Category Archives: Garden Musings and Tips

3 favorite plant shopping spots in San Diego County

Pyrostegia capensis, aka Flame Vine, enticing us to enter Solana Succulents Nursery.

For the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to travel and spend time in San Diego CA during January where our grandson Taylan lives with our son Phil and daughter-in-law Annique.  Each time we come out, we schedule visits to nurseries in search of new plants to bring back and grow in MA. 3 of our favorite stops are Solana Succulents in Solana Beach, Botanic Wonders and Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista.

A very old and bonsai-pruned Titanopsis

Solana Succulents is owned and operated by Jeff Moore, an author of several books on Aloes, Agaves as well as “soft succulents”, which is a phrase now used  to describe a wide variety of succulents that are less tolerant of cold temperatures than “hardy” selections, and are generally not prickly or spiny. Jeff always has a treasure trove on display, including hard to find little gems supplied by individual collectors. Solano Succulents carries fun and unique handmade pottery to showcase specimen succulents and bonsai, and has a particularly attractive feline greeter.

Solana Succulents’ official greeter.

Some or our stash from Solana Succulents.

Botanic Wonders display and selling greenhouse.

Al Klein and Anthony Neubauer of Botanic Wonders in Vista have created a mecca for those in search of rare succulents. Plants are especially well grown and displayed, with an emphasis on Cycads, Cacti, Aloe and Euphorbia. Botanic Wonders also carries some beautiful plant pottery created by local artists. We were especially  smitten with the vessels Susan Aach creates.

An amazing free form vessel created by potter Susan Aach.

Just had to score some of those amazing miniature Aloe at Botanic Wonders.

New to us, this trailing/prostrate Medinilla sedifolia just coming into bloom at Kartuz Greenhouse.

Kartuz Greenhouses is a tiny backyard operation that is a source for unusual tropical plants with an emphasis on Begonia and Gesneriads. Mike Kartuz, a Massachusetts transplant who settled in Vista in the late 1970’s, was a well known figure in the Begonia Society.  Sadly, we learned on this visit that Mike had passed away last summer (2022) at the age of 95. The business is continuing to operate and is run by the very knowledgable and capable Rosa. Rosa worked with Mike in the greenhouse for many years. We hope she continues propagating some truly collectable plants.

some of our finds from Kartuz: L to R Hibiscus splendens, Hoya obscura, Begonia ‘San Miguel’ and Begonia ‘Essie Hunt’. We also bought a number of  dormant plants, which are not photogenic at the moment.

We hope to find time in our final week for a few more nursery visits. Watch for a secondary post with more new acquisitions.

 

Amaryllis and their Aftercare

Amaryllis ‘Wedding Dance’

So you’ve purchased or were given a gorgeous Amaryllis, and you love it. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are fabulous winter bloomers from the southern hemisphere. There are many species and cultivars and they can be bold and showy or delicate and ethereal. The long lasting flowers can show off for several weeks, and top size bulbs can produce multiple stems.

Amaryllis ‘Evergreen’, with smaller spidery flowers

The big question is: What should you do with your Amaryllis after the holidays to keep these plants happy and encourage them to bloom in the future?  Here are some tips.

  1. When the last flowers fade, remove the flowering stem(s). Do not let seeds form, as this will draw strength from the bulb and may inhibit flowering.
  2. Leave the green strap-like foliage on the plant to provide nourishment to the bulb and continue to give it bright light. Once warm weather arrives, you can put your plants outdoors in a spot that gets morning sun. Water only as needed. Your bulbs should be in a well drained soil mix. Do not keep soil constantly wet.

    Be sure to leave the upper third of the bulb above the soil line when you pot up.

  3. In mid-late summer (August) introduce your plants to dormancy.  They need a 2-3 month period of darkness and cool 45-50F temperatures, and during this spell, withhold water.  This is the challenging part: some of us have basements that remain dark and cool, but most of us do not.  Another option is to use your refrigerator, and this is where a spare fridge is handy.  Place the potted Amaryllis inside, minus any dead foliage.  Or, unpot your Amaryllis bulb, cut off any greenery and place in a bag with some wood shavings or dry sterile potting soil and leave to chill for at least 6-8 weeks.  In mid-late October, remove your bulbs out of their chill cycle, pot them up using a well drained soil mix and water once. Move into a sunny warm spot and do not water again until you see signs of green shooting. Sometimes it takes awhile to wake up the bulbs. Bottom heat can help.

