Green Thumb Tip #24: Always Just Beginning….

Coleus leaves, trimmed from the bottom of a stem cutting, have rooted in their vase.

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There is a certain exuberance, a fresh burst of energy in beginnings.  Youth has glamour, vitality. 

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Most plants allow us to tap into that youthful energy as we ‘re-new’ them.

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Cutting back stems stimulates new growth.  Remove flower stems (on plants grown primarily for their foliage) as they develop to keep the plant youthful, compact and vigorous.

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As we approach mid-June, you might assume that spring’s fresh beginnings are behind us for another year.  Not so.  We are always just beginning in the garden.

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This Caladium leaf broke away from the tuber as I was transplanting it into a pot. Caladium leaves with even just a bit of the tuber still on the petiole will root in water.  A new leaf is already beginning to grow (underwater) and once planted into soil, this rooted leaf will soon grow into a beautiful new plant.  A flower is beginning to grow on the left, which I’ll remove before potting up the leaf.

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I am still planting up pots and still planting perennials and herbs out into the garden.

Garden centers still have a pretty good selection of herbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs.  As you might expect, many of the starts sitting in greenhouses and garden centers are getting overgrown and pot-bound.  They demand a bit of skillful handling to perform their best.

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I bought several pots of oregano a few weeks back.  They were already overgrown, leggy, and some already had flower buds forming.  I didn’t get to use them for my intended purpose at the time, and they’ve been sitting in the nursery.

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Do you see the new growth emerging from below the cuts on some of the stems?

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But I did cut a few stems from each plant, not quite two weeks ago, to share in an arrangement.  And where I trimmed them back, new growth is already bursting forth.  New growth has appeared lower on the remaining stems, and new growth has popped up from the roots.

Now, I expect that the cut stems may have sprouted a few roots in their vase, too.  They can be tucked into a pot of soil or a prepared bed and allowed to grow on.  Stems that have already formed flower buds may root more slowly or may not at all.  But oregano grows in the mint family.  All of the mints are immensely robust.

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If you have the chance to pick up a few late season plants at the nursery, then consider cutting back those leggy stems right away.  Root them if you wish, discard them if you must.  But understand that by cutting away the top growth, you stimulate the plant to immediately send out fresh new growth.

Cutting back, or pinching back, stimulates growth hormones at all of the leaf nodes below each cut.  The plant needs its leaves to produce food, and is anxious to replace those lost.

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In the garden, old growth is always falling away and returning to the soil even as new growth emerges. It is a continuing cycle of growth,  and the decay that fuels new growth.

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When you plant the start, notice if it is already ‘root-bound.’  If the roots have grown into the contours of the pot you know they have been crowded and stressed.

Water the plant well, and then take a moment to tease out the crossed roots on the bottom of the root ball.  Gently tug some of the roots along the sides loose so they can begin to grow out into the soil.  Without being rough,  understand that pulling the roots out a bit, even trimming off the bottom inch of the root ball if it is congested, will stimulate new root growth.

Just be careful to water the plant in well,  offer some nutrition,  protect it from fierce sun for a few days, and let it establish itself.

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Ready to grow on, this oregano has found a new home.

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I bought a beautiful but leggy coleus and immediately took cuttings last week.  It is wise to trim the bottom pair of leaves from the stem before rooting it in water, but the leaves were so beautiful I hated to throw them away.  So, I stuck them into a tiny jar of water to enjoy until they either rooted or faded.  I’ve had to refill the jar with drips from the sink twice a day as the leaves have proven thirsty.  But they rewarded me with roots!

I am often re-working established pots and don’t have room to dig a hole large enough for a big root ball.  Cuttings are a perfect solution.  A much smaller hole will embrace the smaller root system of a newly rooted cutting or recently rooted tuber.

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New Caladium roots; this leaf is ready to plant into a potted arrangement where I want a little color in the shade.

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You might also try dividing up a newly purchased plant.  As long as you can cut or pull apart rooted stems, those rooted stems will soon grow back into full plants.

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I pulled apart 4″ pots of Dichondra and Verbena into several divisions when planting up this basket.  Annual Verbena often grows new roots from any stem in contact with the soil and can be snipped away, its roots pulled out of the pot, and planted separately.  Each division will now take off and grow into a full sized plant.

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A stem cutting from an old plant, rooted, becomes a new plant.  A division of an old perennial, replanted, becomes a fresh new perennial.

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Larger potted perennials can often be split into divisions and planted in much smaller holes.

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Yes, it seems counter-intuitive, paradoxical, maniacal and cruel.  All of that cutting, pulling apart, breaking pieces away and gouging out the ‘eyes’ of tubers leads to a plant’s re-invigoration and renewal.

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Keep planting, keep coaxing your plants to grow to their full potential, and keep your own gardener’s eye and outlook fresh, too.  Try a new plant, or a new combination of old plants.

Try a new gardening skill.  Empty out some old pots and begin again with fresh soil and fresh ideas.

We keep our excitement alive when we are always just beginning.

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Can you spot the dragonfly?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,

but in the expert’s there are few”
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Shunryu Suzuki

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Daucus carota subsp. sativus, flowers grown from a grocery store carrot ‘planted’ this spring.

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“Moment after moment,

everyone comes out from nothingness.

This is the true joy of life.”
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Shunryu Suzuki

 

Green Thumb Tip # 22: Do the Math

Green Thumb Tip # 21: The Mid-Summer Snack 

Green Thumb Tip # 23: From Small Beginnings

 

 

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Unum de multis: Multiplying Succulents

Newly planted jade plant cutting, removed from an older plant after it rooted into the air.

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Succulent plants serve as living sculpture with their emphatic forms, slow growth, and unusual colors.  Most gardeners either adore them or avoid them.  They feel a little alien to most of us Virginia gardeners, as there are very few native succulents in our landscapes.

