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The importance of good evaluation beds

Having good evaluation beds is very important. A lot of work goes into getting seedlings to the point where they seem worth evaluating and having less than optimal growing conditions doesn't allow for a fair evaluation of the seedling.

I can speak from experience about the importance of providing good growing conditions. When I first began hybridizing I would crowd my best seedlings into a bed that was too small, received too much shade and the soil hadn't been sufficiently improved. None of the seedlings ever developed a good bud count and none ever seemed good enough to keep. I eventually I realized the error of my ways and reorganized my beds to give the best areas to evaluation. Having the right conditions allows seedlings to really show what they can do.

Here's a simple list of considerations for building an evaluation bed:

  • The bed should be large enough that the seedlings have plenty of room to grow and don't compete for space.
  • The bed should have good soil. Add compost regularly to keep the soil healthy.
  • The bed should receive at least 6 hours of direct sun daily.
  • The bed should not be too close to trees (and some shrubs) to avoid competion from the tree roots.
  • The bed should be kept watered for best growth. In my estimation this is the most important bed to keep watered in times when rain is scarce.
  • Fertilize the bed but not excessively. You want to provide good nutrients for growth but you don't want to create a situation that an average gardener wouldn't duplicate in their own garden.

Reworking the evaluation beds.

Sometimes I need to rework my evaluation beds to add ammendments and remove any tree roots that have grown into the bed. Here is what I did the last time I reworked one of my evaluation beds. I try to take the organic approach when I rework these beds because the plants seem to respond well.

First I remove all the existing seedlings in the bed temporarily potting them up if there's a chance they may be out of the ground for any length of time. Because I get my yard guy to till the bed for me, I always pot so there's no issue if he can't till right away.

Next I spread some amendments over the surface so they will be tilled into the soil.

The first layer is about 2" of leaf mold compost which I purchase from Nature's Way Resources in Conroe, TX. Here's the description from the company website:

"This product is produced primarily from recycled leaves, with a little grass, and horse manure mixed in and is slowly composted to ensure quality. The name Leaf Mold comes from the old English words "Leaf Mould" which means produced by a very slow breakdown of leaves (from trees and shrubs) into a rich humus. After a long slow composting period it is screened to ensure consistency and size. This product is rich in beneficial microbes and used on lawns, vegetable gardens, annuals, and in flower beds."

Next I spread some Texas Greensand (from Soil Mender) over the leaf mold. I probably used a little more than the recommended application (1 lb per 100 square feet) but I hopefully won't be tilling the bed again for several years. A friend with an absolutely wonderful AHS display garden has been touting this so I decided to try it. Here's the description from the company website:

"Soil Mender Texas Greensand is a naturally-occuring iron potassium silicate (also known as glauconite) with the consistency of sand but 10 times the moisture absorbtion. It is an excellent source of iron, potassium, silicate, phosphorus, and trace elements."

Next I sprinkled some Microlife Multi Purpose All-organic Biological Fertilizer (6-2-4). It is slow release and won't burn the plants. Here is the description from the company website:

"MicroLife Multi-purpose 6-2-4 is an extremely powerful, homogenous, granulated All Organic Biological fertilizer containing: Fish, Kelp, Molasses, Emery Humates, Bat Guano, Rock Phosphate,Wheat Middling’s, Soy Meal, Cottonseed Meal,Alfalfa, Corn Meal, Kmag, Potassium Sulfate, Iron Sulfate, 18 select Amino Acids, Folic Acid,Vitamins, plus the MicroGro Supreme Bio-Inoculant package which contains billions of beneficial microorganisms including Endo & Ecto Mycorrhizal fungi.All ingredients are included in meaningful amounts."

I topped it off with some vermiculite spread lightly over the top. Vermiculite retains moisture and helps the soil breath. I didn't use a lot but I find the small light colored particles help visually identify any areas where the soil has not been mixed thoroughly.

After the bed is tilled all I have to do is replace the seedlings which are currently in pots. I don't expect this to be a long term fix for the root problem. That's something I'll have to continue to work on resolving.