More tips:

4. The choicest varieties need to be purchased from reputable bulb vendors in the fall.  If you want blossoms in time for the December holidays, choose bulbs that have the distinction that they were grown in the southern hemisphere, rather than having been imported from northern regions such as the Netherlands. Give yourself 6- 8 weeks lead time.  Often, these southern hemisphere grown bulbs will be labeled specifically as “Christmas Amaryllis”. Bulbs imported from Northern Europe will still bloom this winter, but they take longer to come into flower. No worries…it’s still delightful to have them burst into bloom in midwinter!

5. After the big chill, be sure to pot up in a sterile, well drained potting mix with the top third of the bulb above the soil surface.  Use a pot that’s only 2-3″ wider than your bulb(s). You could plant multiple bulbs in a large pot for a dramatic display but pack tightly, and a large container will require ample space in a sunny spot to grow on. Remember Amaryllis bulbs do not mind being pot bound. It may be 3-4 years  before it is necessary to move up into bigger pots, and/or divide.

 

 

 

 

Winter Wreaths: Thoughts and Tips

A 26″+ diameter wreath featuring selections of Elkhorn Cedar, Hinoki Cypress, Korean Arborvitae and Curly Willow.

I purposely titled this post Winter Wreaths, not  “Christmas” Wreaths. This isn’t a political statement but a simple acknowledgment that Winter Wreaths have pagan roots. At the Winter Solstice, the early Northern Europeans created wreaths to symbolize the circular rhythm of the seasons. Winter wreaths made from freshly cut greens will last well into February. There’s no need for red bows and Christmas tucks when you use beautiful plant material.

Detail of a wreath featuring Elkhorn Cedar, Cryptomeria and Hinoki Cypress.

Wreath making is a family tradition worth keeping. For years now, I’ve offered “The Day after Thanksgiving”  Wreath Making Workshop here at Avant Gardens (an alternative to mall shopping) using cuttings and branches gathered from our garden and nursery. Of course it helps that the many conifers we planted years ago have matured to give us ample material to work with (and I’m able to get in some much needed pruning at the same time!).

Many Hinoki Cypress branches in various shades of gold and green, some bearing delightful cones. (Note the leaf undersides facing up.)

So what are some of my favorite conifers to work with?  Early on I learned that Spruce and Fir, often used in commercial wreath production, did not prosper here in southern New England;  both prefer cooler summer climates. However, the many selections of Cedar do thrive: Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cv.), Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), Korean Arborvitae (Thuja koraiensis glauca prostrata) and Elkhorn Cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata)  offer a variety of texture in shades of gold to darkest green. If you live in warm winter climates, you  have different options…I want to make a wreath using various  asparagus ferns and semi tropical evergreens.

Notice I placed some of the conifer branches so that the back side faces up...it reveals a delicate tracey, and a lovely silver color in the case of Korean Arborvitae and Elkhorn cedar.   Last year our native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana had an amazing blue berry set. Alas, this year was disappointing; there was no fruit to speak of and I worry about the poor birds who relish them. What will they feed on instead?

A wire box wreath form is covered with moss plus gathered dried fern leaves to create the base.

Our holly cultivars regularly produce a great berry set thanks to our pollinating bees. We grow ‘Blue Princess’ (Ilex x meserve cv) and  the smaller leaved Ilex x pernyi ‘Dr. Kassab’.  We have the native American Holly in the woods  at the back of our property, but they are a tad more prickly. I also use other broadleaf evergreens such as Boxwood, Inkberry, Laurel, Andromeda and even Ivy, but take note. Broadleaved evergreens desiccate quickly, especially indoors. To compensate I use a wreath base wrapped with moist sphagnum moss. Keep the moss hydrated and your holly wreath will stay fresh much longer.

Working clockwise, bunches of branches and stems bound on using 22 gauge wire. It is important to pull the wire tight as you work.

More and more people are finding the informality of foraged plant  material preferable.  Use woody plant stems with a wilder character, such as curly willow, rose hips, winterberry, or various colored osier dogwoods.  Search for moss and lichen covered twigs that may have fallen to the ground after a windstorm. Collect dried grasses and seed pods to add a variety of textures.