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Some gardeners find succulents a bit too prickly and spiny for comfort.  And the majority of succulents aren’t hardy through our winters.  We have to treat them as annuals or bring them indoors for months of the year.

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These succulents are hardy, and are beginning their spring growth outside in the Table Bed at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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Succulents want loose, sandy and rocky soil and bright light.  Some need full sun, others bright but indirect light and warmth.  Their needs are simple, and I’ve killed more succulents with too much water than by any stretch of neglect.

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This succulent planting grew happily on our front porch in the summer of 2013.  A gravel mulch helps keep these moisture-sensitive plants happy.

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That said, I absolutely pour over photos of succulent planting schemes in sunny California gardens.  Many gardeners in dry regions use succulents in every size from tiny to epic in their landscapes as focal points, ground covers, thrillers, fillers and spillers.  Their compositions are bright and colorful, and they absolutely intrigue me.  Once succulent plants mature, they produce oddly beautiful flowers.

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Plants that may be inexpensive and readily available in the western states are harder to find and pricier here in Virginia garden centers.  You can mail order wonderful succulents from suppliers like Plant Delights near Raleigh, NC; but please have that credit card handy.

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I just bought this little collection of succulents on the houseplant sale last weekend at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, specifically to break them apart for propagation.

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I have a project in mind for this coming summer to create a hanging basket covered in succulents.  Planting up the interior of the basket with succulents won’t be difficult.  I plan to use an assortment of hardy Sedums already on hand, with some red ‘hens and chicks’ and a single spiky Agave or Aloe for the ‘thriller.’

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Use hardy succulents as ground cover around spring bulbs. Enjoy this display at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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I want to cover the outside of the coco liner in succulents, too.  That will take a lot of individual plants.  To effectively plant the outside of the basket, it will be easier to slip each plant in through a slit in the liner if each plant has a very small root system: in other words, if I use rooted cuttings.

Some designers will suggest using succulent stem cuttings and allowing them to root in place.  This would work, but I want to give the plants a little head start and I don’t have enough stem cuttings for the project.

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Potted plants have too much root mass to slip through a slit in a coco basket liner, without damaging the roots.

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I’ve been playing around with potted arrangements of succulents for years- with mixed success.  They all look pretty good for a while.  We often get so much rain at once that it saturates the soil, even with specially mixed soil that contains lots of sand and gravel.  I try to remember to set succulent pots back under the eaves when a lot of rain is forecast.  Succulents sometimes struggle in our humidity and rainy summer weather.

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Collection of succulents, August 2014

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Without a heated greenhouse, I doubt I’ll ever achieve the horticultural succulent splendor possible for Southern California and Arizona gardeners.  Our climate will never allow for me to let our succulent arrangements live and grow outside year round long enough to really fill in and mature.  That takes years….

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Succulents with thick, waxy leaves release very little water into the air. They are built for hot, dry conditions and may rot if their soil remains saturated for too long.  This Echeveria has produced chicks that I want to grow on to mature, independent plants.

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Lately, I’ve been inspired to study succulent propagation again.  A good, practical resource is Debra Lee Baldwin’s book, Succulent Container Gardens. 

This is an ‘eye candy’ book that surveys the major genera of succulents appropriate to grow in various containers.  I like this book because it covers all of the important topics like soils and pot selection, design, plant care, and also succulent plant propagation.

The most common error in trying to root succulent cuttings is trying to rush the process.  Leaf cuttings and stem cuttings need a few days to air dry and ‘scab’ over, before any attempt to root them.  Many succulents will strike roots directly into humid air, even generating tiny new plants, without the cut end of the stem in either soil or water.

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This Jade plant spontaneously grew roots, indicating to me that this stem wants a fresh start in its own pot.

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This is counter-intuitive for many of us.  We want to stick that cut end into something moist so the plant can suck up water and survive.

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Do you see the roots that have started to grow from the stem?

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I won’t admit how many times I’ve found a dropped succulent leaf and dropped it, cut side down, into a pot hoping it would root.  Before roots can grow, a damp succulent stem will more likely rot.  Even with the pups off of an Echeveria, the stems want a few days to scab over before you secure them in some sandy soil to root and grow on.

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I took this stem cutting from the jade plant three days ago, and you can see that the stem has dried and calloused over.

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After researching several different rooting methods for succulent leaf cuttings, I have prepared a large clear plastic storage box by first cleaning it with disinfectant, and then lining the bottom of the box with a single layer of paper towel to wick any moisture evenly through the medium.  I covered that with a 1″ layer of clean horticultural sand.  That’s it…

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I bought a selection of small succulent plants on a special sale last weekend for this project, and have twisted most of the leaves off of each plant.  Twist, don’t cut, because each leaf needs a tiny bit of stem tissue still attached.  If the petiole breaks ahead of the stem, the leaf may not strike roots.

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See how the leaf cutting on the right already have begun to root and grow new plants? This had happened while the leaves were still attached to the mother plant.

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I’ve cut the top off of each plant, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ of stem attached.  I’ve kept the rooted plants in their original pots, watered them, and have set them aside in a bright place to regenerate themselves.  I expect small ‘pups’ to begin to grow along the stems where leaves were removed.  This will likely take 6 weeks to two months before the pups may be large enough to remove and grow on.

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I expect these rooted stems to also generate new plants at the leaf nodes. All of the nodes are stimulated when I removed the top of the stem.  One of the plants didn’t have enough stem to take a cutting, but it will continue to grow.

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At the moment, all of the new stem cuttings are just sitting on top of the sand, in bright but indirect light, while they callous over.  I’ll probably wait until Friday before adding just enough water to the edges of the box to slightly moisten the paper towels and the sand.  No wet sand!  Just a little moisture in the mix before I cover the box with clear plastic.  A dry cleaner bag or clear leaf bag will work for this, and I’ll leave a little vent for air exchange to discourage mold.  I expect the leaves to remain hydrated from the moisture in the air, and tiny roots to grow into the air to absorb that moisture.

