If you are like me, always looking for a way to save money, while having luxurious gardens with bountiful border, overflowing containers, and beautiful front yards; you will want to take note of this post.
Today, although our village Snow Witch has proclaimed an end to snow and that we should go forth into Spring, my yard is still pretty muddy. Also, NOAA has proclaimed thunderstorms for this afternoon (Snow for Debi-O! 1-3", Put on your game face, girl!). I don't argue with my high-tech and low-tech experts, besides planting in mud is not fun for me; and no matter how late the season is, the young plantlings don't much care for it either.
So, I am still gardening indoors.
The last few days, I have allowed myself to dream about my gardens of summer; beautiful vignettes of potted begonias on my porch and deck, borders amassed with color, but I am always on a tight budget. Also, my across the street neighbor, a fairly famous (in horticultural circles) doctor of horticulture who has really upped the gardening anty in my village since moving here about three years ago and restoring his 1900-period house and landscaping his yard, is holding (in conjunction with the local Kiwanis) a cultural day mid-July focusing on his gardens, house, and music as a scholarship fundraiser for the local school district.
I have many of my vegetable garden plantlings growing and they look great. Some I will sell, some are destined for my small potager (probably 12' by 20') or the spots in my perennial or shrub borders I fill in with edible landscaping, or the large garden I am planning with my brother and sister-in-law. But I want to have the street view of my house to be impressive, even by comparison to aforementioned neighbor.
Starting flowers from seed is already underway. I have cosmos 'Pink Popsocks', millet 'Jester', blue laurentia, and jewels of Opar, busily photosynthesizing as I write.
Another way I multiply my flowers and colorful foliage plants is through cuttings. I have several, including moses-in-a-boat, coleus, plecanthus, begonias, non-hardy succulents, and geraniums, of which I either have several "mother" plants planted all together in a pot which I bring indoors or take cuttings in fall. My goal with these plants is not that they look great all winter indoors, but merely that they survive.
I usually start my cuttings in two waves. The first wave of cuttings were begun around March 1. I took a 72-celled flat, filled it with a soil mixture of 1/2 compost, 1/4 local sandy loam, 1/4 vermiculite. I have used various different soil compositions and all work pretty well for me. This might not work for you, particularly if you seem to be prone to the fungal disease which causes "damping off".
In my area the local soil has natural anti-fungal properties. Soil scientists and biologists have been studying this, but I don't think it is widely known. A local materials company has been selling some of this topsoil under the "Waupaca" logo and at least in the Midwest, I have seen this sold as the generic topsoil in Wal-Mart. It is a heavy soil and for proper aeration, you do need to cut it with compost and vermiculite or perlite. As long as I use 25-50% of this type of dirt (which looks like a black peat soil, I have been free of fungal diseases with no particular attention to sanitation. Using my local sandy loam and local compost is a departure from this regime, but has seemed to work equally as well.
After I have prepared my tray with my soil tamped into the cells, I begin to collect the materials I will need. These include a bamboo skewer, a sharp scissors, a small container (any small plastic recyclable container can be re-purposed for this), and Rootone rooting hormone. I shake out a small amount of the rooting hormone into the container. I do not like to dip directly into the jar, as this invariably allows me to tip over the jar at some point, or introduce dirt and foreign material into the hormone jar.
Although the rooting hormone may say to dip the cutting into water and then into the hormone or mix the hormone in water and use the liquid for cutting dipping, I do not do either. When you have taken a cutting, the very act of cutting the plant signals the plant to produce its own natural hormones to begin a growth process. On the plant from which you clipped the cutting, the hormone will activate healing and new growth from the axials. On the cutting it will signal the cutting to regenerate what has been lost-- roots! Using the rooting hormone with the plants natural hormones simply provides a boost to this natural process. On some plants, especially when daylight hours expand, a plant has been given signals to get set and grow and could very well root without the hormone. I like a pretty much sure thing, so I use rooting hormone.
When I make my cut, I like to use a sharp tool. If I am working with shrubs I use a garden clipper, but on annuals a kitchen scissors works best. I want good, clean cuts that do not crush the cambrium layer. I also want to expose as much of that layer as possible. I make cuts on a 45-degree angle. (With shrub cuttings I may also wound the stem, by cutting parallel up the stem. In the case of needlenose ivy, I scape some of the outer layer off the stem on one side.)
As I have taken a cutting, what I have in fact done, is cut away 100% of the plant's root system. Nature likes a balance. I need to cut away some of the top growth as well. Do not worry about what your cutting looks like, worry more about your goal of getting the plant to live while growing a new root system.
In this picture I have made my first cut separating the cutting from the mother plant. I realize I have taken a cutting large enough to generate two cuttings. I make another cutting. Notice how I leave a length of stem below the leaf nodes.
In this picture, I am removing about 75% of the leaf foliage. The leaves are where the plant transpires water. A lot of leave surface means a lot of water gets transpired. As your new plant has zero root structure at this point, it lacks efficient means to pull water into the stem and leaves from roots. The open cambrium layer is trying to do all of this on its own.
In this picture you can see the 45-degree angle of the stem and the hormone clinging to it after dipping in Rootone.
I use the bamboo skewer to make a hole in the center of the cell's soil. I place the cutting in up to the leaves and press the soil firmly around the stem. Good soil contact with the cut area is important to rooting.
I water carefully. If I notice any of my cutting lift up or seem to float, I have overwatered and need to go back through the tray firmly pressing my cuttings into the soil.
Bottom heat will speed up the rooting process, but is not necessary. If you use bottom heat though, it also causes more water to be transpired. When using bottom heat, also use a clear dome on your tray or a layer of plastic wrap. A domed tray also is effective without a heatmat. Place your tray under lights or in a sunny window.
Your cuttings will be rooted when you see new top growth. Remember, new top growth shows a plant is seeking to balance a root system with foliage. Your plantlings will be ready for their new homes in your garden border or pots when you see roots coming through the bottoms of you cells.