Take advantage of mild weather

December 8, 2012

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Someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that Santa is coming to town.

Seventy-degree weather is a bit odd when juxtaposed with Christmas carols. On the other hand, holiday shopping in freezing weather is certainly no fun – and neither is working in the landscape. Fortunately, mild weather affords gardeners plenty of time to perform tasks they have yet to complete.

Of course, this is Texas, and the weather can change rather abruptly. (Colder weather is expected next week.)

Ordinarily, it would be too late to gather cuttings from plants such as begonias. However, the unseasonably warm weather has allowed annuals to continue their floral show in area landscapes and outdoor containers.

Cutting for propagation is a practice that is often ignored at the end of the season when so many chores need immediate attention. The benefit of propagation is growing more of your favorite plants at minimal costs. In addition, many gardeners grow plants from cuttings when the plants are particularly difficult to grow from seed. Cuttings are commonly taken from foliage plants as well as flowering annuals and perennials.

Generally speaking, a cutting is a portion of the mother plant – a stem, root or leaf. A cutting is severed from its source before it forms its own set of roots. It is genetically the same as the mother plant. Most any plant that produces sprouts from its roots will grow from root cuttings. To take cuttings, select only mother plants that are healthy and vigorous. Do not select plant portions that have cold weather damage. Always use clean, sharp tools.

You may propagate plants from cuttings in several ways, depending upon the plant used. Some plants root successfully from a leaf or leaf portion. For example, propagate Rex begonia by making cuts in the large veins on the underside of a mature leaf. Lay the leaf flat with its cut side down on moistened rooting medium, such as one part peat moss and one part perlite or coarse builder’s sand. Enclose the pot containing the rooting medium with plastic. (Shower caps, plastic freezer bags or clear 2-litre soda bottles work nicely.) New plants will grow at the points where each vein was cut.

MATURITY OF STEM

Stem cuttings, in which roots are induced to grow from stem sections – are described as softwood, semi-hardwood or hardwood, depending upon the stem’s maturity. Softwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings and hardwood cuttings are taken from woody plants generally in late winter or spring.

Sections taken from non-woody plants such as coleus, begonias, impatiens, ivy, chrysanthemums, sedums and geraniums are referred to as herbaceous cuttings. To take this type of cutting, trim off the tip of the plant. The cut section may be a few to several inches long depending upon the size of the plant. At the bottom of the cutting, include a few nodes, which are the swollen spots on a stem where a leaf or smaller stem will grow. Strip off any leaves on the bottom half of the cutting. Reduce the number of large leaves if the cut section has several. Some leaves are required for the cutting to perform photosynthesis, root and grow.

Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone (a white powder available at nurseries) and tap off the excess. Insert the cutting into a pot filled with a sterile soil (rooting medium). It may be easier to insert the cutting and keep the rooting hormone intact if you first use a pencil tip or similar object to make a hole. Once the cutting is in place, lightly pat the soil around the stem. Moisten the soil before enclosing the container in a clear plastic bag. Since the plastic serves as a mini-greenhouse and keeps humidity levels high, water droplets will form on the inside of the covering.

NEAR A WINDOW

Keep the cutting near a window or under a grow light. Check the plastic cover regularly to see if water droplets are present. If humidity levels drop, add water. If droplets form on the plant, remove the covering for a day or so to reduce moisture. New growth should begin in a few weeks. Remove plastic covers when cuttings have rooted.

Herbaceous perennials and deciduous plats are good candidates for root cuttings. When a plant is dormant in late fall or early winter, dig up the entire plant. With a sharp knife, remove sections of vigorous roots. (Roots that are 2-4 inches long and growing close to the crown will form new plants quicker.) Do not use rooting hormone for this process. Position cuttings vertically in a container that is filled with damp potting mix. Arrange them with the cut ends barely below soil level. For large quantities or for plants with thinner roots, take 3-5 inch cuttings. Fill a flat to within an inch of the top with potting mix, lay the cuttings flat on top, and then cover the cuttings with a half-inch of additional mix.

Place the containers in an area such as a greenhouse or cold frame and protect them from direct sun. Cuttings will grow roots, stems and leaves. Test root growth by gently tugging on the cuttings.

Once stems and leaves form, move the containers into bright light and water as needed. When young shoots are several inches tall and new roots have formed, transplant them into individual pots and feed them with liquid fertilizer.

Resources: Texas AgriLife Extension, bhg.com, Southern Living Garden Book

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.

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Category: Horticulture Archived