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If all goes well, I should have a good selection of tiny succulent plants with sufficient root growth to construct that succulent basket in late April.  If all the leaf cuttings root and produce new plants, I’ll have plenty left for additional succulent projects this spring.

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There is a layer of fine gravel in this pot, topped by special succulent potting mix. I added additional sand to the mix, dampened it, and then planted the rooted jade plant.  The cutting will probably grow in this pot for a year or more before it needs repotting.

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The succulent pots I’ve overwintered in past years have all grown ‘leggy’ growing inside with insufficient light over winter.  Now, I understand better how to work with those leggy  plants to cut them back and stimulate growth, using the cuttings to generate fresh plants.

When our local garden centers begin to fill with plants next month I will look at the succulents on offer with a different eye.  Rather than choosing a plant to use immediately in some planting scheme, I think I’ll be more likely to look at some less desirable plants for their ‘parts.’

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Out of one, many….. 

Once you understand how plants grow and regenerate, it becomes easier to work with their natural proclivities to generate as many individuals as you need.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

 

Unum de multis: Horticultural Multiplication

Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’

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Unum de multis:  Out of one, many…

That is one of the wonders of the plant kingdom!

It took several trips and quite a few hours of shopping to finally source a few little variegated English holly shrubs in the fall of 2017.  Although these were clearly labeled as Ilex aquifoliumn, as it turns out, they are actually Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’.

I accepted the plants at face value, believing the big name label on the shrubs that identified them as English holly.  It was a very knowledgeable reader of Forest Garden, California Horticulturalist Tony Tomeo, who pointed out the error and set me on the path to a correct identification of the shrubs.

Sometimes known as ‘false holly’, Osmanthus is a beautiful and useful evergreen shrub from Asia.  This particular shrub is called ‘Goshiki’ because the leaf exhibits five different colors during its development:  pink, cream, yellow, orange and white, in addition to green.  It is a beautiful plant in growth, with the new growth showing the most color.

I’ve grown this plant over the past several years and have it elsewhere in the garden.  It goes to show how quickly we will believe and accept how things are labeled, that I didn’t recognize the error in labeling right away.  It took Tony’s nudge for me to compare the two leaves side by side.

Out of the several plants finally located, two survived that very cold winter and finicky spring to live on into 2019.

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Our shrub newly planted in 2017

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My several attempts to locate  small English holly shrubs for planting projects this fall proved unsuccessful, and I ended up substituting other plants late into the season.  It goes with the territory that available plants change season to season and year to year.  A gardener can never take for granted that a particular plant will be available when needed.

That is why it pays to learn how to propagate your own plants, so that once you have one of some special something, you can generate more as needed.

Now, it isn’t technically difficult to propagate most plants.  But depending on what you are trying to grow, and the time of year, some special equipment may be necessary.  Without a greenhouse, propagation box, heat mat, lights or misters, it can be challenging to achieve the results that commercial growers can produce.

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Yet it is amazing what you can do at home, with little equipment, once you understand some basic principles.  A great resource for all types of propagation, including sowing seeds, is Making More Plants by Ken Druse.  This is a clearly written, beautifully illustrated guide that teaches me some new trick each time I re-read it.

There are several types of stem cuttings one can make, and their advantage is that a rooted stem eventually grows into a clone of the parent plant.  Stem cuttings are generally low-tech, easy and quick.  And I have learned a few little tricks that increase my chances of success without a greenhouse or fancy set-up.

Simply put, the challenge of a stem cutting is to have the stem strike roots while the leaves continue to live, and before the stem begins to rot.  That means that plants with large leaves need enough water flow through the stem to support the leaves, even before roots begin to grow.  And, the rooting has to occur in a way that doesn’t allow the stem to clog up, or begin to decay, before the roots can grow.

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This method of rooting stem cuttings is nearly 100% successful for Christmas cactus cuttings.

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Most commercial growers place stem cuttings into a damp, soil-less medium to root.  They then put the stems into a heated, lit, enclosed space for a few weeks while roots form.  Enclosing the stems increases humidity, which benefits the leaves.  Bottom heat speeds the process, and adequate light is required for photosynthesis.

Getting an herbaceous stem to root in a water is a bit easier.  Water is more easily available and so the leaves are well-supplied.  But, water grown roots are structurally different from soil-grown roots.  The plant will need to quickly re-grow new roots once it is planted in soil.

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These coleus cuttings had been rooting in water for not quite two weeks.

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I am using a hybrid method to get my little holly cuttings to root.  The container is a recycled aluminum loaf pan without any drainage holes.  There is a half-inch of clean, fine aquarium gravel in the bottom of the pan, topped with some clean peat based potting soil, and then topped off with fresh vermiculite.  I watered this well to wet all of the soil and also create a shallow reservoir in the bottom of the pan.

After pruning the shrub I want to clone, I trimmed the cuttings to only a couple of inches long and set then into a shallow cup of water.  A smaller cutting can be more successful because there is less plant tissue to support while it grows roots.  Remove the bottom couple of pairs of leaves from the cutting, dip the cut end into powdered rooting hormone,  and stick the cutting into the pan so that the exposed leaf nodes are in the soil.

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A clear dome holds humidity so the cuttings won’t wilt while they root. Make sure to vent the dome each day to allow fresh air inside.

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Take care that the cuttings don’t touch one another and that their leaves don’t touch the soil.  This helps limit any molding or transmission of disease.

Once all the cuttings were trimmed and stuck, I put the pan into a re-cycled bakery cake container that has a clear, domed lid.  I set the container on a low table beside a window that gets strong morning light. There is also a fluorescent bulb burning in a nearby lamp.  There is no bottom heat provided, but the room is warm and the sun provides additional warmth.

