Six on Saturday: Best For Last

Seed are germinating; and cuttings are rooting. I try to finish my propagation before the end of winter. Some seed appreciate the last bit of chill to maintain their schedule. Some cuttings prefer to start their rooting process while still dormant, so that they are ready to grow by spring. The last and most important of these six pictures is irrelevant to cuttings and seed though. Only the names of those involved are relevant to horticulture; and half of that relevance is merely, although amusingly, coincidental. It will be interesting to see how many can answer the question presented with the last picture. It was difficult to get a reasonably clear picture, and after all the effort, the clarity may not help much.

1. Esperanza seed from Crazy Green Thumbs is finally germinating! Poinciana seed that came with them are still inactive. My rush to sow them prior to spring seems unfounded.

2. Poinciana seed of another kind and from another source is germinating though. Brent thought that I got royal poinciana seed. Rather than disappoint, I procured a few online.

3. Canna seed germination is a surprise. These seed were discarded runts from pods that were still green when deadheaded. I saw them growing from the trash and canned them.

4. Red passion flower vine was a runt also. None of a few other cuttings that got plugged properly took root. This one was too dinky, so was left in its jar of water, where it rooted.

5. Angel’s trumpet cuttings are growing like the red passion flower cuttings should have. They were scraps from pruned out frost damage. Many appeared dead prior to plugging.

6. Lily and Rhody are nearly indistinguishable as they frolic. Their genders are opposite, and their faces are distinct, but they scamper too fast to discern. Can you identify them?

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Air Layer Overgrown Houseplants.

Air layering big houseplants, like these lanky rubber trees, keeps them proportionate to limited space while also propagating new plants.

Most of the favorite houseplants are grown for dense evergreen foliage. Stems of Chinese evergreen, anthuriums, bromeliads and most ferns should never be seen. Yet, there are many houseplants that grow like small trees or coarse vines. Various ficus, dracaenas and philodendrons can get too big for their situations if not pruned. Palms can not be pruned down, so can only be moved or given to friends with higher ceilings.

Pruning and discarding overgrown but slowly growing stems seems like such a waste. Technically, stems from almost any overgrown houseplant can be rooted as cuttings. In reality though, most rot before they develop roots.

‘Air layering’ is probably the most efficient technique of propagation of houseplants from overgrown stems. It involves rooting the stems while still attached to the original plant. In the end, an unwanted stem gets pruned away as a freshly rooted new plant.

Air layering needs a bare and manageable section of stem that is at least a few inches long. This section does not necessarily need to be where the stem will eventually get pruned away from. It can be a bit higher (or farther out from the origin) if a shorter copy (new rooted plant) is desired. The extra length of stem in between can be pruned out when the copy gets separated.

The stem should be notched up to a third of the way through. This notch will develop roots better if rubbed with rooting hormone. A big wad of wrung out damp sphagnum moss a bit larger than a softball then gets wrapped around the notch, and then wrapped in plastic film. A cut up freezer bag should work nicely. The bag should be held in place with plant tie tape or something as simple as electrical tape, wrapped firmly around the stem above and below the sphagnum moss. Smaller stems can get smaller wads of sphagnum moss.

Unfortunately, there is no way to disguise the unappealing wrapped moss during the few months that may be needed for roots to develop. Eventually, roots become visible through the plastic, or the moss becomes firm with roots. The newly rooted stem can then be cut below the roots, unwrapped and potted as a new copy of the old houseplant. The stub below can be pruned away, or left to develop new shoots.

Daddy’s Garden

Truly sustainable plants are less lucrative to the nursery industries.

My rhubarb really has been around a while! My father’s father’s father and mother grew it quite some time ago, and shared some shoots of it with my father. He then shared it with my maternal grandmother, who shared it with her mother, another of my great grandmothers, who thought it was something really exotic. Along the way, it was undoubtedly shared with friends and neighbors all over the place.

My great grandparents with the original rhubarb also grew old varieties of grapes, oranges, lemons, walnuts and all sorts of vegetables. Their two (‘Carpathian’ English from Persia) walnut trees were remnants from an orchard that was already old before their home was new in 1940. The few ‘ornamental’ features of their garden included such old fashioned but resilient plants as junipers, callas, pelargoniums (geraniums), dahlias and roses. Yes, the stereotypical Italian American garden. My great grandfather even gave me my first nasturtium seeds.

