Once you’ve mastered the concept that one lily bulb makes several new ones every three to five years, it’s easy to propagate more perennials for your garden. The more adventurous gardener, however, will want to attempt to grow new bulbs from seed. The gamble of growing from seed is that there is no guarantee that the offspring will look like the parent, due to the fact that the insects that pollinate the blooms are opportunists that seldom limit their efforts to identical plants.
Allow flowers to fade; do not “deadhead” spent blooms. Green “pods” will form at the base of the stamen and swell if seeds are forming.
Harvest seeds when pods shrink a bit, then dry and turn brown. Tie a plastic bag loosely around the stem so that seeds will fall into the bag when the pods pop open.
Separate seeds into epigeal and hypogeal types and prepare markers with pressure-sensitive labels or ice cream sticks with the type and name of parent plants for identification.
Dust seeds with a plant fungicide designed for tulips and other bulbs. This chemical is available at garden centers.
Epigeal or Fast-Start Seeds
Fill a 4- to 6-inch deep plastic pot, milk carton or starter flat with light, sterile potting soil mix. Seeds may also be started in the garden in a cold frame.
Plant seeds about an inch apart on top of the growing medium and lightly cover with more soil or some peat moss.
Keep the bed moist, not wet, with distilled or nursery water to minimize “damping off,” a fungal infection. Open the lid on the cold frame on warm days when the sun is high to avoid “cooking” garden-grown bulbs. The first leaves, or “cotyledons,” should appear in a few weeks.
Give the seedlings plenty of light — either on a sunny window sill or by a fluorescent light. Begin feeding them a diluted solution of fish emulsion or half-strength houseplant food every two weeks while they are growing.
Transplant young plants to the garden in the spring. When the foliage dies down in the fall, mulch plants with an inch or two of winter mulch — compost with shredded leaves or humus.
Hypogeal or Slow-Start Seeds
Put slow-starting seeds, like those of Oriental and martagon lilies and daffodils, in plastic bags filled with peat moss. Dampen the peat moss with sterile water and set the bags in a refrigerator vegetable bin. Begin checking for growth after a month or two; some seeds will take as much as three months to germinate.
Plant sprouted seeds the same way as epigeal seeds and transfer to the garden in the spring.
Give young plants of both types shade during the middle of the day, especially just after transplanting them to the garden. Water frequently and never let young plants dry out.