I expect these cuttings to strike roots sometime this month.  The best way to tell that roots have developed is when new growth appears.  One can also tug lightly on the cutting, expecting to feel a little resistance once roots form.  Tugging too soon might damage newly forming roots, so it really isn’t smart to try this too soon.

Once the cuttings have an inch or so of new roots, each can be potted up into a 3″ or 4″ nursery pot and set outside in sheltered, shady spot.  It is important to keep the new shrubs well watered through their first few years so they never completely dry out.

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Another method, for herbaceous or very soft woody stems, involves a wine glass and a little bit of gravel.  Again, using relatively small cuttings, rest the cut end of the stems in the spaces in the gravel and add only enough water to cover the bottom portion of the stem.  Maintaining shallow water allows roots to form without exposing much of the stem to potential rot.  The wine glass itself helps enclose the stems, increasing humidity for the leaves.

Again, work with short tip cuttings of stems, trim the bottom leaves from the stem, and dip each cutting into rooting hormone before placing it in the glass.  Make sure the water stays fresh and at a fairly constant level.  If ever the water looks cloudy, rinse out the glass, rinse off the stems and replace the water with fresh.

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This glass of Spanish lavender cuttings sits near a sheltered window where the cuttings will get indirect light all day.  I expect roots to form so these can be potted up by early March.  The mother plant is one I search out each year and only sometimes can find.  It is a hardy perennial and one of the earliest lavenders to flower each spring.  Once these stems root, I expect to start another batch of this particular lavender.

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This is Spanish lavender, L. stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ with its ‘rabbit ears’ atop the flower.

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Once you get the knack of stem cuttings, you can beg a cutting from a gardening friend and ‘grow your own.’  You can create multiples of the plants you enjoy most in your garden, or produce clones to pass on to others.  A neighbor populated her yard with beautiful Azalea shrubs she started herself from cuttings decades ago.

There is tremendous satisfaction in knowing how to create several new plants from a single original.   It empowers the gardener, saves a great deal of cash, and allows us to have more of those plants we most enjoy.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

More on planting pots with shrubs, bulbs and perennials for winter

 

Growing Sweet Potato Vines For Beauty and Dinner

A newly planted sweet potato vine grows with a scented geranium in this full-sun hanging basket.

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Do you ever buy ornamental sweet potato vines for your hanging baskets or pots?  These have become more popular in recent years, and several beautiful varieties with variegated or purple leaves have come on the market.   I  planted a few in our large planters on the front patio a few years ago.  They looked gorgeous… until the deer snuck into the garden and had one for a midnight snack!

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A variegated sweet potato vine grows in a mixed container with summer annuals (2015).

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But no worries, these are prolific growers.  The vine grew back in just a few weeks.  That’s not to say that it didn’t get grazed again from time to time!  As it turns out, sweet potato vines are both delicious and highly nutritious!  We know that sweet potato tubers are packed with vitamins and minerals.  Turns out, their leaves are, as well!  The deer were onto something!

But the real surprise came in the fall, when I lifted the summer annuals out of their pots to re-plant hardy ornamentals for winter.  My ‘ornamental’ sweet potato vines had quietly gone about their business of making huge, lovely tubers!  Their tuberous roots are edible, no matter how fancy the leaves might be.

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July 2015

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I never bought any sweet potato vines at the garden center this spring.  But I noticed a sweet potato in our pantry sprouting vines a few weeks ago.  I moved it into a shallow tray of potting soil, in the light, and let those vines continue to grow.

Like you, I’ve wrestled a sweet potato suspended in a Mason jar of water a time or two.  They are very entertaining for the little ones, who love to watch how fast they grow.  This works great for a while, until the potato inevitably begins to rot.  But placing a potato in a pot of moist sand or soil is a more reliable way to encourage it to sprout.   The long, sinuous vines quickly fill a window sill with beautiful heart shaped leaves.

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If you’ve contemplated their leaves, you probably noticed how much the leaves and vines remind you of morning glory vines.  Turns out, the plants are related!  A sweet potato’s botanical name is Ipomoea batatas.  Most of the morning glory, moonflower, or bindweed species belong to the genus Ipomoea.  If your ornamental sweet potato vines have bloomed, you probably noticed that their flower is very like a morning glory.  There are over 500 species in the Ipomoea genus!

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Moonflower, Ipomoea alba

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I decided to let my sprouting potato grow in order to transplant those beautiful vines into hanging baskets on our deck.  It is probably a little late in the season to plant with potatoes in mind, but I knew we could enjoy the vines.

I waited for a wet and cloudy day, and then simply twisted and pulled each stem away from the potato, and planted it into a little drill made into the wet soil in the basket.   What could be easier than poking one’s finger into the dirt, planting the vine, and firming it up?  That is all there is to it!

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Sweet potato vines serve as a host plants and nectar plants for some species of butterflies and moths.

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If you don’t have a wet and cloudy day in the forecast, some gardeners twist the vines from the potato and then leave the vines in a glass of water for a week while roots begin to grow, before transplanting the vine into a pot, bed or basket.

This is the way all vegetable gardeners start off their sweet potato patch each spring!  Some may mail-order their slips, or starter vines, to procure a particular variety of sweet potato.  If you’re not choosy, then buy your starter potato at the grocery store and start your own slips.

Sweet potatoes, also known as ‘yams,’ want a light, sandy, quick draining soil in the garden; if you’re growing them for a fall harvest of sweet potatoes.   If your main interest is their beautiful vines, you’ll plant into any good potting soil already in your containers.

