Clay balls protect seeds from sun, wind and birds
Old method of hand-forming spheres attributed to Indians
By Christine Arpe Gang
Special to The Commercial Appeal
Friday, November 2, 2007
Gardeners who love playing in the dirt might try their hand at making
some mud marbles, called seed balls.
These compact spheres of clay, compost and seeds have several
advantages over sowing and scattering seeds in traditional ways.
The tightly packed balls hold the seeds in place so they will not be
dried out by the sun, eaten by birds or blown away by the wind.
When it rains, the mud "melts" into the earth where the seeds will
germinate exactly where they were placed. The balls should be placed
on top of the soil, not buried.
This method of distributing seeds for flowers and vegetables is being
used in urban gardens, farms and wild areas in the United States and
all over the world.
Master Gardeners in DeSoto County received wildflower seed balls at
the International Master Gardeners Conference in Little Rock last
summer, said Dr. Joy Fox Anderson, an extension horticulturist who
splits her time between DeSoto and Shelby counties.
"The flowers grew wherever the seed balls landed," Anderson said. Some
of the Master Gardeners tossed theirs onto beds or in uncultivated
Others set them out more carefully.
They are not difficult to make. In regions where the soil is sandy,
gardeners mix pottery clay, compost, seeds and water to make the firm
Our native soil has enough clay to use it exclusively to make the
balls, Anderson said. Or you can blend in a little compost with the
clay. The compost gives seeds a boost of nutrients as they germinate.
The most common seed ball recipe is one-part clay soil, one- part
compost, one-part seeds and a little water sprayed in to hold the ball
Once the mixture is blended, take a little wad and roll it between
your hands into balls about 1/2 - to 1-inch in diameter.
It's important to allow balls to dry before storing them because
excess moisture can rot the seeds. You can place them on a screen in a
"Seeds of annuals work best," Anderson said. Some suggestions are
sunflowers, zinnias, poppies, cosmos and larkspur.
Ellen Le Blond placed a mud ball with amsonia (bluestar) seeds in a
flower bed last January. In the spring when they sprouted, she thinned
the crop until she had an amsonia right where she wanted it.
This method of planting seeds is attributed to North American Indians.
But Masanobu Fukuoka, natural no-till farming pioneer, also
experimented with them. Seed balls have also been used in urban
community gardens in New York City and on farms in developing
A few commercial seed companies sell them. Gardens.com offers thyme,
parsley, chive and basil seeds in packages of eight seed balls. Each
ball has 20 to 30 seeds, enough to cover a square foot in plants.
At gardenbasket.com you can buy a brand called Seed Ballz with mixed
herbs, sunflowers, poppies, sweet peas, cosmos and a blend of all-pink
flowers called "Seeds of Hope."
Seed Ballz hires people with developmental disabilities to make its products.
A portion of the sale of the pink flower blend goes to help women
fighting breast cancer.
So get a group of adult friends or children together to make seed
balls. You might find that you enjoy making mudpies again.
Dixon floriculturist honored
Greg Francis, floriculturist at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, won the top
prize for the flower arrangement he created for a competition at the
national conference of the Specialty Cut Flower Grower's Association
in Raleigh, N.C.
It wasn't a carefully practiced design. He chose his container, a deep
purple glass piece, and flowers at the conference right before the
"I wanted to make a fall arrangement, but knew I could use yellow and
orange flowers with an aubergine container," said Francis who
estimates there were about 100 entries.
Instead he chose dark red celosia, the burgundy flowers of Autumn Joy
sedum, dark plum dahlias, twisted vines and grasses with seed heads.
"It was a modern fall arrangement," he said.
Judges praised him for his choice of plant materials, color
combinations, proportion, drama and texture. "It has 'wow power,' "
they said in their judging notes.
Lavender, hostas and hydrangea
Some gardening questions from readers:
Vicki Scholting planted lavender in two containers last spring. One is
Spanish lavender and the other is an English type. She wants to know
if she should leave them outside, put them in the garage or shelter
them in a sun room.
"The English lavender will be fine outside during the winter," said
Sara Burnette, a past president of the Memphis Herb Society who has
had great success in growing lavender. But Spanish lavender needs to
be covered when temperatures dip below 25 degrees, or it can be
brought into the garage or the sun room.
"Be sure not to over-water them if you bring them inside," Burnette
said. "They don't need much water." Watering about once a month might
Scholting also asks if lavender should bloom more than once.
"They're basically spring bloomers," Burnette said. "Once in awhile
you will see another flower or two but not a lot."
Jane Crabtree has some small hostas in containers and wants to know if
she should bring those in.
Hostas can be planted in the ground now, or kept in their pots
outdoors. They need a period of cold dormancy.
Fannie Hayes wants to know why there are black spots on the leaves of
her hydrangea and why it is still blooming.
Hydrangea leaves are often infected with fungal diseases. They usually
don't hurt the bushes in any significant way but do look unsightly.
Fall is not a time to prune, so wait until the leaves fall off after
the first frost, which should occur in early November. Then remove the
leaves from the ground, bag and throw them away.
The hydrangea in question is probably a reblooming variety or it could
be an older variety with a sporadic flower or two.
Questions or comments? Contact Christine Arpe Gang at
or call Home & Garden editor Peggy Reisser
Winburne at 529-2372.
(c) 2007 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers