Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Cuttings—A Fresh Start!
through Fred's Garden Gate! Well,
'ol man Winter is near at hand!
Soon, the holidays will be behind us, and the new year will
come crashing down upon us—in all likelihood amidst a foot or two
of snow. What a great time for gardeners everywhere to make a new
as it's right for at least thinking about resolutions and
forgiveness of past offenses, so also is this the best time of the
year to take cuttings of many of the more common houseplants. You know the ones I mean: plants, stretched and scraggly,
that have gone well beyond their bounds, trailing to the floor or
brushing against the ceiling; others destitute and hungry, barely
surviving in over-crowded containers, stale air, dust, pet hair, and
wildly-fluctuating temperatures and humidity of the Maine winter
geraniums, for example. While some have been known to remain in the
same pot for years, exhausted soil, fertilizer-salts-buildup and
living with the constant fear of falling over are not among their
favorite things. Picture yourself getting a haircut, a new outfit and
a brand new, fresh-smelling home. Wouldn't that feel great? Wouldn't
you perk right up? That's just the way houseplants feel after
they've been rejuvenated.
plants, philodendrons, orchids and violets; poinsettias, Christmas
cactuses and piggy-back
plants; geraniums, fuchsias and ivy; all these—and more—would
benefit greatly from being "slipped," rooted, and
potted up in fresh, nourishing, new soil.
so easy, a child could do it! All
you need for most types is a bright spot (but not in direct sun), a
mix of half-peat, half-sand and a container to hold it, a clean,
sharp knife or garden snips, and a few moments of time.
are three popular methods of taking cuttings:
"softwood-stem" and "leaf" are most appropriate
for a great many houseplants; the other method is "root."
Begonias, African violets, pepperomia and streptocarpus are
frequently propagated by leaf cuttings. Put in the simplest possible
terms, a vigorous, undamaged leaf is severed from the parent plant
and either inserted into or laid atop moist cutting mix.
important to maintain moisture in the soil and provide for ample
humidity around the tops. . .and of course, try to keep the cat
more common cutting method—stem—is suited to almost all other
houseplants with the possible exception of large, foliage-types like
ficus (rubber plant), diffenbachia (dumbcane) and Ti (pronounced:
"tee") - the one Hawaiians make into grass skirts.
about any houseplant which has a stem can be propagated by this
method. Generally, remove a three- or four-inch tip of vigorous
current-season growth, using a clean, sharp knife. Trim leaves away
from the lower half, and insert the prepared stem into your cutting
mix. The same rule applies: maintain reasonable moisture and ample
humidity during the rooting period.
need a slightly different treatment. Prepare the stem as you would
other types but allow them to dry out on the kitchen counter for at
least 12-hours. I like to strike cuttings in the early evening, and
then insert them into peat/sand mix the following morning. Yes, they
will wilt slightly sitting there exposed to room air, but they'll be
better in the long run for the experience.
cuttings from some types of houseplants (poinsettia, crown of
thorns) will "bleed" a milky-white, latex-like sap. Before
you cut their stems, have a glass of icy-cold water to
briefly immerse the cut ends into. . .that'll stop the hemorrhage. A
few seconds will suffice.
the most efficient humidity control device is a plastic
"tent" drawn over the top of your cutting container.
One of my favorite tricks is to cut two wire clothes hangers
into about 20-inch straightened pieces, bend them into a
"bow" and create what looks for all the world like a
little covered-wagon greenhouse. Large food-storage bags are just
about the right size to pull across the hoops. It would be wise to
leave a gap or two for air exchange so the cuttings won't rot from
too much moisture. Be careful to place this contraption away
from direct sunlight and heater vents; you don't want it to become a
isn't critical, but things will happen faster if cuttings are
maintained at between 65 and 70 degrees (F). Higher temperatures may
encourage rot—diseases like botritis (gray mold) and rhizoctonia
(damping-off); much cooler, and rooting will take forever. Most
soft-wood stem cuttings will develop roots in three to six weeks.
appearance of new growth is a good sign that roots have sprouted.
Give them a gentle tug; if there's resistance, gather your
potting soil and containers together. Carefully lift each rooted
cutting with a pencil or dibble and pot it into a container that
will comfortably hold the developing root system.
Resist the temptation to place a single cutting in an
over-size container. Water; give them a day or two to catch their
breath; then treat them like adults.
You'll find a number of excellent books on houseplant propagation at your local library. Until next time, enjoy!
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