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To make a long story longer, I bought a few fresh sweet potatoes at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago.  I’d left them in their plastic bag on the kitchen counter.  I hadn’t gotten around to cooking them, when I noticed their little purple leafy stems pushing against the bag.  It doesn’t take long this time of year for things to get growing, does it?

Since I have plenty of vines myself now, I’m sending these newbies to my daughter.  It was humid enough in the plastic bag that these vines have even started sprouting roots along the base of their shoots!

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I’ve wrapped the bits of potato I trimmed away, still supporting their shoots, in a moist towel and sealed them into a zip-lock to prepare them for their journey through the US Mail.  She can twist each stem loose and plant it in a pot.   And, I finally cooked those potatoes today!

If you live in an area where you don’t have the 4-6 months of warm weather required to raise sweet potatoes in your garden, you might consider growing them in pots for their leaves.

The leaves can be steamed or sauteed.  I bet they would be good dipped in a tempura batter and fried, too!

This is a prolific ‘cut and come again’ veggie treat.  It is an edible that can be grown in a very small space, even on a windowsill or balcony, by someone who wants a steady supply of fresh greens.

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For the cost of a single potato, you can fill several pots or baskets with beauty and a delicious crop that will produce indefinitely.  The sweet potato is a tender perennial, and so will continue to grow so long as you protect it from frost.

The vining stems will sprout roots at every leaf node, and so stem cuttings will root easily in water or moist soil.  Plant vines into window boxes, tubs, or large pots to grow a crop of sweet potatoes on your porch or in your sunroom.

We get so accustomed by buying our veggies at the market that we sometimes forget how easily and affordably we can grow our own food.   It’s always comforting to have a trick or two tucked up our sleeves, and a ready source of food we grow for ourselves at home.

What could be easier than starting a sweet potato vine?

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Houseplant Hacks: Schlumbergera Propagation

Shlumbergera blooming  in our living room in February 2015.

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Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus plants may become another family heirloom.  Long lived and easy to care for, this is a quintessential ‘pass along plant’  you may be gifted with during the holidays.

Whether someone gives you one in full bloom in a little foil wrapped pot, or a well-meaning aunt insists on sending a cutting home with you, this is the season when many families enjoy a blooming cactus as a part of their holiday.

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A neighbor gave us this beautiful Christmas cactus covered in buds, last week.

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I can’t remember a time when my own mother didn’t have a Christmas cactus.  Her first one began as a gifted cutting from someone in the extended family.  At one time it had grown to a monstrous size, maybe 20″ or more around in a  large clay pot.  I never gave this ugly duckling house plant much consideration in those years, probably because hers didn’t often bloom.

Once you’ve enjoyed the vivid, decidedly odd blooms of a Schlumbergera on a wintery day, you may develop an appetite for these unusual plants just as I have.  Their extravagant flowers are meant to attract hummingbirds to pollinate them.  I love to have one in full bloom indoors when its snowing outside.

The ‘off’ bloom schedule of these beautiful tropical cacti may have something to do with their country and hemisphere of origin.  They were originally collected from the mountainous coastal forests of southeastern Brazil, where they grow in bright, humid shade.  They may be found growing high up in trees on moss covered branches, or in small pockets of soil in rocky areas at high altitudes.

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They were in cultivation in Europe by the early 19th Century, where breeders developed new cultivars for the market.  They were enjoyed both in homes and in fashionable heated greenhouses.

Although a cactus, these plants have no spines to stick you.   A succulent, they don’t require a great deal of care.  They offer a bulky green presence year round, bursting into abundant vivid bloom  between late October and late February each year.

Schlumbergera commonly turn up in grocery stores and garden centers blooming in shades of red, pink and purple.  Sometimes you may find one with white blooms touched with vivid rose.  More rarely, they can be found blooming  in shades of salmon, yellow or orange.

This is one reason it pays to know how to root a Christmas cactus.  Once you find one of the rarer colors, you might want to produce more to share, or for your own collection.

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Light pink Christmas cactus with a tiny white poinsettia on offer at a local garden center.

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Another reason is that the stems, which look like flat leaves, can sometimes be a bit fragile.  A section may break off while you are moving the plant or while you are moving around the plant.  When this happens, it feels nicer to root the broken piece than to discard it.

I’ve tried many different ways to root these odd green stems over the years.  The stems don’t really like to sit in water, though I’ve seen my mother root them this way.  They also don’t root reliably when simply stuck into some potting soil, though this sometimes works OK.  If the stars don’t align, or the temperature and humidity aren’t just right, then your efforts may be rewarded with a shriveled or mushy bit of stem with no roots to sustain it.

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I experimented with a new technique for rooting a Christmas cactus stem in extremely shallow water, on moist rocks.

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I was understandably excited when I saw a pin on Pinterest a few months ago, offering a novel way to root Schlumbergera.  The key to the wet rock method is to understand that Schlumbergera  naturally grow in a humid, coastal forest, high up in the mountains.  High humidity is the key, along with keeping the stem mostly dry, with only the growing tip in water.

Begin with a glass or small jar, and add a few inches of clean, attractive rocks.  Fill your glass with just enough fresh, cool water, to barely cover most of the rocks.  Then add your cuttings so that they rest on the rocks in very shallow water.  It works best to ‘twist’ the cutting from the parent plant rather than using scissors to remove it.

You will need at least 1 full stem section, though you may take a cutting a few inches long, like this one.  If the cutting already has flower buds, they will continue to grow as your cutting roots.

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Place your container and cuttings into a bright, cool window sill, where the cuttings will get bright light, but minimal direct sunlight.  Keep the water replenished every few days, and watch for those roots to grow.

Once the roots are at least 1/4″ long, you can pot up your rooted cutting in a peat based soil mix with a little grit.  The soil needs to drain easily.  Keep the soil just moist, but never really wet and never bone dry.

