Planting English Ivy

Alright, so last weekend was a holiday weekend, I finally had all the materials for the mason jars, I just needed to plant something in them. A few weeks ago, when I was still dreaming of all-inclusive tower kits, I bought a bunch of seeds for herbs and peppers and greens. Unfortunately, most of those require full sun to grow really well (or the grow light in the tower kit of course), and I don’t really get any full sun in my Pacific northwest abode. So, it was time to find some alternatives for my jars. I embarked on a journey to find seeds for house plants… only, that’s not actually a really common thing. Turns out house plants are easier to grow from cuttings than from seeds. Or nursery containers. With soil. Also, apparently very few places have seeds in the dead of winter. Who knew.

Maybe I’ll try out transplanting a plant from a container at some point, but for now I’d like to avoid the complications of soil diseases and pests, as well as having to figure out which plants will freak out if you wash their roots (this is apparently a thing). So when in doubt, Amazon has something, right? It turns out there were a few options, actually. I found some English ivy seeds as well as some spider plant cuttings (which I will plant if they ever arrive). At last, I could plant something in my jars!

But of course, before I could plant the seeds I had a few questions. How close to the surface should the seed be? How long does ivy take to germinate? Let’s do a quick internet search… oh good, I found lots of sites describing how to plant English ivy, such as those in the references section at the end of this post. Okay, step one: refrigerate ivy seeds for 1 – 3 months… wait WHAT?

Apparently, for English ivy, you’re supposed to do something called stratification. In case this word is as new to you as it was to me, let me share the definition from Wikipedia:

In horticulture, stratification is the process of treating stored or collected seed prior to sowing to simulate natural winter conditions that a seed must endure before germination. Some seed species undergo an embryonic dormancy phase, and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken. The time taken to stratify seeds depends on species and conditions; though in many cases two months is sufficient.
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratification_(seeds)

That’s right. We’re talking something like TWO MONTHS.

Well, to be completely honest, I’m just not that patient. So, yes, I did put the seed packet in the refrigerator. For two hours. After which I took two seeds out and thought, you know what, maybe these are Texan seeds and hate winter. We’ll just give them some nice room temperature tap water and be good to go. Yes, yes, I know. That’s not how mother nature works. It’s fine. Worst case scenario, the rest of the seeds are still in the fridge. We’ll talk about this again in two months.

Also, as it turns out, I probably should have just checked out the page where I bought the seeds. I happened to do that today, and these are their planting instructions:

To plant [English] ivy seeds, begin by cultivating the soil to a depth of about 6 inches. If your soil is poor, dig in an inch or two of compost or well-rotted manure. Rake the soil so the surface is smooth. Plant the seeds no deeper than ½ inch, then water immediately, using a hose with a sprayer attachment. Water as necessary to keep the soil lightly moist until the seeds germinate, which usually takes about a month.
— https://www.amazon.com/English-Hedera-Helix-Seeds-Purification/dp/B01M7MFBHI/ref=lp_13688344011_1_3?srs=13688344011&ie=UTF8&qid=1482995884&sr=8-3

Funny, I probably could have saved a lot of time as that answered both of my questions and made no mention of this fun-ruining stratification. Oh well.

Now to feed them…

My previous hydroponic endeavor involved a kit that provided the seeds and the nutrient solution. It was easy and amazing and I had a seemingly endless supply of fresh herbs. As I’m trying to learn more and get fancier with my setups, it’s time to break away from all of that and start customizing things. So I’ve been reading various blogs and sites to see what they do for nutrient solution.

There’s a lot of science that goes into nutrient solutions. To summarize what I’ve learned thus far, most fertilizers are made up of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and a bunch of other micro-nutrients. Most fertilizers have three numbers on the bottle representing the big first three. Depending on what phase your plant is in (seedling, growing, blooming, fruiting, etc.) it will want different balances of those main nutrients.

