Sunday, July 1, 2012

Around the Garden

 “July, she will fly / And give no warning to her flight”  is a mournful line in a Simon & Garfunkel song, “April, Come She Will.”  While Paul Simon was describing the downward spiral of a romance, the original rhyme was about the cuckoo, a bird that visits England in the warm months and then heads south for the fall and winter.

Leaving aside the cuckoo’s ruthless dropping of their eggs into other birds’ nests, this pattern of arriving in April and departing in July seems sensible to me. Of course, our weather is not England’s, so I might think differently if I had my nest in Albion’s green bosom. Our July is not beginning on a happy note for those of us who like to weed and plant and weed some more, all summer long.

My rule of thumb is to garden between 50 and 80 degrees – above or below, it’s time to take shelter, preferably with a good book. But in case you prefer to be less idle, here’s an option.

Last Wednesday, a friend and I visited Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, where Head Propagator Adam Wheeler taught us how to take greenwood cuttings and how to begin the rooting process.

If the only cuttings you’ve ever dealt with were from houseplants, the first tip is – forget that vase full of water! Plants develop proper roots in something closer to what they will grow in naturally. Peat moss and Perlite, in a half-and-half mix, make a great environment for those baby roots – peat to hold moisture and Perlite to provide airy spaces for oxygen.

And dampness is key: the cuttings must be kept moist while they begin to form roots.

So, a good place to begin is with a quart-sized clean plastic pot, filled almost to the rim with moist peat and Perlite.  Have handy a plastic bag large enough to cover the pot and your cuttings, something like a chopstick to support the top of the bag, and an elastic band to hold everything together.

For the cuttings themselves, have a pair of sharp bypass pruners and a small jar of rooting hormone powder, which you can buy at most any nursery.

A quart-sized pot can hold about 6 cuttings, so with your pruners, cut six shoots from your favorite shrubs, each one about 6 inches long. Cut just above a leaf node, so that you don’t leave an unsightly stub on the plant.  Put the cuttings in a plastic bag as you go about the garden – if it’s very warm outside, line the bag with a wet paper towel.

When you have your collection, examine each cutting, and remove the growing tip, which will probably have a greenish stem. If it has a flower, remove that too. Then snip off all of the lower leaves, leaving just two leaves at the top. If the leaves are large, cut the two remaining ones in half. Cut the bottom of the stem on an angle.

Now dip the base of the stem in the rooting hormone, then insert the stem into your potting mix – about an inch or two into the mix, firming around it with your fingers. Make sure that one or more bare leaf nodes are covered with the mix.

When all your cuttings are planted, carefully place a plastic bag over the top of the pot, using the chopstick to keep the bag from collapsing onto the cuttings. A large elastic band will hold the bag in place.  Put the entire pot in a warm, but not too sunny spot where you will remember to check on it every few days.

In ideal conditions roots will form in about 4 weeks. If you see mold on the plants or the potting mix, uncover the pot and put it in a sunnier spot till the mold goes away. Then give it a little less water or a slightly brighter location – just don’t let it cook in the sun!

After 4 weeks, gently tug on the cuttings to see if roots have formed. Some plants take a long time, some root quite quickly. Be patient. Most likely, anything that roots this summer should be treated as a houseplant for this year, then planted out next spring.

July just might fly by if you’re happily making baby plants.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

As always, beautifully written and wonderfully informative. Thanks, Jane!