Plant propagation is a cost free or at least a very inexpensive way to grow your plant stock. It only takes a few tools that you probably already have: good secateurs, a shovel, planting medium, rooting hormone and a few pots.
The easiest way to grow your plant stock is by using seeds harvested from plants you already have in the garden. Some plants, like lettuce and celery, will only germinate if exposed to sunlight; others, like phlox and alliums, only if they are completely covered.
Most plants will benefit from being started indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost. There are a few that either do not like being transplanted or are hardy enough to take a light frost. Those plants are better off being planted directly outdoors. A few examples: peas, carrots, corn, beans, nasturtiums, morning glory, cucumbers.
Most perennials benefit from being sown directly outdoors at the end of summer. This gives the plants the chance to experience the cold cycle they have adapted to and makes them emerge stronger in their own time in spring.
Hard seeds like nasturtiums, morning glory and four-o’clocks will germinate faster if soaked in warm water for 12 hours prior to planting.
When: Plant annuals in spring and perennials and biennials at the end of summer, when the heat died down a bit.
Another popular way to increase your garden stock is by dividing mature plants. Most herbaceous perennials really need dividing in order to keep blooming and healthy. Among those, a few examples: heuchera, daylilies, pampas grasses.
Other plants, like daisies and bee balms will quickly spread if left to their own accord. Dividing them is a good way to control their growth and fill up bare spots in your garden.
To divide the plant you can either dig it out completely and break the root ball into smaller parts or slice part of a clump with a shovel. If you can do the latter, the advantage is that the roots of the mother plant will remain undisturbed.
When: Divide spring blooming plants in the fall and fall blooming plants in spring.
Among these: bearded irises, peonies, lily-of-the-valley, mint.
For small rhizomes, just pull out of the dirt and replant somewhere else. For larger rhizomes, dig the plant out at the end of summer after it finished blooming and cut up the root in 2-4 inch sections with leaf growth at one end.
When: End of summer or fall, after they have finished their vegetative cycle.
This works great with ground covers, strawberries, raspberries, and spider plant. Take a runner and tie it down to the ground with a pin. After the plant develops roots you can cut it loose from the mother plant and move it someplace else.
When: whenever they decide to grow runners.
Most woody plants can be propagated like this, especially roses, for which this is the basic method of propagation. Other plants to be propagated by cuttings: butterfly bush, weigela, pelargonium, fuchsia, delphinium, forsythia, chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, African violets.
There are four basic types of cuttings: tip cuttings (soft, green), stem cuttings (woody), leaf cuttings (leaf and petiole) and root cuttings.
For stem and tip cuttings, a minimum 3 inch length will ensure the viability of the plant. Wounding the cutting (making a longitudinal cut or crushing the bottom) will stimulate the plant to grow new roots.
Many plants, like mint, will grow roots if placed in water. Other plants, like African violets and hydrangeas, will be happy to root if you stick a leaf with a long petiole in the dirt. For plants with large leaves, like hydrangea, it helps to cut off about half of the leaf to lessen the strain on the developing root system that feeds it.
If you have rooting hormone, I strongly recommend it.
When: For fall blooming perennials and annuals, start cuttings when the danger of frost has passed in spring. For spring blooming perennials, start the cuttings in the fall and protect them under cloches (a glass jar would work just fine) over winter. It is very advantageous to the plant to go through a cold season in its natural surroundings, it gives it a stronger root system. This is especially true for roses.
Bulbs, corms and tubers
Some bulbs, like lilies, will start spreading out in a scaly pattern. Each scale with roots can be separated to start a new plant.
Onions can be vertically chopped and divided. For hyacinths there is a method called scooping: cut the roots off a bulb and scoop out the central part right underneath them to expose the bulb layers. Place the bulb upside down half buried in a tray full of wet sand. Place the tray in a dark warm location. In 12-14 weeks bulblets will start forming on top of the large bulb. Plant the bulb upside down with the bulblets right below the surface. Let the plant go through its vegetative cycle. The bulbs can be lifted and separated in the fall.
When dividing tubers, make sure to have at least one viable “eye” on each section.
When: In the fall, after the plants go dormant.
Dropping and stooling
Dropping consists of pushing down and covering most of the plant stems with compost or good quality dirt, and wait for the plant stems to develop individual roots. The newly rooted plants can then be separated and replanted. This works for heathers and rhododendrons.
For the stooling method mound up dirt high around the bottom of the plant, to give the stems an opportunity to grow roots. A few examples of plants for which this method works: lilacs, willows and dogwoods.