My maternal grandfather likewise grew all sorts of traditional vegetables, as well as cherries, peaches, avocados, blackberries and raspberries. My grandmother competed for limited garden space to tend to her many roses, as well as lilacs and bearded iris that she got from her mother. My mother still grows a large herd of the original iris, several lilacs and a copy of the peach tree.

My very first experiences with gardening were in the old fashioned but remarkably sustainable gardens of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Such gardening with so many old fashioned plants would seem primitive by modern standards, but really demonstrates how sustainable proper horticulture is.

Of course, as a horticulturist, I work with all sorts of exotic plants and modern varieties. Although some are fun to work with, the best and most sustainable plants are the old classics and simpler ‘unimproved’ plants, especially those that can be propagated from seed, division or cuttings from established plants.

Many modern varieties of plants are more beneficial to the retail nursery industry than to home gardens, since they do not last too long. They are generally either not well suited to local climates, or are genetically weak from extensive breeding or mutation. (Many of the mutant characteristics that some varieties are selected for, such as variegated foliage or compact growth, compromise vigor.) As they come and go, more new plants are needed from nurseries to replace them. This is actually contrary to the sustainability fad that so many nurseries claim to promote.

Perhaps our parents know more about gardening and sustainability than we give them credit for.

The Need For Seed

Seed for some pines is easy to collect as their cones open during warm summer weather. However, some pine cones must be dried or even heated to release their seed.

Lily of the Nile is so easy to propagate by division of congested old plants that not many of us bother to grow it from seed. No one wants to leave the prominent but less than appealing seed pods out in the garden long enough to turn brown and ripen after the blue or white flowers are gone anyway. Besides, only the most basic old fashioned varieties reliably produce genetically similar seed, and even these often revert between blue and white. Yet, collecting seed for propagation is still an option for those who do not mind the risk of genetic variation.

The natural variation of flower color among seedlings of some plants can actually make gardening a bit more interesting. No one really knows if naturalized four o’ clocks will bloom white, yellow, pink or red until they actually bloom. The few types of iris that produce viable seed almost always produce seedlings with identical flowers, but oddities sometimes appear. (Most bearded iris have serious potential for genetic variation, but do not often produce viable seed.)

Cannas are likewise likely to produce seedlings that are indistinguishable from the parents. However, seedlings of many of the fancier cultivars are often variable. Their seed are very hard so should be scarified before sowing. However, I find that I get so many canna seeds that even if less than half germinate without scarification, there are too many anyway! (Scarification involves scratching or chipping the hard seed coat to promote germination. It can be as simple as rubbing the seeds on a file or sand paper, but should not be so aggressive that it damages the seed within.) 

African iris are just as easy to divide as lily of the Nile are, and are as easy to grow from seed as naturalized four o’ clocks are. The difference is that they lack genetic variation, so are always indistinguishable from their parents. The only problem is that they are so easy to propagate that they can soon dominate the garden.

If seed capsules have not been groomed from the various perennials and annuals that can be grown from seed, or if they have been left out in the garden intentionally so that they can ripen, this would be a good time to collect them for their seed. (Four o’ clocks should have been collected earlier though.) Seeds from certain trees, such as silk tree, redbud and the many specie of pine, can likewise be collected. Most seeds prefer to be sown about now to chill through winter, since cold winter weather actually promotes germination when weather warms in spring. However, seeds for annuals and frost sensitive perennials, like cannas, that might germinate early and get damaged by frost, should probably wait until the end of winter to get sown.

Six on Saturday: More Bad Recycling (Even More)

This is the season for digging and relocating crowded or redundant plants. Most of them get recycled directly back into other landscapes, so that there is no need for the extra work of canning and storing them. Most of the daylily (#1) were simply relocated with only a few leftovers for canning. Bamboo (#2) and perennial pea (#4) were actually canned earlier in the year. Ponderosa lemon (#5) is a rooted cutting (which is ungrafted and therefore ‘on its own roots’) that I grew from a pruning scrap. I have no idea of what to do with it. I really should limit all these recycling projects to plant material that is actually useful.

1. Hemerocallis, daylily, migrated too aggressively, so needed to be removed from under benches and other perennials. More of another cultivar got dug where an old sewer pipe was replaced.

2. Phyllostachys aurea, golden bamboo, appeared within an unrefined landscape, and wasted no time migrating. It should have been killed and discarded rather than canned live for recycling.