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This cutting is ready to pot up in good quality peat based potting mix.  Add a little fine grit to improve drainage.  If you plant into a container without drainage holes, be sure to begin with a few inches of gravel in the bottom of the container for drainage.

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I  feed my Christmas cactus monthly, during their season of bloom, with diluted orchid fertilizer; which keeps the buds coming.  Mine live near a large window where they get bright light during the daytime, but they also get natural darkness in late afternoon.  They like long nights and shorter days during their season of bloom.  The long nights help trigger bud formation. Shlumbergera also use more water when they are blooming, and of course thrive in a humid environment.

If your home has very dry air in winter, then try grouping them together, and consider setting the pots on trays of pebbles with a bit of standing water in the tray.

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This cutting rooted in the glass on moist rocks. After a few weeks, I planted it in its own little container to grow on until spring.

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In our climate, Christmas cactus thrive in bright shade on the deck all summer long.  I move them out in late April, once danger of frost has passed.  They love our humidity and grow lush with very little attention until time to bring them in ahead of the first fall frosts in late October.  By then, they have covered themselves in flower buds.

Keep your plants large and lush by adding rooted cuttings to your established pots of Christmas cactus.  They like a tight fit for their roots in the pot, but do pot them up every few years and give them some fresh, fertile soil.

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If your space allows, plant Christmas cactus in hanging planters, or set the pots up on plant stands where their drooping branches and long, pendulous flowers may be admired.   I’ve even seen a grouping of Christmas cactus pots arranged on a plant stand with layers of shelves, to give the illusion of a blooming Christmas tree.

These odd houseplants are extremely easy and rewarding to grow, once you know a few hacks to make your efforts more successful.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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In A Vase On Monday: Good Enough to Eat….

August 29, 2016 vase 005

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August feels like a very ‘green’ month; especially here in coastal Virginia where we are totally surrounded by green trees, vines, lush green lawns, billowing green Crepe Myrtles and other rampant growth.

From Lamas in early August, to Labor Day weekend in early September, our world remains vibrant and green!

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Sunset, yesterday, from the Colonial Parkway.

Early evening, yesterday, from the Colonial Parkway.

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You can watch some plants literally grow hour to hour and day to day, given enough water.   If you ever wondered what it would feel like to live in a hot-house or conservatory, welcome to a Virginia August!   This is the time of year when we seek the cool, green shade of large trees and vine covered trellises to help us through the relentless heat.

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Herbs in our August garden.

Herbs in our August garden.  Our swallowtail butterflies love the chive flowers.  This clump remains one of their favorite stops to feed.

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And so it feels appropriate to cut cool green stems from the garden today.  I’ve cut an assortment of herbs for their fragrant leaves.  The burgundy basil flowers and white garlic chives serve only as grace notes to the beautifully shaped, textured and frosted leaves.

Much of this arrangement is edible.

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August 29, 2016 vase 002

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Except for the ivy vines, a little Artemesia and a stem of Coleus; you could brew some lovely herbal tea or garnish a plate from the rest of our vase today.  There are two different scented Pelargoniums here, including P. ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’,  and African Blue Basil.

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August 29, 2016 Vase2 010

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To make this arrangement feel even cooler, it sits in a cobalt blue vase from our local Shelton glass works on a sea-green glass tray.  A moonstone frog rests nearby.

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The vase was made locally by John Shelton of Shelton Glass Works here in Williamsburg.

The vase was made locally by John Shelton of Shelton Glass Works here in Williamsburg.

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Today’s vase is so fragrant that my partner commented as soon as the stems came into the room.  It is a spicy blend of rose scented Geraniums and sharp Basil, with an undertone of garlic from the chive flowers.  It makes puts me in the mood to mix up a little ‘Boursin Cheese’ with fresh herbs from the garden, and serve it garnished with a few chive blossoms!

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August 29, 2016 Vase2 005

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Appreciation, always, to Cathy of ‘Rambling In the Garden”  for hosting ‘In A Vase On Monday’ each week.  I admire the dedication of flower gardeners all over the world who faithfully clip, arrange, and photograph their garden’s bounty each Monday.  Cathy is in the pink again today, with some beautiful lilies she has grown this summer.

I hope you will click through to Cathy’s post and follow some of the links to enjoy today’s beautiful arrangements.

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 Woodland Gnome 2016

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Near Yorktown on the Parkway, just before sunset last night; the inspiration for today's vase....

Near Yorktown on the Parkway, just before sunset last night; the inspiration for today’s vase….

 

So Much to Love: African Rose Mallow

The second of the African Rose Mallow shrubs I purchased this season, planted in compost near our bog garden began the season as a rooted cutting in a 3" pot.

The second of the African Rose Mallow shrubs I purchased this season, planted in compost near our bog garden, began the season as a rooted cutting in a 3″ pot.

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We have been growing a new (to us) variety of Hibiscus this summer known as “African Rose Mallow.” I found a small pot of it in the water garden section at our local Homestead Garden Center in late May, and added it to our new bog garden.

There are so many things I like about this small shrub:  First, nothing has bothered it all summer.  Not a single leaf or twig has been nibbled by deer, rabbit, squirrel, or insect.  Its leaves remain pristine.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 009~

And what gorgeous leaves!  Their  delicately cut silhouette reminds me of a Japanese Maple’s leaf.  The color has remained a rich, coppery red throughout the summer.

Red leaves on bright red stems certainly makes a bright statement in this area where I’m also growing so many chartreuse and purple leaved plants.  This African Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella, has won my heart over the past three months for its eye-candy appeal and sturdy constitution.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 010

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It is a fast grower.  I’ve repotted the original plant twice, and it is already showing root growth from its drainage hole again.  I bought a second plant when I spotted it a few weeks later and planted it directly into compost around the edge of the bog.  Its growth has been even more vigorous than its sibling grown in a pot.  Both plants have grown taller than me, but neither has yet bloomed.  I’m still hoping to see buds form and blooms open before frost.