Let it be wild. Resist the urge to make your wreath too balanced and neat.

if you haven’t done so already, and are inspired, take a walk about your property to see what branches you can gather. Don’t hesitate to experiment; that’s what wakens your inner child and makes your wreath an original.

Note:  Please, do not harvest greens and cuttings from public spaces or private property without permission.

Growing Biennial Angelica

One of the stars of our late summer pollinator garden is Angelica, whose umbels of tiny flowers invite insect and butterfly activity galore.  Angelica are biennials, and most of you know this  means that seed sown this year grow roots and foliage, with flowers appearing in year two. The hope is that once planted, the Angelica will self sow, providing progeny for years to come. Hmm, sounds good, but….

Angelica germinates best after the seed has been exposed to cold temperatures. If plants are allowed to self sow in the garden, the seed naturally gets a long winter chill, and wakes up with the spring rains. When this works, it’s wonderful! In our experience this is not always something to be counted on. What if the seed germinates but then a dry spell settles in and you are too busy to observe and water?

We choose not leave our supply up to chance. After collecting seed in the fall, we store it envelopes in a cool dry space. In February we sow the seed in a slightly dampened germinating mix and let it sit for 2 weeks at room temperature (60-72F). We then transfer the seed flat, enclosed with a sealed baggie, into the refrigerator (35-40F) for 4-6 weeks (you could also try leaving the flat in a safe spot outdoors). In April, we transfer the seed flat out to germinate under 60-70F conditions. Once the seedlings have developed first true leaves, we transplant them into deep 2” tubes (Angelica do develop a taproot). When plants are established enough they can be transplanted into the garden, or in our case, into deep nursery quart pots for retail sales.

Angelica atropurpurea

There are numerous species; here are a few of our favorites. Angelica gigas, native to Korea has bolder foliage with dense deep wine globular umbels. Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’. (aka A. sylvestris purpurea) hails from northern Europe and has dark tinted stems and foliage, with 4’ stems bearing dark purple flower buds opening maturing to lavender-pink, followed by attractive seed heads. There is a species native to parts of the US, including New England, Angelica atropurpurea, (Purple angelica) which has medicinal uses, plus it is quite ornamental with tall  red tinted stems and green to white umbels.

If you want to grow Angelica in large swaths of your garden, why not order seed and sow this winter. You’ll have to wait a year for blossoms, but you’ll have dozens of plants. Or, compromise. Purchase a few established first year plants and get them in the ground this year for color and activity next, but still sow seed next winter for your endless supply.

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Going Native, but Maybe Not All the Way

Meadow in Summer, at the edge of the woodland

The garden style I’ve always preferred is informal, a little on the wild side, where there’s not a lot of fussiness and certain plants are allowed to self sow and naturalize. Managing such a garden requires a knowledgeable caretaker, someone who can check growth on plants that are too exuberant, and know which varieties play well together. It is a style of gardening that is now in vogue, especially when it is composed of native plants.

This winter, I attended numerous virtual lectures and symposia that discussed how to create and manage native plant landscapes. It’s most encouraging that this native plant style is now being employed in many commercial and urban landscapes, as it provides a wildlife habitat along with visual aesthetics. The cardinal rules for success: Understand your site and soil composition, monitor the landscape the first year to insure that plants establish, weed out unwanted invaders, and practice ecologically sensitive pest management.

Popular “native” plant ensemble: Echinacea, Vernonia, Amsonia, Schizachyrium

There is one question that many proponents of planting natives have trouble with…defining which plants can be truly considered native. Are these plants native to your county,  or your geographic region (i.e. southern New England), or can we include the whole country (and the US is a big one)? There are so many gorgeous native plants (think Amsonia, Aruncus, Phlox, etc.) that hail from the Ozark region, an area that includes parts of  Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois. Southern New England and the Ozark Mountains share similar hardiness zones and so many Ozark natives are happily growing in our gardens. But let’s be honest…the Ozark’s are 1400 miles away, from us, anyway.  So, how should we define the range limit of what can be considered a native plant?

A corner of our garden with native and "foreign" species". We lost the variegated Cornus alternifolia, a native, but the Clethra barbinervis, native to Japan, has thrived and provides nectar for our honeybees.

