Marin Master Gardeners
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Marin Master Gardeners

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Share the love — and the plants

November 24, 2018
Jane Scurich

Look no farther than your home garden (and your friends and neighbors) to expand your plant collection. I love experimenting with propagating plants from my personal garden that I can share with friends — and hopefully enjoy their reciprocation.

The most popular ways of propagation are by seed, plant division, and stem or root cuttings.

I recall a number of years ago when I harvested a seed pod from a cyclamen, opened it to reveal dozens of tiny seeds, planted them in fresh soil mixed with perlite and waited — and waited. Literally months later, just as I was about to abandon the whole project, dozens of tiny heart-shaped leaves appeared. Today my garden is filled with tubers from that experiment. The fall rains bring forth new foliage and ultimately, lovely flowers reminiscent of butterflies in flight.

Lesson learned: patience is a virtue.

Seed collecting is easy, economical and can become additive. Look for dry seed heads where your favorite flowers have bloomed. Clip them or shake directly from the plant into a paper bag. Store the seeds in an envelope or glass jar in a cool dry place until it’s time to plant.

Reliable plants for beginners include foxglove, marigold, cosmos and sunflowers.

Plant division is another dependable way to increase your plant supply. Not only will dividing provide additional plants for your garden, but it will also encourage robust blooming to overcrowded perennials such as daylilies, agapanthus and dahlias. Our traditional rainy season is an ideal time to divide spring and summer bloomers. Do your garden a service by dividing established beds, spreading your bounty around the garden and sharing with friends.

Cuttings require a bit more effort, but don’t be intimidated.

Plants genetically identical to the mother plant are only produced from stem cuttings although some root cuttings will be clones. Before you start gathering cuttings, assemble a few supplies to insure success. Clean, sanitized pots are necessary. The potting medium should be moist and can be a mixture of perlite, vermiculite, coir fiber and peat moss. The goal is a light, airy mixture that will allow water to flow through while retaining moisture. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Cleanliness is paramount to success. Disinfect your tools with a bleach solution often to avoid contamination. Identify your cuttings. It’s easy to think you’ll remember what that little cutting is and when it was started, but wouldn’t it be easier to get in the habit of adding a marker to each start, identifying the date and the plant cloned?

Once you have pots, growing medium, plant tags and clippers handy, it’s time to collect your specimens. Time of year can be important. Fall and early winter are ideal for propagating many California natives as they show healthy new growth when the rains fall. Cuttings from some plant species will root almost anytime.

Ideally, collect your cuttings in the morning when plants are most hydrated. Immediately wrap the cuttings in moist towels. A good cutting will be just below a node, have some intact buds or leaves and three to five nodes. Once your cuttings are gathered, remove the lower leaves and consider trimming leafy cuttings to minimize moisture loss. Commercial rooting hormones may be used according to the package directions. Carefully insert the cutting into the potting medium. Most importantly, the medium must be kept moist, with moderate light, in a protective environment that can be as simple as a plastic bag supported by chopsticks or as elaborate as a moisture- and temperature-controlled greenhouse.

Each of these propagation processes is achievable by both the beginner and accomplished gardener. For more detailed instruction, go to marinmg.ucanr.edu/files/117038.pdf and fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_gtr274.pdf.

Try your hand at one or all of these propagation techniques and share your bounty with friends.

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