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Marin IJ Articles

Keeping plants healthy with propagation

  • Jane Scurich
  • DID YOU NOTICE your day lilies were blooming less profusely last summer? How about your dahlias? Was your agapanthus looking crowded and less vigorous? If so, it might be time for a bit of digging, dividing and sharing.

    Propagating, or multiplication by natural reproduction, of many perennials and bulbs is not only easy and economical, but it's also beneficial for your plants.

    Many of our well-loved perennials and bulbs reproduce, sometimes exponentially. Each season, well-cared-for plants send out new growth just waiting to be welcomed to a new home.

    Coming our way at 9 a.m. April 12, Master Gardener and landscape designer Elizabeth Finley will discuss the how-tos of dividing perennials and bulbs. She'll demonstrate by dividing various plants in the garden at Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael. Participants will learn about division propagation and then will leave with a divided plant from the gardens.

    How do you know when your perennials need to be divided? Sometimes a clump will spread and leave a doughnut-type hole in the center as old plants die, or you may notice lots of foliage but not much flowering. Other symptoms to look for include stunted growth and/or yellowish leaves.

    In many parts of the country, dahlias must be dug up each fall and protected from freezing weather. This annual digging allows for careful dividing and editing. Here in Marin County's moderate climate, it's easy to just let our dahlias stay in the ground year round. I once ignored a dahlia's prolific reproduction until I saw, literally, a mountain of tubers rising out of my garden bed! I was practically begging people to share in this bounty.

    It's important to learn about dividing your dahlias so that you can enjoy more flowers. One important tip: When dividing dahlia tubers, be careful to keep at least one "eye" on each fat tuber. Look for the white or pinkish dots on the tuber, which is where the new stem will originate.

    When dividing any perennials, use clean, sharp tools. Sanitize your equipment with a nine parts bleach and one part water solution to prevent the spread of any disease.

    My garden is filled with succulents, and I often walk around pinching or cutting small sections to balance the look of a plant or simply to increase my supply. Cuttings are best left to dry for a day or two to allow the damaged tissues to heal and reduce the possibility of fungal disease.

    Succulents are the current darlings of the plant world as they are available in a staggering array of size, color and shape and they are extremely drought tolerant. You, too, can learn more about the best ways to propagate succulents by seed, cuttings, division and leaf during 10 a.m. talk and demonstration on April 12 with Jessica Wasserman and Gary Bartl in the Falkirk's succulents garden. They will offer advice about creative ways to incorporate succulents in your landscape and container gardens, as well as the best practices for maintaining these garden delights.

    After all the demonstrations, you are invited to join in the work party at the beautiful Falkirk demonstration gardens. Bring your hand pruners and gardening gloves to work alongside Marin Master Gardeners as they groom the multiple gardens surrounding the historic Falkirk mansion.