By Barb Strona
While I am no gardener and don’t have a great deal of success with my garden, I love flowers. In March I attended a workshop on propagation which really caught my fancy. Liz Youngflesh, owner of Vista’s Garden Glories Nursery, propagates the plants she sells. Youngflesh demonstrated various methods of propagating plants.
The first method is simple di vision of plants that have tubers. Plants with tubers are best planted in the spring or fall. Summer’s heat necessitates extra water which will cause these young plantlets’ tubers to rot. Unhealthy stems may be yanked out; healthy ones may also be yanked out for propagating. Listen for a popping sound which indicates you’ve got the tuber on the stem. This is a good way to get the stem with its tuber which can then be planted. Do not cut them.
Alstroemeria, a plant with tubers, is easy to divide. Loosen the soil around the clump. Then, holding the clump over a large box such as a litter box, shake the dirt off. This allows you to see how large you want each group to be while confining the mess to the box. Since these plants have little tubers, they don’t need a lot of water. Leave some green so the plants can photosynthesize while the tubers reestablish themselves. Fill a pot half full of dirt mixed with a small pinch of Osmocote and a little Pearlite to facilitate drainage. Set the plant on top of the soil and gently add dirt. Leave the soil somewhat loose. Only use those plants that have roots among the tubers. Alstroemeria need full sun or they will become “leggy.”
Youngflesh has a gopher deterring succulent that thrives when divided this way. When she added them to her rose garden, the gophers moved away. Her neighbors have them, but she does not. Yarrow is another plant in this category. Fortunately sterile hybrid tuberous plants can be divided since they will neither seed nor send out runners. Division is the only means of propagating them.
Another method of propagation is with cuttings. Youngflesh has rose bushes which her mother started from a bouquet of roses she received forty years ago. Plants with nodes such as roses, trumpet vine, lavender, and hydrangeas can be propagated this way. First soak your moss and wring it out carefully. Unroll a large black plastic garbage bag and fold it lengthwise until it is about seven or eight inches wide. Lay this on a flat surface such as kitchen counter. Wring out your moss and lay it on the long plastic strip with the mossy side up. Cut pieces of sturdy stem about six inches long with at least two nodes. Make one cut about ¼ inch above the top node and the other ¼ inch below the bottom node. Stems about six inches long should work with a tiny bit of green at the top. Now lay your pieces of stem along the moss keeping the stems about six inches apart. Now begin to roll up your stem covered moss. Tie the roll and set it in a saucer in a safe place. Water it if it dries, and do not plant it until the roots are cascading from the bottom.
Once the cuttings have roots they may be carefully set into pots filled with potting mix and peat moss. Peat moss is loose, crumbly, and acidic. Youngflesh uses a chop stick or pencil to create a hole into which the new plantlet will go.
Another method of propagating is by placing woody stems directly into small pots. Youngflesh takes a mixture of six parts’ Pearlite to one part of potting mix. Youngflesh prefers a moist potting mix. She finds Ed Stone’s is not wet enough. Rice flowers can be done this way as can Persian lilac and willow branches. Make certain to remove any blossoms. Then break the stem where it will snap easily. Allow the stem to rest for an hour to harden. This will help prevent rot. Now dip one end in root hormone such as Root-Tone, shake off excess, and make your hole with pencil or chopstick at half the depth of your sticks. Place half the stick in the hole leaving the other half above the soil line. If you are propagating geraniums or succulents, don’t bother with hormones.
Before using any pot, Youngflesh sprays it lightly with bleached mixed with 10 parts of water. She lets the pot dry thoroughly. Then she adds her prepared mix. Another trick she uses with new seedlings or newly planted cuttings is she makes a little green house. Half a plastic bottle set over the pot keeps the humidity high while letting light in. It is not horribly important whether you use the top or bottom half of the bottom. The top lets air circulate; the bottom traps more moisture. Youngflesh does not leave these babies in strong sunlight until they are fairly vigorous. Whatever you are placing in the soil, remember to strip the leaves from the portion of the stem that will be in the dirt. This helps prevent disease and rot.
Vines are extremely easy to propagate. Simply lay a long vine on dirt in another pot, cover with a bit of mix and wait. When it is well-established, cut the new plant from the original. Many succulent leaves will grow just lying on the soil as well.
The most important advice Youngflesh gave was this: Label each plant using pencil. Ink smears and washes off. Pencil adheres to the mat side of the little plastic tags and doesn’t fade with time. If you wait to label it, you won’t know what you planted.
I have two plastic rolls of cuttings on my kitchen divider. Wish me luck!
The Mission Hills Garden Club is on summer hiatus. Meetings will resume September 24. That is also renewal month; $35 per year’s membership or $50.00 per couple will give you entrance to all meetings, Coffees in the Garden or Wines in the Garden plus a 10 percent discount at Mission Hills Nursery. Join us, and put down roots. You do not need to garden; you only need be interested.