KODIAK — It’s nearly March. Can you smell spring? We’re almost there, folks. There is still a smidgeon of winter left and as the saying goes, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. To put in another way, it’s better to plant flowers than curse the weather.
By “plant” flowers, I’m saying that by simply gathering flowers around you (store-bought bouquets, forced hyacinth bulbs, Christmas cactus, silk bouquets) can help lift your spirits out of a funk or simply energize you.
Growing new plants from cuttings is a great way to increase your plant stock in a relatively short time. Rooted cuttings are often sturdier than seedlings. And they mature faster. Which means many of them bearing flowers and fruits much earlier than seedlings.
One of my favorite plants to use for cuttings is the windowbox geranium. The very plants that adorn pots and hanging baskets by summer and often reside on indoor windowsills over the winter. By snipping a few cuttings from a mother plant, you’ll be rewarded with cheerful displays of pink, white, orange, or red flowers. And a single plant can give you plenty of cuttings without jeopardizing its health.
Before you grab a pair of shears and go knocking on your neighbor’s door though, prepare yourself. Not all window-box geraniums come through this kind of boot camp looking spry and healthy. But if know of a vibrant mother plant, then proceed with confidence.
Here is “Geranium Cuttings 101.”
Look for newer, greenish growth rather than old, woody stems. The stem should have a node on it. A node looks like a wrinkled knuckle joint on a finger and it’s where a leaf is, or was, attached to the stem. Use scissors or a sterile razor blade (sterilize in alcohol) to slice just below a node. The cutting doesn’t need to be long. A single node with a couple of leaves is fine.
Make a clean cut through the middle of the node. Plant stems send out their new roots from the stem nodes. Remove all but 1 or 2 leaves. Cuttings should sit for a day or two to form a callus at the bottom end.
A good rooting medium that keeps the cut end constantly moist is necessary. Avoid garden soil because it contains disease-causing organisms and spores that can rot the cuttings. A combination of peat moss and sand/perlite is good enough for holding enough moisture while allowing good drainage. Do not add any fertilizer.
Fill a clean plant pot or container with your rooting medium and soilless potting mix or vermiculite. Fashion holes in the rooting medium with a pencil and carefully place the cuttings into the holes.
You can also root cuttings in water, but water-grown roots can be relatively fragile. Just be extra careful while transplanting them later into soil.
Jaime Rodriguez, who manages The Alpine Garden Nursery in Palmer has developed his own technique. “I use perlite and high humidity. I also use any number of rooting hormone products, from Hormex, Olivia’s Cloning Gel, to homemade willow water.”
REGULAR MISTING AND WATERING
Do not allow the cuttings to wilt. Mist the top portion and water the medium regularly, but ensure good drainage. To provide a warm, humid atmosphere ideal for growth, Jaime recommends, “It’s good to cover cuttings with a dome or plastic.”
Place the container of cuttings in a warm spot but not in full sun. When new growth appears, remove the plastic bag. Check your cuttings regularly and watch for too much moisture in the bag. Remove any suspect cuttings as soon as you spot any dark gray spots, indicating rot.
After 4 to 5 weeks, check for roots by pulling gently on the cuttings. (If your cuttings are sprouting in water, check them frequently. Toss out any stems that show signs of rot). If your tug is met with resistance, it’s likely they’ve developed roots. Give them a little more time before transplanting them into pots of their own.
Once you’ve got the cuttings bug, it’s hard to control yourself. You’ll size up every plant for its potential of spawning dozens of free plants. Here is a list of plants the yield nice cuttings: Sage, thyme, comfrey, African violets, begonia, Fuchsia, and rose.
Seeds to start (8 to 12) weeks before planting outside)
Onion (bulb) and green onions, tomatoes (for greenhouse growing), thyme, chamomile (German), feverfew, valerian, catnip, snapdragons, alyssum, petunia, sage, daisy, calendula
Reminder: Prepare raised beds: Something best done in the fall, but better late than never. Build or repair raised beds. Collect and stockpile well-shredded kelp and old manure for turning into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil when it’s possible. Consider making a compost pile. If you think a how-to article on composting would be helpful, drop me an email through my blog.
Marion Owen has over 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. To contact Marion or to sign up for her “Goodness from Kodiak” newsletter, go to her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com.