A corner of our garden with native and “foreign” species”. We lost the variegated Cornus alternifolia, a native, but the Clethra barbinervis, native to Japan, has thrived and provides nectar for our honeybees.

At Avant Gardens, we have always grown selections of ornamental native plants. We also have and will continue to grow ornamental hardy plants native to faraway places: Japan, China, Croatia, England, Spain to name a few. They bring us joy and add to our gardens immensely. I hesitate to  be religious about the native plant movement because I do not what to exclude Elkhorn Cedar and Hinoki Cypress, Japanese Dogwood and Tree Clethra, Hellebores and Perennial Geraniums. And before I hear a lecture,  I fully understand the need to eradicate invasive non native plants!

a form of “native” Hydrangea arborescens: ‘Haas Halo’

I think that we can find a compromise on choosing both native and non native plants for our properties. The suggested goal is to devote 70% of your property to plantings specific to your region to create a native habitat. Now, this percentage assumes that you live on a large enough parcel, but some city dwellers’ homes might take up 70% or more of their lot size. For argument’s sake, let’s allow that  if one’s property is generous in size, with a house footprint of 10%, one can still allot a large space to locally native plants and still be able to find home for some treasured foreigners.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please share.

Fall Container Report 2021

As we approach October, it’s time to evaluate which planters held up well in this surprisingly wet year. Perhaps my favorite planter this year was an afterthought…what to do in a 36″ bowl that gets less and less sun each year. It was in an area that doesn’t get much attention to boot, but as you can see it didn’t suffer at all.

This combination of different Snakeplants (Sansevieria) and Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon nigrescens) with variegated ivy and Dichondra worked astonishingly well. Sophisticated in a way, but totally unfussy! Will have to consider a future repeat performance.
It’s been 20 years since we’ve grown Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet), but since we have had so many inquiries recently,  we decided to give them another go. (I vaguely remember that they were a magnet for whiteflies, and banned them from the greenhouse.) In June I ordered 5 different varieties from Logee’s, (yes, a late start for a summer display, especially starting with 4″ pots), but with regular doses of the  miraculous Neptune’s Harvest fish/seaweed fertilizer, they all took off. The mystery selection shown above differed from the name tag description, but it sure was quick to flower. In fact it is in its second flush right now.

This is what we learned: Brugmansia grow very fast in tropical weather conditions (we’ve certainly had  heat, humidity and a fair amount of rain this season).  We know that hybrids of the species versicolor have flowers that first appear yellow then age to shades of pink. Two of the 5 selections grew to large proportions but as of Sept 27 are only now forming flower buds.  Two others provided flowers within  3 months time.  Logee’s ‘Pink Champagne’  (pictured above) has a subtle coloring that is best enjoyed up close. The larger proportioned  ‘Angel’s Lemon Zest’ (below) has also rewarded us with repeat flowerings.

I should say that this year we’ve enjoyed simply growing on specimen plants in individual containers, and either arranging little groups or featuring  on pedestals of their own. The little Goldfish Plant, Nematanthus  gregarius, is an easy “succulent” for shadier spots. Consider it an indoor/outdoor plant..most of us have a windowsill that will accommodate this little guy for the winter,  and then next year it can renew itself outdoors again all summer.

A 20 year old pot of Haworthia reinwardtii and a 3 year old Aeolinanthus repens spent the summer outdoors, and will return to a western window inside for the winter…super easy plants to keep happy!

And now for the before and after pics.  All in all, plants held up well, although this was the year the Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ really sulked. It didn’t die, but it didn’t luxuriate as in previous summers…too humid?A few succulents exceeded their bounds and needed a cut back.
Here the Dichondra was cut back in Sept. when it got dingy looking.You can never go wrong combining succulents with Phormium.Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ likes to be fed a lot, and it will  reward you with blooms all summer. Begonias may have liked the humidity but not constant wetness. Begonia ‘Art Hodes’ above, one of the best, never complained. Begonia ‘Escargot’ , below,  survived, but was more challenging to keep  happy.

Please tell us…how did your containers fare this summer? Still looking good? Which plants impressed you the most?

