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Looks like spring is deciding to be a bit wet this year, isn’t it? There is both good and bad that comes along with this type of weather. The good is that we are getting free water for our newly planted vegetables, flowers and turfs. The bad news is that when we have a string of rainy, cloudy days with warmer weather, fungus is more likely to visit us. We might start seeing powdery mildew show up on the leaves of our zucchini and squash plants, or black spot showing up on our roses. We start to spend days agonizing over our tomato plants that haven’t showed any signs of bearing fruit yet. Remember, we need those sunny days to get our plants fruiting. So, at this point, there is nothing we can do about it, it is out of our hands and if you adopt that way of thinking, it might just give you a little relief. Gardening is full of trial and error and there are so many factors that go into getting a successful harvest. You’ve handled all the factors that you are in control of, the correct soil, feeding your plants, watering them, etc. But there is absolutely nothing you can do about the weather factor, so you might as well stop spending your time worrying over it. The sun will shine again, I promise, it’s just a matter of time; so while we are waiting, why not try your hand at another aspect of gardening.

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(Don’t be fooled by this picture, the sunshine is out of your hands. We can just hope for some sunny days to head our way soon.)

This month is a great month to propagate plants. If you’ve never tried this, I assure you it is a very rewarding experience. It’s a great way to cut down on your expenses of buying plants and it’s a great way to share plants with others. Mid spring is a perfect time to make new plants from cuttings or air layering. this is also a time when some of your cool-season veggies and flowers begin to set seeds that you can save. The seeds from non-hybrid plants are true seeds, if you take seeds from hybrids, keep in mind that you might not necessarily get the same plant as the parent plant when it begins to grow. When harvesting your seeds, allow them to dry completely, then package them up in a paper envelope of some sort. Be sure to write information about the plant (species and variety, date you harvested seeds, fall or spring planter). For the best storage life, place the envelopes in a sealed jar and store it in the refrigerator or freezer. But this blog is all about propagating your plants by cuttings, and air layering so let’s see how easy it is to multiply your happiness by multiplying your plants.

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(Saving seeds is a fun way to pass on plants you love to your friends and family.)

Rooting Directly In Water

Some plants will root just by sticking a cutting of a limb/stem in jar or glass of water. I always save spaghetti sauce and salsa jars for just this reason, they are the perfect size for starting cuttings. You can cut a section of stem, remove the leaves from the bottom half and place the stem in the jar, and place the jar in a spot that receives indirect light. This could be inside in a nice bright window, or outside in an area that receives only morning sun. Be sure to change the water out every week, or earlier if it starts to look dirty and murky. Changing the water refreshes the supply of oxygen and also helps to prevent the cutting from rotting. If you use a clear jar, you will actually be able to see the formation of roots as they start to grow. Once the roots look long enough, you can remove the cutting and place it in a pot filled with potting soil. Adding a little soluble root stimulator  when you water it will give it a boost as it transfers from the water to being potted in the soil. Some plants to try rooting in water are: Mints, basil, lemon verbena, pineapple sage, coleus, English ivy, Swedish ivy, pothos, angel trumpets, and even tomatoes.

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(I’m trying  a geranium and coleus. I’ve got them placed in a bright window that doesn’t receive direct sunlight.)

Root Cuttings

Another way to propagate your plants is by root cuttings. To propagate your plants by root cuttings you will need: pruners, rooting hormone, small plastic pots or old transplant trays, a plastic cover of some sort or a clear plastic bag, and soil mix of either 50% peat and 50% perlite, or 50% perlite and 50% vermiculite. Put your soil into whatever container you are choosing and water it so it is ready for your cutting.

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(I chose 50% equal parts of perlite and vermiculite.)

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( I decided to use some old jumbo 6-pack containers to grow my cuttings in. Here they are getting well watered before the cuttings go in.)

Be sure you have sterilized your pruners in a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 3 parts water). This helps to eliminate or greatly reduce the risk of spreading disease from one plant to another. On that note, always choose cuttings from a healthy, vigorous plant. The cutting from your parent plant should be about 4 inches long. Strip the leaves off of the bottom half of the cutting. If there are any flowers or flower buds remove those so that all the energy of the cutting will be used in producing new roots rather than flowers. Dip the end you have cut into some rooting hormone, this gets the root production started; and also most rooting hormones contain a fungicide that can help prevent fungi from rotting the cutting.

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(I hated taking the flower off of this Dark Knight Bluebeard, but I want all the energy to go to the rooting process.)

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(You can dip your stem right into the jar of rooting hormone powder.)

