Propagating Plants

According to meteorologists, the Spring Equinox occurs tomorrow (Saturday), just before midnight, but the first full day of spring will be on the following day (Sunday).

In any event, spring’s arrival inspires many thoughts of gardening opportunities. This column addresses three timely tasks.

Propagating Plants from Cuttings

First, real gardening includes the propagation of plants. One method for getting new plants that is particularly good in the early spring is taking cuttings from existing plants. The timing is good because cutting from the new growth of existing plants can be rooted easily.

Practicing this technique is both frugal and fun, so survey your garden and the gardens of others for plants that you would like to propagate, either to add to your own garden or to gift to other gardeners. If you want more of someone else’s plants, ask permission to take cuttings!

Start by preparing your containers, e.g., small plastic nursery pots, by filling them with planting mix from a garden center, rather than garden soil, which might have bacteria or fungi that could harm young plants.

Using clean clippers, take cuttings of about three inches from the tender green growing tips of plants. The cuttings should be flexible, not woody.

Strip the lower leaves from the cuttings, and insert the stems into damp soil. Place the planted containers where they will be warm but protected from direct sunlight.

Follow up by keeping the cuttings moist. This involves occasional watering and perhaps providing a mini-greenhouse of plastic sheeting to reduce water loss from evaporation. If moisture condenses on this covering, the cuttings could be too moist and vulnerable to fungal problems, so remove the covering for an hour or two to let the excess moisture evaporate.

Your new plants could require several weeks to establish roots, at which time they will develop new leaves. To check their status, tug very gently on the cutting to detect resistance from the new roots.

When you have rooted cuttings, move the plants into larger containers or the garden, and congratulate yourself.

Propagating Plants from Seeds

Planting seeds is also a frugal and fun approach to real gardening. The process is very similar to propagation from cuttings, but it offers a broader range of options and requires more time.

Seeds are available from garden centers. If you want to grow varieties that are not offered by a local garden center, visit Cyndi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs (www.gardenlist.com/) for many, many options.

Almost all seed packets have basic instructions for growing the particular seeds.

Propagating Plants from Plant Sales

You could get more of the plant you like by just buying them. That approach also works for plants that are new to your garden!

Mark April 9th on your calendar for the combined plant sales of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz County Chapter. For information, visit the Arboretum’s website (arboretum.ucsc.edu/news-events/events/).

Mark April 23rd & 24th on your calendar for the Spring Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. For information, visit the Society’s website (mbsucculent.org).

Spring is here and time to enjoy your garden!

Pruning Daphnes and Salvias

According to meteorologists, the Spring Equinox occurs tomorrow (Saturday), just before midnight, but the first full day of spring will be on the following day (Sunday).

In any event, spring’s arrival inspires many thoughts of gardening opportunities. This column addresses three timely tasks.

Propagating Plants from Cuttings

First, real gardening includes the propagation of plants. One method for getting new plants that is particularly good in the early spring is taking cuttings from existing plants. The timing is good because cutting from the new growth of existing plants can be rooted easily.

Practicing this technique is both frugal and fun, so survey your garden and the gardens of others for plants that you would like to propagate, either to add to your own garden or to gift to other gardeners. If you want more of someone else’s plants, ask permission to take cuttings!

Start by preparing your containers, e.g., small plastic nursery pots, by filling them with planting mix from a garden center, rather than garden soil, which might have bacteria or fungi that could harm young plants.

Using clean clippers, take cuttings of about three inches from the tender green growing tips of plants. The cuttings should be flexible, not woody.

Strip the lower leaves from the cuttings, and insert the stems into damp soil. Place the planted containers where they will be warm but protected from direct sunlight.

Follow up by keeping the cuttings moist. This involves occasional watering and perhaps providing a mini-greenhouse of plastic sheeting to reduce water loss from evaporation. If moisture condenses on this covering, the cuttings could be too moist and vulnerable to fungal problems, so remove the covering for an hour or two to let the excess moisture evaporate.

Your new plants could require several weeks to establish roots, at which time they will develop new leaves. To check their status, tug very gently on the cutting to detect resistance from the new roots.

When you have rooted cuttings, move the plants into larger containers or the garden, and congratulate yourself.

Propagating Plants from Seeds

Planting seeds is also a frugal and fun approach to real gardening. The process is very similar to propagation from cuttings, but it offers a broader range of options and requires more time.

Seeds are available from garden centers. If you want to grow varieties that are not offered by a local garden center, visit Cyndi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs (www.gardenlist.com/) for many, many options.

Almost all seed packets have basic instructions for growing the particular seeds.

Propagating Plants from Plant Sales

You could get more of the plant you like by just buying them. That approach also works for plants that are new to your garden!

Mark April 9th on your calendar for the combined plant sales of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz County Chapter. For information, visit the Arboretum’s website (arboretum.ucsc.edu/news-events/events/).

Mark April 23rd & 24th on your calendar for the Spring Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. For information, visit the Society’s website (mbsucculent.org).

Spring is here and time to enjoy your garden!

Irrigation for a Small Greenhouse

Another rainy day project in the garden!