When: Drop and stool in spring, divide and cut in the fall.
Please keep in mind that some plants can be successfully propagated through several of these methods.
Here are some good resources for learning more about plant propagation:
Propagation Basics: Tools Techniques Timing – Steven Bradley
Here is one of the cuttings I planted last fall. It seems to have sprung pretty healthy roots. Notice the bottom growth and the large bud at the top. Those are pretty sure signs that this rose actually has roots. I can’t tell you how many times I watched green shoots like this stay green for months with no actual root development happening.
Starting the roses directly outside offers many advantages:
1. They grow a healthier root system in their permanent location and they are not subjected to the stress of relocation. If a rose found a specific soil favorable enough to sprout roots, it is much more likely that it will thrive in that location when fully grown.
2. They will be less subject to wilt because they have adapted slowly to the weather changes.
3. They have full sun exposure, which will significantly benefit them throughout their development.
4. You don’t have a sea of potted sticks with plastic covers on every well lit window sill for the entire winter.
5. They don’t mold.
6. They experience the winter dormancy cycle, which is natural for roses and therefore beneficial.
That being said, a few more pointers about new roses.
Don’t prune them the first year. Some people advise removing all the blooms to allow the plant to develop a strong branch, leaf and root structure and not expand energy for flowers. I never had the heart to do it, but I can believe this is good advice.
Give them some extra care the first year, make sure they have enough sunlight and water to stay healthy. Generally speaking own-root roses tend to be healthier and stronger than the grafted ones, but take a little longer to develop. Make sure that they don’t have fast growing annuals towering over them and taking up all the resources. Once they are two or three years old they are tall enough and this ceases to be a problem.
Stop worrying about how hard it is to grow roses, because it is not true. Roses are shrubs and require very little care once established. Of course, some varieties are sturdier than others.
The flowering quince bloomed first. Here it is. Looks like spring, but not quite yet. The little indoor garden is thriving, even though I started it a little early. If you are ready for Spring chores, here is a to do list for March:
- clean up broken fallen branches
- fertilize the lawn
- trim the dried-up stems of perennials to make room for fresh growth
- plant fruit trees and bushes
- start seeds indoors, if not started yet
- till dirt to prepare the flower beds
- later this month remove winter protection from roses
Probably by this date everybody had enough of winter, but since spring is not going to be here for a while, you can enjoy a preview indoors by forcing flowering branches into bloom. Most tree or bush branches that bloom in spring would suit this purpose, some easier than others. Among the easiest to force into bloom – forsythia and pussy willow. Among the most difficult – crab apples. In between there is a whole range, you take your pick: flowering quince, magnolia, cherry and plum, witch hazel, lilac, viburnum, etc. I chose flowering quince and Japanese cherry.
The process is very simple: cut branches with rounded buds (those are flower and not leaf buds) with sharp pruning shears and bring them indoors. Smash the ends of the branches with a hammer, or slit lengthwise with a sharp knife. Place the branches immediately in warm water and put them in a well lit location, but not in direct sunlight.
Change the water every two or three days as needed to keep it clear. The easy ones, like forsythia, will bloom in a week, but for the rest of them expect to wait approximately four weeks.
There are few things that match the joy of watching children take charge of little projects, and gardening projects are no exception. Set aside a little patch of dirt for your kids to plant seeds and watch things grow. Make sure it is reasonably fertile and in full sun, you don’t want to make a starter project so challenging that it generates disillusionment rather than the pride of accomplishment. Stick to annuals. Turn the dirt at a spade’s depth early in the spring, to ensure that most of the seeds will germinate. Prepare little starter flats for annuals, if you would like to start some of the plants indoors. Make sure the little gardeners have child sized gardening utensils: a little watering can, a tiny hoe, gardening gloves, a little rake. For some projects, if the dirt is of good quality, a plastic beach set with a bucket, a watering can, a little rake and a small shovel or spade would suffice.
That being said, unless you are starting seeds indoors (see end of article), wait until the day of last frost has passed. If you don’t know what that day is in your area, check out this guide. Don’t plant outdoors before that date. Frost may not occur as late as that date this year, but if it does, it will be a downer for the little ones.
Make sure the ground is moist and finely minced before starting. Take some time with your child to lay out on paper what will be planted where. Use strings or ribbons to separate the areas. Prepare waterproof markers for the new plantings and mark the flowerbeds properly.