Cool plants, cool pots…a visit to Solana Succulents

We just returned from a “too quick” visit to the San Diego area. On this trip we had the joyful distraction of our adorable 6 month old grandson, so there was not a lot of time for plant exploring. We did however get to check in at one of our favorite haunts, Solana Succulents.  This little succulent oasis is owned by Jeff Moore, whose book Aloes and Agaves in Cultivation, is a reference we use often.

I love nurseries where there are one of a kind treasures everywhere you look, and this is the case at Solana Succulents.  There are always new plants to discover,  and on this day we were introduced to  Eulophia petersii, commonly called Corduroy Orchid (center foreground), awaiting transplanting to a more decorative pot.

The dramatic black and white coloring of this Dyckia caught my eye…

as did this Hylocereus undatus, the dragon fruit cactus.

Another thing I love at these little specialty nurseries is the choice pottery that are featured in their displays, and often for sale. The containers themselves are unique sculptural elements. Elevate this art form with a perfectly matched plant and you have created arresting eye candy.

A textured tan and turquoise rectangular planter featured a choice caudiciform Ficus. Call it minimalism or abstraction, but there’s no denying that the plant and pot together command attention.

Perhaps we intuitively picked up on this art form  on our first visit to California years ago. We’ve been collecting cool vessels for planters for quite some time and feature an assortment of small and large fine pottery to showcase individual specimens or ensembles. These sculptural elements are little luxuries that please the eye and enrich the soul.

Hopeful Anticipation

The Hellebore hybrids are consistent early performers that really show off when early spring temperatures moderate.

We are several weeks into spring 2021, and so far, no surprise snow storms! Actually, we have even had a few days when it felt like it was the middle of May. Oh it’s so easy to get giddy when the skies are calm and blue and the temperature reaches 70F. Still, this New England gardener has had more than a few stinging memories of drastic temperature swings, when garden and nursery plants were nipped in the bud (literally and figuratively).

Jeffersonia dubia taking in the early morning sunshine on April 8th.

This unseasonal warm spell we just experienced did push growth on the earliest blooming perennials, and buds of many trees and shrubs have begun to swell (in our protected front garden our Katsura Japanese maple is beginning to leaf out weeks early). Except where voles and chipmunks have unearthed and/or eaten roots of choice Epimedium and Hakonechloa, it looks like there are fewer overwinter losses. The chipmunks especially love creating their tunneled habitats in the stone wall raised beds that Chris has built around the property. We’ve come to resign ourselves that we just have to share the gardens.

Chipmunks’ burrowing tunnels exposed the roots and created air pockets around dwarf Solomon’s Seal and Epimedium, and we are not sure who to blame for the gnawed below the crown of the Japanese Forest Grass.

One thing that has us already concerned is that 2021 has been unseasonably dry here in southeastern Massachusetts. You may not be experiencing a lack of precipitation in your region, or have no need for concern yet, but with last week’s warmth, we already began dragging hoses around to soak our planting beds.

This leads to the question, “What type of growing conditions should we plan for this year?” Last summer was horrifically dry for us (at least our succulent collections were happy).  Although there is still  time to catch up on rainfall totals, it would be wise to add a protective layer of compost/mulch on garden beds to help conserve moisture. Also, selecting adaptable but more drought tolerant native plants is advice that no one could argue with.

Aster ptarmicoides (Upland White Aster), native to the midwest, is a durable plant for the front of the sunny border.

Gardeners are optimists. In April,  we anticipate regular rainfall and kind growing conditions for the year ahead. That being said, those of us who have been at this for a while know to have a backup plan in place in case our positive outlooks become challenged. Yes, that adaptability thing…plants, human expectations…it is key in being a happy gardener.

How did your garden fare this winter? What are you most hopeful  for this season?

Holiday decor in the time of Covid

Amaryllis ‘Wedding Dance’ and Begonias with cut greens and lights

Yep, this year is different. Fear of Covid has canceled holiday gatherings, and the urge to go all out with decorating is met by some with the question, “should I bother?” The answer is yes, even if it must be simple. This year, we absolutely need to illuminate the long nights with strings of lights and candles, but maybe we can take a break from lugging boxes of Christmas ornaments from the attic. (The thought of putting it all away is a chore no one relishes!) Instead,  we’ll focus on bringing nature indoors with decor that is  gathered from the garden and (lucky us) , the greenhouse.