3. Salvia mellifera, black sage, layered a few copies from an original specimen that was planted intentionally. It is native here, but unpopular. Some find the foliar aroma to be a bit too strong.

4. Lathyrus latifolia, perennial pea, is a persistently and invasively naturalized exotic species. In other words, it is a weed. I canned this and three copies of another, because they bloom white.

5. Citrus x pyriformis, ‘Ponderosa’ lemon, is not really a lemon, but is a weird hybrid of pomelo and citron. The fruit might weigh five pounds. What can I do with just one five pound ‘lemon’?!

6. Felis catus, Darla, only allowed me to get this picture by zooming in from a distance. She tolerates Rhody, but hates me. She protects cuttings and seedlings from rodents and perhaps birds.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: More Bad Recycling

Recycling can be a bad habit. We accumulate more material here than we can use back out in the landscapes. Some gets shared with friends and neighbors. Of these six, all but the Agave (#4) grew from seed, so are not cultivars. Although the Agave grows from genetically identical pups, no one know what species it is! Fortunately, around here, we are not too discriminating.

1. Liquidambar styraciflua, after pruning to compensate for severed roots, has only a few twiggy branches, but is more than sixteen feet tall! What a homely sweetgum! Was it worth recycling?

2. Liquidambar styraciflua grew from seed where it could not stay. It is twice as tall as the eight foot bed of the pickup is long. The roots are now contained in a squatty #15 (fifteen gallon) can.

3. Cornus florida, flowering dogwood, was significantly more prolific with seed than the sweetgum. We wanted to recycle just a few seedlings, but got eighty four. Each cell contains a seedling.

4. Agave of an unknown species was removed from one of the landscapes a few years ago, but has been trying to regenerate since then. We dig and can the pups, but cannot give them all away.

5. Phoenix dactylifera, date palm, grew from seed in a compost pile. There are about seven of them. It is impossible to predict which will be female, or what the quality of their fruit will be like.

6. Acer platanoides, Norway maple, might be invasive, even here. A few that grew from seed in one of the landscapes were therefore removed, but not discarded. I used them as understock for the much more desirable and noninvasive ‘Schwedler’ cultivar last year. The scions, which are above the yellow tie, did not take. I must now try again, or pollard them so they produce no seed.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Recycling

It can become a bad habit in the garden, and migrate into neighboring gardens and landscapes, and even farther. My ‘Australia’ canna was acquired only a few years ago, so has not gotten too far, yet. The African iris (Morea iridioides) seems voluminous, but took nearly three decades to get like that. Montbretia and white violet really should not be recycled any more than they have been already though. They are just too invasive. Agapanthus and Amaryllis have potential to become habitual, but fortunately for me, have been manageable. Amaryllis are not overwhelming. Agapanthus have been useful since I started recycling them.

1. Canna indica ‘Australia’ is one of the very few plants that I actually purchased. A neighbor of my downtown planter box requested bronzed foliage. After a few years, it needed to be thinned.

2. Morea iridioides was another purchase, back in the 1990s. It was in a #1 (1 gallon) can back then. It got so overgrown than it needed to be removed, so will now get divided into many more.

3. Crocosmia masoniorum is probably the same common montbretia that grows as a weed here, but seems to have much bigger leaves. I found it growing wild at my Pa’s home in about 1980.

4. Agapanthus orientalis has been with me since 1978, when a neighbor had me remove it from her garden. These copies of that original were planted nearby years ago, and recently removed.

5. Viola sororia ‘Albiflora’ came from my Grandmother’s garden in the late 1970s. I still have copies of them, but might discretely allow them to go extinct. They are just too invasive to recycle.

6. Amaryllis belladonna is mundane and naturalized. However, these came from the garden of my great Grandmother in about 1980. I need no more here, but recycle these in my own garden.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Folly

There is a certain degree of silliness to horticulture. Some of us indulge in it whenever there is an opportunity to do so. I prefer to conform to most rules when I can, but even I rarely engage in irresponsible gardening tactics. My predilection for white, and associated lack of appreciation for more interesting color, might be the most obvious example. Another example is my desire to grow too many useless plants simply because propagation stock happens to be available, or because I happen to enjoy the particular plants. Hey, it keeps me happy.

1. Agave attenuata – fox tail agave needed to be removed from one site, so should have been relocated neatly to another. It instead got cut down (with a chain saw!). It is now a shabby cutting.