Read the instructions together for seed planting depth and spacing and help out with planting if needed. After the seedlings emerge, teach the child to thin them out, so that the new plants have plenty of room to develop. Make a habit of walking around the garden with your child and make daily observations about plant development, water needs or anything else that might apply. This will reap its own reward later, especially if they are starting veggies, when it is produce picking time.
Here is a list of fail proof plants for a starter garden:
– Zinnias: they germinate reliably, grow very fast and have showy blooms. Since children like to pick flowers, zinnias are a great choice. The more you pick, the more they bloom.
– Snapdragons: not very picky about care, as long as they have enough sunlight. They are a favorite play thing.
– Marigolds, or if you want to make it even more interesting, pot marigolds. They are very pretty and easy to grow.
– Sunflowers are always a child’s favorite, because they are so big and grow three times their height.
– Anything with large seeds will be easy to handle during planting, therefore generate a more reliable outcome. Among these, nasturtiums, morning glory and four o’clocks will be great choices. Most of the larger seeds that are somewhat woody need a 24 hour soaking in warm water to ensure faster germination, but they will sprout anyway.
– Try vegetables that are easy to grow and the kids might enjoy, like cucumbers, squash and beans. Make child sized bean tepees so they can reach all the way to the top. Leave an opening at one end, the little shady shelter will be the ultimate Summer favorite. Consider adding furnishings, it will make a great alternative for a tree house. Don’t worry about the beans, they’ll figure it out.
– Try adding something fragrant of flavorful, like sweet alyssum or basil.
– Create a marker to designate that the area is your child’s garden and let them choose what that might be.
– Think about adding a bird bath.
If you want to start the seeds indoors, place the seed starters in a prominent location with plenty of sunlight and a little watering can nearby. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. You would be surprised what four days of neglect can do to small plants. Starting plants indoors is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the proper thinning of seedlings.
Depending how much you want to enforce teaching responsibility, you might need to give your child reminders about gardening tasks that need done, but remember that this is supposed to be a fun successful project, so if you need to accidentally water it yourself when it doesn’t look too hot, or pull out a couple of weeds every now and then(trust me, that is a chore even grown-ups tend to put off), so be it.
Yes, I know that January is not particularly a gardener’s dream, but it is a special and exciting opportunity for renewal. Every year green thumbs afflicted by cabin fever search hopefully through plant and seed nursery catalogs to find the next beautiful flower or high-yield veggie to add to their garden.
Whether their patch of dirt is farm sized or just a few clay pots and in a little sunny spot on a balcony, everyone who ever caught the gardening bug is always looking for the next plant to enjoy, harvest, or, let’s face it, show off.
If you are into seed saving, it is time to bring in that seed box of yours and review the contents. Yes, they will all sprout and grow into beautiful plants.
For those who want to add a little diversity to the garden, try new plants or enhance their seed saver collection for the future, there is nothing like heirloom and non-hybridized seeds.
Most of the plants these seeds come from have been thriving in your area for decades, even centuries. They are beautifully reminiscent of grandparents’ gardens, very flavorful if they are vegetables, not prone to disease and most importantly, will come true from seed year after year.
I’m sure everybody has their favorites when it comes to picking a nursery to buy seeds from, but I will share mine:
Monticello Catalog of Plants and Seeds – every plant I started from their seeds was beyond expectation, they come out beautiful, vigorous, and will thrive anywhere. They have heirloom and non-hybridized seeds. Case in point – Scarlet Runner Beans and Calendula.
Heirloom Seeds – They have a wonderful variety of certified organic vegetable seeds. At this time, if you buy a Victory Garden they will donate $10 to the Red Cross. Please check out the details on their site.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – They offer only open pollinated seeds.
Spring Hill Nurseries – I have been buying plants and seeds from them for a long time, and I was very happy with them. See their “Wonder of Staffa” blue asters, for instance.
Click here to visit BloomingBulb.com – Another grower from whom I bought plants for years, very reliable. They specialize in bulbs, I think probably two thirds of the bulbs in my garden came from their nursery.
Just in time for the holidays, a recipe for wonderfully fragrant and very festive looking candied lemon peel. Great for decorating, if there is any of it left by the end of the day.
Disclaimer – if it looks like candy and tastes like candy it’s because it has the same amount of sugar and calories as candy. That being said…
Candied Lemon Peel:
– 4 lemons with thick skin
– 2 cups of sugar
Wash the lemons thoroughly and peel them with a sharp paring knife or a vegetable peeler. Slice the peels into 1/4 inch slices or leave them in their natural shapes. If you like fancier forms, roll the 1/4″ peels into little pinwheels and secure them with toothpicks before cooking.
