If you thought February is when the gardener has nothing to do but wait for spring, that would not be correct: February is planting time.
Every year in the middle of winter my otherwise serene living room turns into a wild jungle, and for two blessed months I live inside a miniature greenhouse. It’s not all fun and games, of course, and between the water and dirt spilling on the carpet on my side, and the lack of appropriate lighting and the mold promoted by the excessive humidity of the starting trays on the plants’ side, come April I look forward to moving the little sprouts outdoors, and they do too. For now, however, their presence is nothing short of bliss. Read more…
This year spared us the usual unpleasantness: no hard freezes, no long stretches of unholy temperatures, no weird weather swings. As a result the spring planting is unfolding right on schedule to my great delight.
Usually after a seedling grown in a seed pod is transplanted into the garden, one of two things happen, and I had my fair share of both: it either doubles its growth speed when exposed to the sunshine and the rich garden soil or collapses dramatically under your very eyes, making you feel like a horrible person. Who would do something like this to a little plant, you quietly ask yourself, as your heart sinks into a puddle of misery and self loathing. Read more…
The amount of time I spend contemplating the fresh seedlings in the starting tray would probably irritate an action oriented person. I would likely have some difficulty explaining to that person the wonderment of seeing the first set of leaves emerge, or the excitement of watching the tiny shoots develop from delicate strands barely hanging on to life to healthy plants ready to withstand whatever circumstances bring. Read more…
The procedure for creating new roses is lengthy and the success rate is very low, but if you are a really passionate about roses and you must make your own, it goes something like this.
You pick the two roses you want to combine, they have to be almost open, but not fully. With great care and making sure not to lose any of the pollen, snip the stamens from the first rose and store them in a bag. Read more…
Cottage pinks are easy to grow perennials that enjoy sunny locations but will do moderately well in part shade. They don’t like wet feet, make sure to plant them in a sandy and slightly alkaline soils that drains well.
Don’t mulch too close around their roots and give them plenty of breathing room, otherwise they are susceptible to stem rot. A spacing of 12 to 18 inches is appropriate. Read more…
The most common method of rose propagation is through stem cuttings. Cut a sturdy, still green stem around six inches long, making sure it has at least five leaves and preferably a spent flower. Bruise the end by crushing it or splitting it lengthwise, dip it in rooting hormone, which can be found at the plant nursery, and stick it in the ground in a location protected from excessive heat or draught. Place a glass jar over it and press it firmly into the soil, making sure no parts of the cutting touch the glass, so that condensation doesn’t encourage mold. Read more…
Aren’t they supposed to do this on their own? Yes, they are, but you get much better quality plants and a whole lot more of them if you follow these tips.
Start at the end of February, beginning of March. Get a few seed starting kits: they are arrays of little growing pods (36, 72 or 144) with transparent lids. Read more…
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.
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.