Several years ago, with the help of a friend, I installed a greenhouse in a corner of my garden. This is a typical backyard structure, just ten-by-twelve feet, not an expansive “plant factory” like those on the annual open greenhouse event hosted by local nurseries for mostly flowers.

Greenhouse-large

My greenhouse, although small, has ample bench and shelf space for an ambitious program of propagating and maintaining plants. Plants will assume the primary role of growing, and a greenhouse can easily exclude deer and gophers, but operating a greenhouse still requires investments of the gardener’s time for planning, planting, monitoring and controlling climate, diseases and the smaller pests.

Best intentions aside, other priorities can leave the greenhouse unattended. When that has happened to me, my plants have tended to expire.

In addition, my greenhouse developed another problem. I had installed a sprinkling and misting system to irrigate the plants, using an inexpensive battery-operated timer. It worked fine until the battery died when the irrigation valves were open. The timer did not have the power to close the valves, so they ran for days, unobserved. This resulted in soggy plants, a huge water bill and attendance in a water conservation workshop.

I turned off the system in favor of watering by hand, but because the greenhouse is away from the house, it was easy for me to neglect the watering schedule. Except for some succulents, my plants did not do well under that plan. A clear need existed for a reliable automatic irrigation system.

Working with another gardening friend, we are installing such a system, with the longer-term objective of starting seeds, growing new plants to garden-ready size, and maintaining surplus plants for giving to other gardeners. (I could also grow plants for sale, but the small-scale nursery business would seem uneconomic.)

The irrigation system includes a professional grade controller, capable of scheduling four irrigation valves, and two valves plus capped connections for two future valves. Wires running the length of the greenhouse support flexible tubing over plants, which will be on tables or shelves (not on the ground). The tubing will have multiple emitters that will either spray or drip water on the plants. Spray is best for groups of seedlings or small plants while drip is more effective for larger plants.

Some gardening friends use their greenhouses to maintain collections of succulent plants that require warm, dry conditions, or orchids or other tropicals that require warm and moist conditions. Greenhouses in public gardens often focus on one or the other of these plant groups.

When planning a greenhouse for the home garden, a good first step would be to decide which plants are to be grown, and what climate those plants will need: cool/moderate/warm, or dry/tropical. To learn about these options, search the Internet for “types of greenhouses.”

My greenhouse is intended to moderate temperatures, year-round, and to control moisture levels through scheduled spray and drip irrigation. This growing environment will support a wide range of plants, excluding only those that require extreme conditions. Plants that require a winter chill, for example, grow poorly in the coastal Monterey Bay area, whether in a greenhouse or in the ground.

The home gardener can use a greenhouse to extend the growing season, protect against larger pests, and control the environment for either specialty plants or general gardening. Greenhouse management can be an engaging and satisfying form of gardening; it can also be more expensive and time-consuming than conventional gardening. Enter with eyes wide open.

 

Propagating Plants

Plant and cutting exchanges, which are popular in the Monterey Bay area, invite gardeners to bring plants or cuttings from their garden to swap for plants or cuttings offered by another gardener. These exchanges work because plants propagate naturally on their own: the gardener does not incur a significant cost, and still reaps the satisfaction of giving something of value to another gardener.

Cheap thrills!

Propagating plants for sharing require a significant investment of time: growing plants from seeds or cuttings and then giving them away could amount to a generous gift of the gardener’s time. However, opportunities exist for sharing plants with little effort.

For example, if your daffodils or irises need dividing, you could very well end up with a surplus of bulbs or rhizomes that you could share.

Another example: plants might self-propagate in your garden to the point that you have more than you want, and would prefer to reclaim the space for other plants.

Plants have many ways to reproduce, and gardeners can support those natural processes successfully, and with both botanical creativity and economic efficiency in developing the garden and sharing with friends.

For an introduction to this topic, visit Wikipedia website <en.wikipedia.org/wiki> and search for“Plant propagation.” This site provides very brief descriptions of sexual propagation, which involves growing plants from seeds, and asexual propagation, which encompasses several methods:

11-21-14 Cotoneaster berries CU

Cotoneaster lacteus

Cotoneasters produce seeds copiously, perhaps as an adaptation to the many birds that find them tasty. This specimen is C. lacteus, called Pareny’s Cotoneaster or Red Clusterberry. The name for the genus, native to China, is derived from ‘cotone’, an old Latin name for the quince plant, plus ‘aster,’ which means “resembling” indicating that this plant looks like a quince.

 

10-21-14 Anemone blossoms - fading

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica,

Japanese Anemone blossoms are fading about now. These plants are best propagated from root cuttings taken in the late fall or early winter. When we lifted them, we saw vigorous new white shoots on the roots, and knew that they would re-root quickly in a new environment. This plant produces beautiful pink or white blossoms, and grows so readily that it’s almost invasive.

 

 

Another approach can be found on the website Plant Propagation, which offers both brief definitions and basic “how-to” information for these methods:

  • Budding
  • Bulbs
  • Corms
  • Cuttings
  • Division
  • Grafting
  • Layering
  • Offsets
  • Rhizomes
  • Runners
  • Seeds
  • Plant Tissue Culture

Another excellent resource is the North Carolina State University website (search for plant propagation). When drawing upon information from distant places, consider climate differences. This website has more detailed Articles and bulletins on propagation techniques.