About three weeks ago I finally trimmed back the potted plant to encourage a bit more branching along the main stems, and plunked the two stems I pruned away into a vase of water by the kitchen sink.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 011

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My friends know my kitchen sink, flanked by two windows, is my magical rooting spot in the house.  One will always find stems of several somethings rooting in this bright, moist, protected spot where I can keep a close eye on their progress.

And these tall stems of the African Rose Mallow did not disappoint.  Although the stems were semi-hard when cut, the leaves have shown no signs of wilt throughout the process.  I first noticed the new white roots on Sunday afternoon, and they have grown enough this week for me to pot the stems up today.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 012~

I’ve returned the rotted cuttings to the bog garden for now, but I’m considering where I would like to plant them out once their roots establish.  It will definitely be somewhere it the front garden where I can enjoy them against the other Hibiscus which delight us all summer.

The H. acetosella are rated as hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  All of our native Hibiscus enjoy damp soils and are often found growing on river banks and near swamps.  Yet, they make it in our drier garden just fine, with a little watering during dry spells.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 013~

I’m planning to root another set of cuttings and produce  a few more of these luscious rose colored Hibiscus plants.  The leaves are edible, if one is hard pressed for a meal, and may be prepared like spinach.  They retain their color when cooked.

The leaves are also used as a medicinal herb in parts of Africa and South America.  They have anti-inflammatory properties and may also be used to treat anemia.  This is a good specimen for true forest food producing gardens, and I’m a little surprised to have not found it before this spring.

If you enjoy hardy perennial Hibiscus and love plants with beautiful foliage, this African Rose Mallow may be to your liking, too.  But you only need to buy one, and then take as many cuttings as you like to increase your collection.

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Our newly rooted cuttings, potted and returned to the bog garden to grow on for a few weeks before we plant them out into the garden.

Our newly rooted cuttings, potted and returned to the bog garden to grow on for a few weeks before we plant them out into the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

The Root of the Matter

June 2, 2015 pots 001

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Early summer is the season when our new plant acquisitions sink their roots into the garden.

This tiny cutting from an ornamental sweet potato vine grew roots as it sat in a little vase of water by my kitchen sink.  Did you notice how the roots are curled into a spiral?

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June 2, 2015 pots 002

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You may notice that roots grow in a circular pattern around the inside of a nursery pot, as well.  When we knock a new plant out of its pot, we gently loosen these roots, growing round the outer edge of its root ball, to encourage them to grow out into the surrounding soil.   The plant grows more vigorously when its root system expands.

This tiny cutting grew these roots in a little less than two weeks.  Once started, sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, grows vigorously.  A tender perennial, the vine will grow until frost kills it back.

I enjoy ornamental sweet potato vines in summer pots, but have not grown any for the last several summers.  They are very attractive to deer, and so must be kept out of their reach.  They are also such vigorous growers that they can overwhelm other plants in a mixed planting.  They are gluttonous for food and drink, and give their best color when grown in full sun.

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June 2, 2015 pots 003

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I’ve purchased two sweet potato vines of different cultivars this spring, however, and am taking cuttings to add to hanging baskets and planters on our deck.  These vines create a lush, tropical look wherever they are used.

Many plants will root quickly in water during spring and early summer.  This allows us to buy one established plant, and then quickly produce many clones of it.  These new plants grow to a useable size more quickly from cuttings than from seed.

As soon as they grow a few inches of roots they can be potted up or planted in the garden.  A large number of plants of a single cultivar can be had in a matter of weeks for mass plantings, at minimal expense.

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These Coleus cuttings are rooting in their vase.  They will be ready to plant out by early next week.

These Coleus cuttings are rooting in their vase. They will be ready to plant out by early next week.

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One of my beloved blogging sisters, Eliza,  sent me a package of scented Pelargonium cuttings this past week, and they are all happily gathered around my kitchen sink tonight engaged in the business of growing their roots.  Half are in a jar of water, and the other half in a pot of damp sand.

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Pelargonium cuttings, a gift from a blogging sister, rooting in my favorite rooting jar.

Pelargonium cuttings  rooting in my favorite rooting jar.

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She prefers the damp sand method, and I am following her instructions to the letter.  I am curious to see which method will prove more effective for rooting cuttings.   Which cuttings will root soonest, and with the fewest cuttings lost to decay?

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This is Eliza's preferred method for rooting cuttings.  in clean, damp sand.  I've kept these covered with a produce bag to increase the humidity around their leaves.  The bamboo skewer holds the bag off of their leaves.

This is Eliza’s preferred method for rooting cuttings. in clean, damp sand. I’ve kept these covered with a produce bag to increase the humidity around their leaves. The bamboo skewer holds the bag off of their leaves.

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A marvelous and generous gift, I am enjoying the fragrance of these beautiful cuttings, and can’t wait to watch them grow in our garden this summer.

If you’ve not tried creating your own new plants in this way, this is a good time of the season to give it a try.

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September 4, 2014 Coleus 002~

It is an interesting way to generate a lot of free plants.  As you can see in the photos, roots will begin to grow both from the cut edge of a stem, and also from the nodes where leaves meet stem.

Most gardeners will tell you to remove all leave which would be underwater.  That is good advice, and I don’t often follow it.  The idea is that if those leaves rot, the water is contaminated and you might lose the whole cutting.  As you can see here, the leaves are still just fine, and I have a well-rooted cutting to plant in this mixed pot.

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A newly planted pot on my deck holds Rosemary, Coleus,  Carzytunia Sparky' Petunia,  Strawberry and Cream Lanai Verbena, and a voluneer seedling of ornamental pepper moved over from another pot.

