Perennial hardy Begonias spread a bit more each year by seed, rhizomes, and little bulblets that form where each leaf meets the stem. These drop in the fall and grow as new plants the following spring. Begonias mix here with ferns and Caladiums.
Some plants have generosity baked into their DNA. Generosity, or an energetic compulsion to survive and multiply. As I often tell gardening friends, “Plants just want to live.”
Whether you are just naturally thrifty, or have a large space to paint with plants, or like a coordinated design with large expanses of the same plant; it helps to know which plants are easy to propagate and spread around, and which are likely to simply sit in their spot and wait for you to feed and water them.
Are there extroverts in the plant kingdom? ‘Super-spreader’ plants just assume you appreciate their company and welcome more of their kind. Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. Gardeners tend to share those ‘extras’ freely with one another.
Silver marked Lamium grows along the edges of this mixed planting. Native ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum, spreads itself around by dropping seeds each summer to crop up in unexpected places the following year.
Please don’t be naive about it, either. If I’m offering you a pot or a bag of something and urging you to take it, maybe it is because I’ve had to thin (read: rip) some out of my garden space and would rather give it to you than toss it on the compost. I have ‘received’ a few of these gifts that went on to boldly colonize huge spaces in our garden.
I just found several baby Canna lily plants growing out into a path. I say ‘baby’ because they were only a few inches tall. These beauties will be taller than me in another month. I had to dig them or give up that little path forever. The first of their kind made to my garden seven years ago in a friend’s grocery bag; a generous and much appreciated gift.
Canna lillies die back to the ground each winter, to re-emerge by early summer, spreading a bit further each season. They attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Native Hibiscus grows behind this Canna.
They have spread themselves about ever since, which I’ve allowed because I like them and the hummingbirds they feed. But there was nowhere left to move these stragglers, and so I began trying to give them away. And two weeks later, I’m content in knowing their roots are happily sunk into good rich earth in a garden nearby.
Cannas, like many Iris and some ferns, grow underground stems called ‘rhizomes,’ to spread themselves around. A new leaf and stalk will just grow along the way as the rhizome keeps on creeping further and further afield. Roots grow from the bottom and sides of the rhizome. Separate a hunk that has a few roots attached and at least one ‘eye’ for new leaf growth, and you have an independent plant ready to go out into the world.
Other creepers that just keep expanding into new space include many Colocasia, which have both rhizomes and runners; many grasses; the beautiful groundcover Lamium, also known as deadnettle; all of the many mints and many native wildflowers like obedient plant and goldenrod. If you want a large, luxurious expanse of this plant, go ahead and invite it home to your garden. It will reward you by multiplying in short order.
Other beautiful perennials beget seedlings in abundance. Rudbeckia are famous for this, but aren’t the only ones. Hibiscus seed freely, and I find new little Rose of Sharon trees popping up every spring. Some of the newer, named varieties may be sterile, as some newer crape myrtle varieties are sterile. But every flower will likely produce dozens of seeds, and the math of their propagation is beyond my attention span.
‘Annual’ Verbena creeps and fills pots and baskets nicely. The stems root easily in soil or water. Verbena flowers from mid-spring through frost. Coleus (behind) and Dichondra (left) also root easily from nodes along their stems.
Many stems easily root in either soil or water. Knowing this, you can clone as many plants as you want just like your original. Specialized cells at each node where leaf joins stems, called meristematic tissue, can differentiate to grow into new stems, leaves or roots as needed.
When I buy pots of ‘annual’ Verbena, I always examine the stems, where they touch the soil, to look for roots. If there are little roots already, I snip that stem close to the crown and gently tug the little tangle of new roots away from the root ball. This rooted stem we call a ‘division.’ Now, if there aren’t any rooted stems, you can easily get a stem to root by pegging it down to the soil with a small stone or a bit of wire. Once some roots have grown, cut the stem away and gently lift its little roots. Plant it back into the same pot nearby, or spread the plant to another spot.
Many plants root from their stems. Most will root if you just cut them away at a node and plop them into moist soil. Give a little shade from the mid-day sun while those new roots grow, keep the soil watered, and you’ll soon notice new growth.
Colocasia and Iris; both grow from underground rhizomes and spread more each year. They are very easy to separate and any piece of rhizome with roots and an eye will grow into a new plant. Grow these in containers to limit their spread.
Other plants grow in circles, with expanding ‘crowns.’ The crown is where new leaves arise each spring and is normally right at, or right below soil level. Hostas and Heucheras grow this way. Lift them and divide them into pieces in the spring, cutting apart ‘sections’ that have both roots and new clumps of emerging leaves. One Hosta may become several after this simple surgery, each section ready to replant and continue to grow.
With a little patience and planning, you can also have ‘a gracious plenty’ of favorite plants in your garden without buying out the garden center every spring. Once you grow a little bit infatuated with a plant, you’ll likely want more just like it. Learn its ways and offer a little encouragement. Soon it will reward you with enthusiastic growth.
Hostas may be knocked out of their pot and divided so that each clump of leaves has roots attached. Replant each clump and it will continue to grow and expand.
Woodland Gnome 2020
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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator