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Gardening for Free with Plant Propagation

Posted May 27 2009 10:50pm


Buying nursery plants for your garden can be an expensive endeavor. With just a little effort, you can make landscaping your yard free and easy using a few simple techniques. Over the years I have gotten fairly good at saving and preserving seeds from my favorite plants, but there are a few favorite woody plants in my yard of which I would like more.

Last summer I tried starting a couple plants from cuttings but didn't use the right methods, so I got no new plants. This spring I have customized a couple techniques and am having much better success. I have several lovely flowering shrubs in my yard including a flowering quince, an ornamental plum tree, a wiegela, several azaleas, and a snowball bush.

Preparing the Growing Environment

100_4985 Start with inexpensive terra cotta pots in two sizes. In the first, a 4-inch pot, glue a rock over the bottom hole with waterproof glue and allow the glue to dry for 24 hours. In the second, a 10-inch pot, fill with perlite to within 2 inches of the top. 

Place the 4-inch pot in the center of the perlite and wiggle until the top of the small pot is even with the top of the larger pot. Fill the small pot with water. The small pot will slowly release the water into the perlite filled larger pot. Moisten the perlite in the larger pot as well. I also added a small terra cotta saucer under the larger pot to prevent water from running out onto my planting table.

Preparing the Plant Cuttings

The best candidates for becoming new plants are cuttings made from the new growth at the terminal end of a branch. This growth can have a woody stem, a partially woody stem, or a soft stem. Early morning is the best time to take cuttings. The cuttings need to be kept moist until they are placed into the growing medium.

Trim your cuttings to about 4 to 6 inches long and remove all leaves except the last couple at the terminal end of the cutting. Dip the stem into water and then into powdered rooting hormone. Tap off the extra rooting hormone and using a wooden skewer make a hole in the perlite then place your cutting into the perlite. Pack the perlite lightly around the cutting. Continue this until you fill the pot.

At this point some propagation instructions say to cover the whole pot with a plastic bag to retain a humid environment. I don't do this because my small pot in the center keeps the whole system moist. Just be sure to keep water in it at all times. You really don't want to let your perlite dry out. I keep my pots on a shady porch. Rooting times vary, but I don't disturb the plants for 3 to 6 weeks.

Transplanting Your New Plants

The new plants are not ready to go directly into the landscape the first year. It is best if they are potted up in fertile growing medium for a year. Alternately you could transplant them into a garden bed space designated specifically for acting as a nursery bed. After a year of developing a healthy root system you can place them in their permanent spots in your landscape.

100_4982 At this point, dig a hole the same depth and twice as wide as the pot in which they have been growing. Place the new plant in the hole and fill with soil. The soil doesn't need to be can be the soil you dug from the whole mixed with a bit of organic matter. Water thoroughly immediately after planting and make sure the new plants get at least an inch of water a week.

I am experimenting with cuttings from my lavender plants and a neighbor's 40-foot-tall American holly tree. I also plucked a couple new growth shoots from a wild blackberry plant to try rooting (ouch! the wild ones have thorns). I'm in the habit of collecting seeds wherever I am, much to my husband's amusement. Now I'm packing plastic baggies and hand trimmers to gather my propagation experiments. I'm hoping to snip a few pieces of my mother-in-laws pink lilac when it finishes blooming.

Gardening is a continuous adventure! Join me in daring to try this new and inexpensive way to expand your garden experience. For a list of plants suitable for propagating from cuttings visit the North Carolina State University's Horticulture information website.


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