A GROWING CONCERN: For autumn, don’t procrastinate — propagate

CAN YOU BELIEVE it? October begins tomorrow! We will all see a tremendous change in both the weather and length of daylight, and with Jack Frost just around the corner, get ready to take cuttings or simply watch as your plants perish from the chill.

Propagation is a very time-honored tradition in the garden greenhouse world for a variety of great reasons.

First, propagation is nothing more than asexual cloning, producing duplicates of the parent plant. Thus, produce your favorite plant, flower color or growth habit. Remember this, because it is very important if you have several of the same plant.

More often, numerous plants of the same kind have slightly different characteristics and habits from one another. Some are bigger, brasher and have a taller or shorter habit than another. Take cuttings from these plants only.

If a plant is weak, it’s blooms droop, has fewer flowers or are ones that are smaller, do not reproduce these diminished characteristics. Always select the most robust and desirable traits for the plants you wish to propagate from cuttings.

Second, we like to reproduce by cutting because we get an aged, well produced, bushy plant for the following spring, which means we save a lot of money not having to buy big pots or baskets which would be the only way to also get plants as mature as the ones you propagate this month. Cost is a big reason to produce plants now by cutting.

Geraniums stuck today should be magnificent 8-inch potted, fully blooming specimens by May.

If you took 15 cuttings as opposed to buying the same number of nice 8-inch geraniums, at a cost of $19.95 each, you would save $300 instantly.

Then adding the expensive fuchsias and other basket marvels to your propagation table, it is easy to produce several hundreds of dollars of more value.

But even if you want just a few plants, propagation is great because you get a very high quality plant as the result of your labor.

It is very difficult to find extremely well-branched, pinched and manicured plants because of how labor intensive these jobs are and how expensive these plants would be. For you, it’s a great hobby all through winter and spring, which maximizes your labor of love into gorgeous plants.

Finally, age factor is why you propagate plants, because many of your blooming wonders take time to fully flower. This way you have 6 month old plants.

The first rule of propagation is the most important one: Cleanliness is next to Godliness!

Clean, sterilize, sanitize, wash and always tidy up afterwards. Use a sterilized artificial (no natural soil in the mix) propagation or germination bag mixed when sticking cuttings.

Also use new or cleaned, bleached and well-rinsed pots and trays.

Always wash your hands, the knife or scissors (pruners), as well as the work table and bench where the plants get put to grow.

Next we need a few crucial elements in order for propagation to work well.

Light, and lots of it — bright conditions are absolutely mandatory for your plants to take root because they have no roots and will count entirely on the leaves to produce enough energy to sustain the cuttings for a few weeks. The window sill, a greenhouse or artificial light (fluorescent tubes 6 to 8 inches above the plant) is ideal for cuttings.

Warmth is the next component in demand for success when reproducing plants asexually. Bottom heat is the best, and I personally recommend a heating mat that the tray or pots can be placed directly on top of.

Ideal temperatures are soil at 72 to 76 degrees, which is usually four or five degrees cooler than the air around it. If you are using surrounding air alone to heat the plant, it will need to be 76 to 78 degrees.

Never overlook moisture as an all-important need for your freshly-taken cuttings. Your new little plants will dry out very quickly because they are in a well-lit, warm area with good air circulation.

That’s right, air movement is the final key ingredient in good reproduction.

A warm, wet area will breed disease, mold and mildew like you can’t believe.

Air movement along with great sanitation are your only weapons against this ever-present danger.

Now as to how one goes about taking the cutting, this is the easiest part.

Select nice, new, lush shoots at the tip of the plant and it’s branches.

Break off or cut clean just above a node, which is a set of leaves. Make sure to cut ⅛ to ¼ inch just above the node.

Ideal cuttings are 2.5 to 4 inches long, but you can make longer cuttings to trim down later, better shaping the stock plant (mother plant).

After you take the cuttings, trim them down to the desired length and remove most of the lower leaves, which gives you a tip of leaves and a 2- or 3-inch, clean, bare stem.

Wet the end of the stems and dip those in root tone. Do not try to root cuttings without this root hormone — no greenhouse ever attempts that even with its perfect growing conditions.

Insert them into the well-watered trays of soil to just above leaf level. When a tray or pot is finished, water them again extremely well and repeat this watering several times each day until they are well rooted.

Most plants take four to six weeks to root in.

Please do not keep pulling at them to test — this is disastrous to their ability to survive.

Always trim away all flowers and buds, keeping them off the plant until March.

The buds take energy, attract bugs and help foster diseases.

On a final note, beware of sticking your cuttings into too big of a unit or one too small. Old tray containers that the marigolds and petunias come in are perfect.

As your cuttings take off and grow, be sure to transplant them up into larger containers.

Good luck and have fun with all your new science projects.

And of course, stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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