There seem two be two ways to buy your nutrients – you can buy an all-in-one nutrient, which has a fixed ratio of those three. This works pretty well (it’s what I’ve used before) but you can’t really optimize it for different plant phases. Alternatively, you can get nutrients that come in two or three parts that you mix together in different ratios depending on plant phase. This obviously takes more planning and work, but is supposed to get you better results.

An overwhelming number of people recommend the General Hydroponics Flora series. It’s a three part solution and even has a variation for hard water (which I have). And NASA uses it, so it must be good, right? So I ordered up all three parts plus their pH Up and Down to see what all the fuss was about. Cross your fingers that this works!

What I Used

Steps

Testing my water hardness

Testing my water hardness

  1. Put seed packet in refrigerator for two hours.
  2. Put seeds in bowl of water overnight.
  3. Put seeds in wet paper towel and sat in bowl by windows for an additional 24 hours.
  4. Assembled two mason jar planters, and put a single English ivy seed in each.
  5. Filled the bucket with 2 gallons of room temperature water and measured the water hardness with the water tester.
    Before buying the FlorMicro Hardwater, I looked up the water quality report for my area. It described the water in my area as hard and gave a possible range for the hardness (which is measured in ppm of things like calcium). So of course I was curious exactly how bad my tap water is. I bought what I thought was a PH and TDS meter. Turns out I can’t read and there’s no PH meter on it, so I now know my water hardness is 89 ppm and I will have to find a different way to measure my pH level later.
    You might also be wondering why I needed two gallons. I was originally going to plant a lot more plants, but that didn’t work out as expected, so unfortunately, I didn’t end up needing all of my solution.
  6. Okay, time to mix in the nutrients. Gloves on for this portion!
    I decided to follow Hydroponics-Simplified’s guide for my nutrient mix. So I added 1/2 teaspoon of FloraMicro Hardwater, mixed the water, then 1/2 teaspoon of FloraGro, mixed again, and then 1/2 teaspoon of FloraBloom and mixed one last time. You’re supposed to mix them in that order and make sure they’re well mixed into the water otherwise some reactions can occur that mess up your solution.
    Then I went to the movies and saw Sing! which I would recommend for the squid alone.
    Letting your mixture sit for an hour or two before using it is supposed to allow the pH level to even out. Since I couldn’t test the pH level, I don’t know how much it changed.
  7. Then I transferred the water to the watering can and filled each mason jar with two cups of the solution.

So now we wait to see if they grow. I will periodically take pictures of the progress, check the water level, and eventually check the pH level and report back. Also, I name of all of my plants (we’re going to say this is to make it easier to keep track of them and not because I’m crazy). These two were named by Paul (aka, boyfriend) in the spirit of (space) adventure: Endeavor and Endurance. This is our starting state:

Endeavor

Seeds Hedera Helix (English Ivy) from seedusa
Nutrients 2 cups of mixture: 1/2 tsp each of FloraMicro Hardwater, FloraGro, FloraBloom in 2 gallons of tap water
Light source South facing window
Seed preparation 2 hours of refrigeration and 1.5 days of being soaked in water
Date planted 12/25/16

Endurance

Seeds Hedera Helix (English Ivy) from seedusa
Nutrients 2 cups of mixture: 1/2 tsp each of FloraMicro Hardwater, FloraGro, FloraBloom in 2 gallons of tap water
Light source South facing window
Seed preparation 2 hours of refrigeration and 1.5 days of being soaked in water
Date planted 12/25/16

Fun Facts about English Ivy

  • In the US, English Ivy is most invasive in the Pacific Northwest (I guess it’s good it’s in a jar then).
  • English ivy is evergreen.
  • The leaves and berries of English ivy are poisonous and will make you sick. Please don’t eat them (and don’t let the furry friends, either).
  • NASA did a study of plants that clean the air and found that English ivy is great at removing formaldehyde from the air. Formaldehyde is super common in your home so this makes this a great plant to have around.
  • Ivy looks almost as good in bracelet form as it does in houseplant form.

References

English Ivy References

Seed Stratification References

Hydroponic Nutrients Reference