Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Well, we seem to have survived the first couple of weeks of "official" winter despite almost 2-1/2 feet of heavy snow on the ground. With any luck at all, the next two or three months might be a cake-walk...but I wouldn't count on it!
By now you should be deep into catalogs, books and magazines, and plans for next year's gardening efforts. Keep it up; read every word; learn all you can; and be thinking seriously about striking a few cuttings to liven up your surroundings and, perhaps, to save a shekel or two in the bargain.
If you're like many avid gardeners, there's probably an indoor pot or two sitting around in which resides some personal favorite rescued, at the last moment, from first frost. Likely candidates are old stand-bys like fuchsia, begonia, several types of geranium, impatiens, trailing vinca, and maybe even an ivy or two. All of these, and many more, can be easily propagated by soft-wood stem cuttings (or "slips").
An old-tyme reliable method simply calls for dropping a small, relatively new part of the plant in a class of water resting in a sunny window. Eventually, if the water is changed every few days, roots appear and, in time, the newly-rooted plantlet is moved to a suitable size container of potting soil and treated like a young adult.
While the method usually works, I routinely prefer a variation which seems to give better results. Generally, rather than a glass of water, a mix of about 1/2 sharp, clean sand, and 1/2 fine sphagnum peatmoss placed in a drained container and kept slightly moist is faster, less stressful on cuttings and gives them more useful nutritional support in the days following root formation.
Here are some guidelines to follow when rooting cuttings of indoor plants destined for transplanting into the garden next spring.
Be sure to scrub and sterilize all pots or other containers (and the peat/sand mix if there's reason to think it may have been contaminated in storage) before taking your cuttings.
Moisten the mix to about the consistency of a wrung-out kitchen sponge.
Check your parent-plant carefully for any signs of insect infestation or plant disease. Reject any which exhibit mysterious or unexplained discoloration in the foliage, unusual curling or puckering of the leaves or blossoms, or those which show signs of nutritional, moisture or atmospheric stress. Eliminate all insects with appropriate insecticide (natural, if at all possible - most experts on the subject now recognize that chemical or synthesized pesticides should never be used inside the home...especially in the closed-up winter home).
Some cutting material needs to be "cured" for a time before insertion into the mix, to seal damage caused by the cut, thereby reducing the chance of rot or other disease. Geraniums, for example, should be allowed to dry out on a room-temperature countertop for a few hours before placing in moist media. Conversely, some plants whose sap is milky (poinsettia, crown of thorns) will need to have their cut ends dipped in ice-water for a few seconds to seal damaged tissues and prevent excessive loss of plant fluids.
Use a very sharp, spotlessly clean knife to make all cuts. Never "tear" or rip a stem cutting from its parent. Also, it is usually wise to make a slanted, slicing cut rather than one which chops or snips straight across.
You might like to use hormonal rooting medium (available in small, inexpensive packets at most farm 'n garden stores and garden centers) but I find it's not necessary for the types of cuttings we're considering here.
Use a clean "dibble" (sharpened stick or pencil) to create a hole in the media rather than just shoving the tender cutting in. After all cuttings are inserted, water just enough to drain out the bottom, and never allow the now-filled container to routinely sit in a pan or tray of water.
Warmth and light are critical at this point. A consistent temperature of between 65 and 70 degrees (F), and bright window light (but not intense, direct sun) should do fine. Avoid very cold and drafty windowsills. If that's not practical, insulate the space between the window and your new cuttings at night. Also watch out for excessive indoor heat sources like radiators and heater vents.
The best trick of all is to create a sort of 'tent' over each container to retain humidity, stabilize temperatures and prevent contamination or insect invasion. It also tends to discourage the cat...if you get my drift. Use pieces of wire coat-hangers bent into a hoop (two at right angles) then pull a clear plastic bag over it all...a little like a modern covered wagon. Just be sure it doesn't get direct sunlight or you'll end up with a little covered-wagon-oven!
When you see new growth emerging, and a gentle 'tug' indicates it's firmly rooted, that's the time to gently lift it out and pot each now-rooted plant into its own container...just a bit larger than its root system. Later, as growth continues and roots fill the original container, you'll need to up-pot to the next larger size.
It's as easy as that! You'll create some new plants to add to your home or garden while probably, depending on the numbers of cuttings you root, save a fair amount of money better suited for other gardening ventures. Give it a try.
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