Succulents in shades of red, green and white sit on a tray with gathered moss. Even the Aloes have festive names: the tiny one in the foreground is ‘Christmas Sleigh’, just behind it is  Aloe ‘Blizzard’, with blue green Echeveria setosa dimunata flanking on either side.

a brilliant Guzmania with red spikemoss

fresh evergreen wreath cut from conifers in the garden.

So, yes to winter wreaths on doorways, garlands, and arrangements of cut branches with pine cones. Yes to forced pots of Amaryllis, Christmas roses and red and green leaved Begonia. We may bring in a potted evergreen from the nursery and simply dress it with lights. Some classic holiday music will set the mood, along with the scent of cookies baking in the oven.

catch early morning light in the garden

a fire brings light and warmth

a fire brings light and warmth to end the day

This may be the year when we can’t physically gather with friends and family, but we can find peace and hope in nature’s gifts. Be outside as much as possible: take an early morning walk to catch the bird song or build a fire at dusk. Perhaps these simple ways of acknowledging the season,  more akin to the ancient winter festivals of northern Europe, will become a new tradition.

bottom lighting sets off this white Amaryllis

Peace and joy to you all!

Stay well!

Demystifying Seed Collecting: Harvesting, Storing and Sharing

nasturtium babies

nasturtium babies

It started with a nasturtium seed in a paper cup. Oh so many years ago, my first grade teacher instructed her classroom of 6-year olds how to plant the round nubby seeds. Within a week or 2, the first beautiful leaves broke through the soil. I have been smitten with germination ever since.

Many folks sow their are own annual seeds, but not so many give perennials a try. It is important to note that in recent years seed sown perennial selections have dwindled at garden centers.  Wholesale suppliers now favor the patented sterile clones that some say boast more uniform growth. (Hey control freak gardeners, it’s time to let go of that! )

honeybee on a single white Chrysanthemum

Upon becoming a beekeeper 5 years ago, I got a wake up call that seed-grown perennials provided more pollen and nectar, which in turn nourish our honey and native bees.  Our plant selections now include many more seed sown strains of perennials, shrubs and even trees, and this is the trend we foresee for other small specialty growers.

This brings me back to the importance of this topic:  seed collecting. Here are more reasons to encourage you to  harvest your own seed.

  1. To be able to propagate more plants for new garden beds
  2. To preserve strains that you find remarkable
  3. To be economical  (seeds are getting expensive)
  4. To participate in seed exchanges.  One benefit of joining various plant organizations such as the Hardy Plant Society or the North American Rock Garden Society is you have access to their seed exchanges. Share your seed with other members, and get access to many varieties not found at the local garden center.

peonies…the blue fruit are the ones that have fertile seeds

The first question many first time seed collectors ask is when should they harvest seed. This varies from plant to plant. You do need to collect seed as soon at it ripens, before the pods or capsules burst and dispense. Seed ripens at different times on different plants throughout the year so you need to pay close watch. Spring bloomers like Primrose and Vernal Sweet Pea ripen in June and early July, while on a late August day, the pods of species peonies burst to expose their bright red and blue fruit (the blue seeds are the fertile ones). Bluestar seed pods are ready to collect in early September, while it may be late October before you can harvest seeds of Compass Plant.

Our changing climate will challenge any timing rules. However, I just came across a website which may be of great help  the Seed Site .  It has a wealth of information on what pods and ripened seed look like on hundreds of different plant species.

Clockwise from top left: Cynara cardunculus, Galtonia viridiflora, Talinum paniculatum

Once you collect your seed, you should clean off the chaff and store in a cool dry spot in paper or glassine envelopes.  Make sure there are no tiny insect pests hanging out in the capsules. Some seed, such as Arisaema (Jack in the Pulpits) and Hellebores benefit by being stored enclosed in a moist paper towel inside a baggy, and kept in the refrigerator until spring.  Remember to label right away. You think you’ll remember, but…

The proper time for sowing and seed treatments differ depending on the plant. There is no one source that has complete information, but we often refer to the Jelitto Seed Website for germination tips. 

I encourage you to save your own seed. Yes, there is always more to learn,  but once you start you will gain confidence.  Go outside now and see whether you have a windfall of seed ready for harvesting.