Garden Gate: Collecting free flowers

Sometimes, you can't identify a flower without a program. Take the case of this "garden geranium," one of the most common potted plants in America with over 200 varieties. t's actually a pelargonium and calling it by its Latin name (Pelargonium x hortorum) will help avoid any cases of mistaken identity. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)

If you like the idea of free flowers, listen up. This is the best time of year for starting a fresh batch of geraniums.

By snipping a few cuttings from your, or a friend’s overwintered plant, you’ll be rewarded with cheerful displays of pink, white, salmon or red flowers. Before you grab a pair of shears and go knocking on your neighbor’s door though, mentally prepare yourself.

Not all geraniums come through winter’s boot camp looking spry and healthy. But if you, or your neighbor, has a vibrant mother plant, then proceed with confidence. The technique I’m about to describe, that is of acquiring new plants from cuttings, is a basic one that you can apply to most cuttings. Either way, gardeners are a frugal lot, and the idea of free plants is usually a welcomed skill.

Once you’ve got the cuttings bug, it’s hard to control yourself. You’ll eye every plant for its potential of spawning dozens of plants.

Take a look at these step-by-step instructions. The only additional piece of advice I have for making cuttings of geraniums is to let the cuttings sit over night, before planting. This helps the geranium root, rather than rot in the damp soil.

Here’s what to do: Fill a clean plant pot or container with soilless potting mix or vermiculite.

As far as cuttings go, look for newer growth rather than woody stems. You want a stem with a node on it. A node looks like a knuckle joint on a finger (stem) and it’s where a leaf is or was attached.

Use scissors or razor blade that has been sterilized in alcohol to cut just below a node. The cutting doesn’t need to be long. A single node with a couple of leaves is fine.

Now make a clean slice through the middle of the node. Plant stems send out their new roots from the stem nodes. Remove all but 1 or 2 leaves. Leaves are necessary to continue photosynthesis. Poke holes in the rooting medium with a pencil to ensure the rooting hormone remains on the cutting.

Rooting hormone is not necessary, but it does stimulate new roots growth. Place some rooting hormone in cup or saucer.

Dip the stem node in water and then into the hormone. You won't need much, and don’t return used hormone to the original container.

Before planting, let the cuttings sit overnight to heal over. Otherwise they have a tendency to rot in the damp soil.

Carefully place the cuttings into the holes you made in your potting mix and firm the soil around them.

Place the container of cuttings into a plastic bag. Allow some airflow, however.

Place the bagged container 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 tugging gently on the cuttings and testing for resistance. Once the cuttings have developed roots, they are ready to be transplanted into pots of their own.

Speaking of things involving roots and leaves, mark your calendars for tonight. You’re invited to meet and learn from Patricia Joyner, one of Alaska’s premier tree specialists during her visit to Kodiak visit. Lucky us, Patricia will be presenting a workshop about trees — site selection, planting, basic maintenance and what species thrive in Kodiak.

Some people say she’s a Tree Whisperer. “Patricia is 100 percent committed to educating people about the value of trees, planting the right trees in the right places, and envisioning the full life span of trees we introduce and maintain in our communities,” says Hansel Klausner, Supervisory Park Ranger for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and longtime friend of Joyner. “She has a lot of great ideas for urban landscapes and green spaces and I hope to impart some of that on public places in Kodiak, starting with the Refuge Visitor Center.”

According to Klausner, Kodiak was the very first city in Alaska to observe Arbor Day back in 1966. “Patricia has participated in Arbor Day presentation for the State longer than anyone I know,” says Nickel LaFleur, community tree steward in Anchorage. “Oh, and don’t call her Pat or Patty. Just Patricia.”

The Kodiak Garden Club will host the special March 4 meeting and 2-hour presentation starting at 7 p.m. at the Marian Center, behind St. Mary’s. The whole community is invited, and you don’t have to be a garden club member to participate.

To get the most out of Joyner’s talk, take some pictures of your yard and make notes of your raised beds and planted spaces. Then bring your homework and a friend, to the workshop.

And while you’re at it, bring a few geranium cuttings to exchange. You just might find the perfect salmon-colored geranium you’ve been looking for.

Marion Owen will be teaching her annual spring Organic Gardening class at Kodiak College from March 30 to April 27. She can be reached at Archived copies of weekly garden columns and an RSS feed can be found at You can find, and join, “Kodiak Growers” on Facebook.

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