A newly planted pot on my deck holds Rosemary; Coleus;
‘Carzytunia Sparky’ Petunia; Strawberry and Cream Lanai Verbena; the newly rooted sweet potato cutting; and a volunteer seedling of ornamental pepper moved over from another pot.

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We’ve had a lot of rain today, so it has proven a good day to pot up cuttings.  I am looking forward to seeing this pot fill in with lots of lush color and interesting form this summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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June 2, 2015 pots 011

In A Vase: Rooting

May 26, 2015 vase 037

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The flowers and foliage in today’s vase were clipped late this afternoon; mostly from pots on the deck.

So many stems cut for the Monday vases this spring rooted in place, that I chose this particular combination with that intention in mind.

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May 26, 2015 vase 051

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These Coleus, from the “Under the Sea” collection, were clipped from the nursery pots I bought them in on Saturday.  I took cuttings immediately to leave with my father, another Coleus devote’, and now I’ve snipped a little more for cuttings of my own.  The original plants will remain in their pots for another day at least.

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May 26, 2015 vase 039

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Coleus root quickly and easily in water.  My father simply breaks stems from a growing plant and pushes the stem into the soil in another pot.  He has great success, but I am not quite that self-confident.  I enjoy watching the little white roots form in a vase by the kitchen window before tucking the well rooted little cutting into some soil.

I’ve managed to collect three of the “Under the Sea” cultivars this spring.  So far I have C. “Lime Shrimp,” C. “Bonefish,” and C. “Gold Anemone.”  These are some of the most delicate and unusual forms of Coleus I’ve ever found, and I like them alone or in combination with annual flowers.  Have you found these at your garden center?  The “Under the Sea” Coleus is easy to grow.  It tolerates more sun than some older cultivars of Coleus, and can grow into a good sized plant over the season.

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May 26, 2015 vase 046

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With the Coleus is a cutting of a dusky purple Petunia I’m growing in baskets this summer.  I like this unusual color, which was the closest I could find to the wonderful gold and purple striped Petunias I grew in baskets last summer.  Sadly, the plants didn’t make it through the winter.  I hope this Petunia will root, as we enjoy it in the vase.

Our Heuchera, or Coral Bells, have bloomed in pots on the deck.  I grow them for their unusual leaves, and these delicate stems of flowers are a bonus from time to time.  The other stems of flowers were cut from Oxalis.

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May 26, 2015 vase 053

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Finally, I had to add a few little pieces of our Muscadine grape vines, which are such a beautiful shade of green when young and tender.  It is highly unlikely these will root, but I have a place ready for them if they do.  One of the vines I transplanted in early spring has not leafed out, and I cut it back today.

Our mineral today is a cluster of Aqua Aura quartz.

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May 26, 2015 vase 038

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This is actually clear quartz, which was specially treated to create this unusual blue color.  Our little moonstone turtle sits with the vase, also, as a reminder of the turtle eggs incubating now in our garden.

This is the season when there is always more to do in the garden. 

We’ve both been spending our mornings, into the early afternoon, working outside.  We love this time of year, when the garden is growing so rapidly, but it takes enormous time and energy to keep up with it all.  I stayed a bit too long today out in the hot sun, and so wanted something cool and delicate in our vase indoors.

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May 26, 2015 vase 045

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Please remember to visit Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden, who sponsors “In A Vase On Monday” each week.  I appreciate her tireless inspiration to cut and arrange home grown flowers, and to encourage other garden bloggers to do the same.   This week she has created a stunning arrangement she calls, “Storm in a Teacup.”  You’ll find many links to other gardeners’ blogs in her comments.

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And remember, you can enjoy beautiful foliage in your vase while it roots.  Just as our gardens find their structure in foliage and accents in flowers; so our arrangements may, as well.

We enjoy both the pleasure of its beauty and the gift of a new plant when we eventually take it all apart.  It is sort of like eating your cake, and having it, too .

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May 26, 2015 vase 041

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Woodland Gnome 2015

One Word Photo Challenge: Teal

March 4, 2015 heart 001

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An annual Impatiens plant lives on through winter in a pot in our living room.  When it bloomed again in February, I cut stems for my In A Vase on Monday post on a  cold and snowy Monday.

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March 4, 2015 Impatiens 002

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Although the flowers faded, both stems rooted.

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In fact, they have grown huge root systems in just a few weeks.  This is such a beautiful affirmation of spring stirring in the plants!

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March 4, 2015 Impatiens 007

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Since teal is on my mind this week, I found a beautiful teal pot for the rooted stems, and potted them up with a division of lady fern.

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March 4, 2015 Impatiens 008

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They can grow on together in the pot until it is warm enough to move them outside into a hanging basket or a larger pot.

Impatiens bloom non-stop all summer long. They love moist fertile soil in partial shade.

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March 4, 2015 Impatiens 010~

They will grow to nearly two feet high if planted in good, rich soil.  They are heavy feeders and appreciate good soil and regular feeding.  A single plant will fill a hanging basket.

Impatiens are so easily rooted in water that I often buy a hanging basket of double impatiens when they first appear in the spring, then take lots of cuttings while also cutting that plant back.  The original plant grows back bushier and stronger, with more blooms.  The cuttings can soon be planted out as independent plants to enjoy all summer.  This is a neat trick when you need a lot of the same cultivar of impatiens for a large planting.

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March 4, 2015 Impatiens 014

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Our over-wintered plant has long, winter stretched stems, as you might expect.  It needs a good trim before growing on this summer.  So I’m helping it along by cutting another stem for the vase.

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March 4, 2015 Impatiens 015

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At this rate, I can fill the vase indefinitely.  Would you call this re-cycling?  I think it is a beautiful way to get us through this next bout of wintery weather and continue preparations for spring!

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March 4, 2015 Impatiens 013

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With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells  for her

One Word Photo Challenge:  Teal

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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