Place 1/2 to 1/3 of the length of your cutting down  into the soil mix, lightly water again and cover the cutting with your plastic bag to retain moisture. Make sure you take some time to label your cuttings somewhere, either with a plastic plant label or write with a grease pencil on the side of the pot. When you get caught up in the fun of propagating plants, it is so easy to forget which plant is which. Store your cuttings in a  place where you get bright light, but not direct sunlight (direct sunlight will overheat and cook your cuttings). Check your cuttings daily to see if you need to water the soil; it should always be moist (not sopping wet or dry as a bone).

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(You can use a plastic dome like the one on the left, or a plastic bag, whatever you have handy to seal the moisture in. I’ve situated these in a bright window in my garage, not direct sunlight.)

When you see new growth coming from your cuttings, you’ll know that they have  rooted and at that time, you can gently remove them from under the plastic, being careful with the newly formed roots, and re-pot it into a larger container filled with potting soil. When you have grown the cuttings in the potting soil to a substantial, larger size, they will be ready to transplant into their permanent location, whether that is yet a larger container or into the ground. Herbaceous plants (those that do not have a woody stem) propagate well by cuttings, and they do best when the cuttings are taken during their growing season. Some examples are: geraniums, impatiens, philodendron, Swedish ivy, rubber plant, croton, coleus, Christmas cactus, begonia, and shrimp plant. There are many more, and if you are not sure, try it anyway, you may surprise yourself. Some woody plants can be propagated by cuttings as well, they are just a bit harder to do and may benefit more from air layering which I talk about below.

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(Take cuttings from several plants and experiment. I’m trying these without the plastic over them to see how they do. I’ll need to check the moisture in the pots more often. I’m excited to see if they succeed.)

Air Layering

Air layering is another way to propagate your favorite plants, especially those “hard to root” plants. Instead of taking a cutting from the parent plant, you actually make small cuts to a limb/stem while the limb/stem is still attached to the parent plant. For air layering you will need: sharp and sterilized knife, rooting hormone, sphagnum moss, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, garden ties or twist ties, and potting soil and a small pot (for later). Find a nice healthy shoot to use as your new plant. The shoot should be at least pencil size in diameter if not larger, and about 1 foot in length. Take your knife and make two parallel cuts just to the outside layer of bark on your limb/stem (about 1 inch to 2 inches apart). Connect the two parallel cuts with one vertical cut to the outside bark, and then remove (peel off) the outer ring of bark to get to the inner wood of the plant.

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(My blue fingernails shoe where I made my two horizontal cuts.)

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(The vertical cut connects the two horizontal and makes peeling the bark easy…and fun.)

Lightly dust the wounded area with rooting hormone and apply a handful of damp sphagnum moss around it. You can tie the moss to limb/stem to make it easier to do the next step. Secure plastic wrap around the ball of sphagnum moss and make a tight seal by using garden ties or twist ties at the top of the bag and the bottom of the bag. Next wrap aluminum foil around the plastic bag to block out light so that the roots can grow in peace.

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( I had issues “lightly” dusting the root hormone so had to clean up the other limbs after.)

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(A glob of pre-soaked sphagnum moss gets wrapped around the wounded area after its been dusted with root hormone.)

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(First comes the plastic wrap, I used the good kind that sticks to itself and it made it easy to get a tight seal, and I just used some twine to secure it.)

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(Finally comes the aluminum foil. Now my American beautyberry shrub has what looks like an alien cocoon nestled in it. I tried this technique on two plants, my American beatuyberry, and a vitex.)

Check on your sphagnum moss often so it stays moist, and reseal it tightly each time. You might want to support the wounded limb/stem with a stake to prevent it from splitting or breaking off at the wounded site. In a few weeks, roots will be present inside the plastic bag and you can then cut the stem off of the parent plant, just below the ball of moss and the roots and pot it up in a container filled with potting soil. Some plants to consider propagating by air layering are many of your outdoor woody ornamental plants like: azaleas, oleander,  camellias, hydrangeas, beautyberry, pecans, apples, roses, forsythia, and citrus. Of course there are many more to the list, including large, overgrown houseplants like rubber plants, and crotons. Once again, just try it out and see what happens. It doesn’t take too much effort and the reward, if you are successful, is outstanding.

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(Goal! I’m hoping in a few weeks or so I  will have roots strong enough like these so I’ll be able to pot up my new transplants!)

Try your hand at one of these techniques and you may soon find yourself giving away gifts of plants every month and trying to keep up with all of your new transplants. This is the perfect time to try propagating some of your plants while they are in their growing phases. Good luck, and let me know how it goes. You can email me pictures at lisanicole@rainbowgardens.biz, or post them to our Facebook page. By sharing we encourage and inspire. I look forward to hearing about your success. I will be following up in about a month with the success or failure (fingers crossed) of my attempts at rooting. I can’t wait to let you know how it turned out. Why don’t you join me?

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The Happy Gardener

Lisa Mulroy