially.. our expert on bonemeal as a soil additive for seedlings.. wear the crown with pride ....


ps: way back when.. mary chastain said that lysol of a certain formula.. would get rid of fungus gnats .... what she didnt tell us .. and we found out the hard way was... wait for it.. the propellant froze the tissue of the plants .... and killed them .. apparently she was applying it to the soil surface only .... go figure .... you are not the first to lose a crop ... and i suppose this would be a good lesson on trying new things on one pot.. or tray .. and not the whole kit and caboodle ... [dont get to use that very often]

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 2:43PM
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bernd ny zone5

I could do it more complicated again. Leaves of some larger green or so seedlings look like they need more nitrogen, or the PH value is too low. But I will add a little fertilizer around them, and that's that, no PH measuring, perhaps simply throw them out. I have also hosta seedlings growing wild outside, forgot to cut the seed stalks off.
Next week we will have several days in the 50s, spring is very close

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 3:23PM
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