2. Calandrinia grandiflora – rock purslane was more fortunate as it remained intact for removal and relocation, but will now get dismantled into a bunch of cuttings. Look at its silly little pot!

3. Phoenix dactylifera – date palm grew from seed in a neighbor’s compost pile. It would be nice if one is female and the other is male, but they could not produce fruit for many years anyway.

4. Lathyrus latifolius – perennial pea is common, but only a few bloom white. I tagged two to dig and can this winter. Well, I did not wait. They were already dormant. Now they are sprouting.

5. Petunia X hybrida – petunia is something that I do not get involved with at work. I lack proficiency with color. My colleague found this ‘Night Sky’ petunia, and despite reviews, is trialing it.

6. Rhody would not allow me to get a good picture of him, so I got this bad one instead. Everyone loves Rhody. He really is exemplary. Even his bad pictures are the best of all Six on Saturday.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Layer To Propagate Favorite Plants

Ivy takes root as it grows.

Ivy is creepy. It creeps everywhere. As it does so, it extends roots into or onto whatever it creeps over. Not only does it do this to climb, but it also does this to propagate. It literally roots as it goes, to function more as a swarm of countless small plants instead of a single big plant. A bit of well rooted stem may grow independently from the original as a ‘layer’.

Many vines do the same, even if they are normally climbing vines that just happen to fall onto the ground. A few shrubs and trees, especially riparian sorts, are happy to do it also if lower limbs lay onto damp soil. Such a rooted stem is known as a layer because it lays on the ground to root. In a home garden, a layer might root below a layer of mulch or soil. 

In fact, many plants in home gardens are easy to propagate by intentional layering. Many develop roots more reliably if layered than if propagated from cuttings. They grow almost like cuttings, but while attached to the original plants to sustain them. Layering produces only one or a few new plants, unlike cuttings, but for most home gardens, that is enough.

Some plants are easier to layer than others. Pines and most eucalypti are uncooperative to the technique. Rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias layer relatively easily, but may take more than a year to finish. Elms and magnolias are even happier to layer, but rarely retain low stems. Some plants layer best after spring bloom. Others layer through winter.

An intentionally layered stem should be partially buried, with a few inches of stem below the soil, and a few inches of the tip of the stem protruding above the soil. Notching about a third of the way through the underside and applying rooting hormone promotes rooting. Regular watering is necessary through the process, which continues at least until winter. 

Make Copies Of Favorite Plants

Honeysuckle can layer naturally, and will most certainly layer if a portion of stem is simply buried or weighed down under a rock.

Where they grow wild in riparian environments, box elders, willows and cottonwoods are not as clumsy as they seem to be. As the rivers and creeks that they live so close to erode the soil around them, they often become destabilized and fall. Yet, this is actually part of their plan. If their original roots remain somewhat intact, the limbs and trunks develop new roots where they touch the ground. Eventually, these rooted limbs and trunks develop into new and separate trees.

In home gardens, a similar technique known as ‘layering’ can be employed to propagate one or a few copies of many other plants. Many sprawling vines and ground covers, such as ivy, honeysuckle, blue rug juniper and trailing rosemary, are likely to develop roots where their stems touch the ground anyway. Rooted stems need only to be found, dug and separated as new plants. Shrubbier plants need a bit more help.

Azalea, rhododendron, camellia, holly and just about any plant that has low stems that can be bent downward into the soil can be propagated by layering. Redwood, elm and magnolia do not always have limbs that reach the ground, but any that do would be pleased to cooperate as well. In fact, there are only a few woody plants that do not develop roots by layering, such as some pines and most eucalypti.

A layered stem only needs to be partly buried to develop roots. The tip should protrude from the soil a few inches. A short stem may barely protrude above the soil. A layered stem of a plant that develops adventitious roots very efficiently can be as long as a few feet. A very flexible stem can easily be held down by the weight of the soil that it gets buried with. A more rigid stem may need to be held down with a rock.

Before getting buried, the stem should be cut about a third of the way through to promote development of roots. The cut should be made on the underside so that it stays open when bend downward and buried. A bit or rooting hormone powder applied to the open wound accelerates the process. It works almost like taking a cutting, but without completely separating the cutting from the parent plant right away.

Once buried, a layered stem should be watered regularly until it gets dug while dormant (or mostly dormant) the following winter. By that time, the rooted stem can be dug and pruned from the parent plant, and then planted where desired. Because it takes a few months for enough roots to develop, layering should be done in spring.