If you learn best from practical demonstrations, YouTube offers several short video recordings (often simply produced) on aspects of his craft. Browse to the site and search for “plant propagation video.”

The fall season is a fine time to try propagating your favorite plants.

Tour Offers Insights to Growing Citrus


The Monterey Bay chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers recently organized a members-only tour of a local citrus nursery’s growing grounds, in Watsonville.

Aaron Dillon, our tour guide, shared the history of Four Winds Growers, which was started by his great grandparents. He described the current operations and the pests and diseases that are challenging the entire citrus business.

10-17-14 Aaron Dillon

One threat to citrus trees is the citrus leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella), a very small Asian moth that lays its eggs in the tissue of citrus leaves. The eggs hatch into larva that feeds on the leaf, leaving a clearly visible, serpentine trail just below the surface of the leaf. Leafminers disfigure the leaves but rarely cause serious damage.

A greater threat is the Huanglongbing disease (HLB), which is known by the common names “citrus greening disease” and “yellow shoot disease.” HLB kills citrus trees.

A tiny insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, transfers this disease from tree to tree as it feeds. Because there is no cure for HLB, the control strategy is to find and stop the insect from spreading the disease. This pest has greatly reduced southern California’s citrus nursery industry, and has very recently been spotted in the San Jose area.

The citrus industry has developed regulations and procedures for propagating citrus trees in greenhouses, while keeping Asian citrus psyllids outside. The tour group entered an enormous greenhouse through an antechamber, in which a large fan produced positive air pressure to exclude any psyllids. The outer door closed, the fan was turned off, and an inner door opened to allow the group to enter the working area of the greenhouse.

Inside, a greenhouse worker, Alicia, expertly demonstrated the process of grafting a citrus scion to a robust rootstock. A skilled worker can graft 1,000 plants in a single day.

10-17-14 Grafting Orange Scions

Aaron Dillon engaged the interested visitors with a wide-ranging presentation of many aspects of growing citrus trees. He demonstrated the extensive facilities in a large greenhouse where roses had been grown previously, and proudly showed an even larger new greenhouse now being readied for an expansion of propagation activities.

10-17-14 Visitors in the Mist

Four Winds Growers propagates popular varieties of orange, mandarin, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and kumquat. For details, visit the nursery’s website <wwwlfourwindsgrowers.com> and click on “Our Citrus Trees.” Dillon listed three interesting varieties that consumers will enjoy in the future:

  • Vaniglia Sanguigno (acidless sweet orange)
  • Lee x Nova Mandarin (88-2 mandarin hybrid)
  • New Zealand Lemonade (sweet lemon hybrid)

For information on these and many other varieties, browse to the amazing Citrus Variety Collection website, maintained by the University of California, Riverside <http://www.citrusvariety.ucr.edu/>.

Many varieties of citrus trees grow well in the Monterey Bay area, and local nurseries have many choices in stock currently. Growing information is readily available on the websites of the California Rare Fruit Growers < www.crfg.org/> and Four Winds Growers. Pest control advice for home gardeners is offered by the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program www.californiacitrusthreat.org/.

Gardening the Easy Way

During September, our gardens transition from summer blooms and harvests into a quiet period that invites installing plants in anticipation of the rainy season.

This is the time for knowledgeable gardeners to dig and replant bulbs, divide larger perennials, take cuttings, gather seeds from annuals, and buy and install new plants. This busy period is the true beginning of the gardening season. If you still think about gardening in the early spring and rush then to the local garden center to see what’s in bloom, you are quite simply gardening the hard way.

Let’s focus on seed propagation. If you have enjoyed some annuals in your garden this year, gather their seeds and plant them where they will create a pleasing display for next year. This process could not be simpler or more satisfying.

Timing is important, however. Monitor the favored plant to track the development of seeds. The objective is to gather the seeds when they ripen (turn brown) and just before the plant drops or disperses the seeds itself.

This year, I collected seeds from several Opium Poppies (Papaver somniferum), which are legal for ornamental use. The hybrid I believe is ‘Lauren’s Grape’, a rich ruby purple. The seeds develop in capsules that function like saltshakers. Clip pieces of stem plus capsule, keep them upright and drop them in a plastic bag, then shake the tiny seeds into the bag.

In October or November, loosen the soil in a sunny site, mix the seeds with sand to make them easier to scatter, and press them lightly into the soil to frustrate the birds. The plants will spring into life in April and bloom in May.

I also harvested seeds from a Butterfly Flower (Schizanthus grahamii), a Chilean annual that produces masses of magenta-pink, orchid-like flowers over a period of months. It doesn’t require all-day sun exposure, but appreciates bright shade. Planting tiny Butterfly Flower seeds is very similar to planting Opium Poppy seeds.

These seed-propagation projects took very little time and no expertise, money or resources, and will yield very fine displays of delightful blossoms next spring. This year, enjoy planting some annual seeds.

***

More

Organic Gardening magazine has provided a useful article on planting annuals from seed.