Add the lemon peels and enough cold water to cover them to a pot and bring to a boil. Strain and repeat the process. Strain again and add back to the pot with the sugar and 4 cups of water. The peels should boil in the syrup until they are tender and translucent, about 30 minutes.
Strain the candied peels, toss them with granulated sugar until completely coated and spread on aluminum foil for 3 hours to cool and dry. Store in airtight containers. It will last in the refrigerator for up to four weeks.
Yes, this is a spruced up picture of mold. In order to save your favorite tomato seeds for next year, you need to remove the gelatinous coating that keeps them from germinating inside the tomato fruit.
In nature, the tomato will eventually fall to the ground and for lack of a better word, rot. While it is turning to mush on the ground, the pulp and juices ferment and break down the gel around the seeds, allowing them to germinate.
Since we normally pick the tomatoes from the vine before this happens, we need to mimic the process to obtain the fertile seeds ready for germination.
Just think of this as a science experiment dedicated to the fermentation process. It kind of smells, but it is not too bad.
|Choose your favorite healthy tomatoes, the open pollinated variety (the other ones won’t come true from seed). Label the jars the pulp is going in with the type of tomato and the date.||Slice the tomatoes across the equator. It makes it easier to scoop up the pulp.||Scoop up the pulp inside the…||…corresponding labeled jar.|
|Cover the seeds and pulp with half a cup of water.||Cover the jar with a clean coffee filter and place in a warm place to ferment. It doesn’t smell good, so don’t place it somewhere where the smell would bother you.||After a few days (3 or more) the mixture will ferment and start developing mold at the surface. This means the gel that coats the seeds has broken down and they can be cleaned up and dried.||Thoroughly remove all mold, fermented pulp and sterile seeds by adding water to the jar and pouring out everything that floats on top. After a few rinses, the water will run clear and the healthy and fertile seeds will sink to the bottom. Strain them, pour them on a paper towel and pat them dry, then spread them out to dry on a paper plate, marked with the type of tomato and the date. After they dry, place them in labeled paper bags for spring.|
Don’t forget to plant your spring bulbs before the dirt freezes. Use only healthy bulbs that are not soft or showing signs of mold, and make sure to work plenty of bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the soil, to give your plants a good start for next season.
A few comments about planting bulbs:
– they don’t like wet feet, a well draining soil will help them thrive; if you have heavy clay soil, loosen it up a little by adding sand.
– do not plant them too shallow (follow the instructions on the packet but a good rule of thumb is to plant twice deeper than the height of the bulb), and use group plantings for better color effect.
– if you have a small garden consider planting several overlapping layers of bulbs of different sizes and blooming times.
If you live somewhere between zone 4 and zone 6, this would be the time you walk around your garden and acknowledge the fact that the bounty of green tomatoes still hanging from the vines will probably not have time to ripen before the first frost. Grab a bag and gather them all, they make wonderful pickles for the winter months.
Here is a quick recipe for pickled green tomatoes, the time it takes to prepare it is roughly how long it takes for the water to boil.
Pickled Green Tomatoes
You will need clean glass containers (you can be creative about what constitutes a proper pickle jar, please see picture). The only comment is to use sturdier containers because you will have to pour hot liquid in them.
However many green tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers you found in the garden: arrange artfully to fill the jars.
Carrots for decorating – slice lengthwise into 1/4″ thick slices and cut them into interesting shapes.
Drop in the jars bay leaves, mixed peppercorns, mustard seed, dried dill, and garlic cloves. If you happen to have a sour cherry tree in your yard (which would be great because they are self pollinating and bear lots of fruit), cut a few tiny branches with leaves and use them to keep the tomatoes from popping up (sour cherry tree leaves prevent pickles from becoming mushy).
In a large pot bring two gallons of water, one pound of salt, and a pint of vinegar to a boil. Wrap the pickle jar in a thick wet towel and place it on top of two or three flatware handles. (the wet towel and the metal will help conduct the heat of the boiling liquid so that the glass doesn’t break). Pour the hot water, salt and vinegar mix over the pickles until they are fully covered. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean towel and cover with card stock rounds and cellophane. Keep in a warm place until the liquid turns clear (the fermenting process should take 4 to 6 weeks), and then store in a cool location to keep over winter.
If you are interested in home food preservation, please take a look at this website:
Besides information about how to pickle, dry, can or cure basically anything, you will find out the basics of food preserving, the hows and whys, and a lot of other interesting and useful advice.