As the saying goes, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, an axiom we can apply to our seemingly unending stretch of rain: It’s better to plant flowers than curse the weather. By “plant” flowers, I’m saying that simply gathering flowers around you (store-bought bouquets, forced hyacinth bulbs, Christmas cactus, and so on) can help lift your spirits out of a funk.
One of my favorite late-winter methods of embracing flowers is to start a fresh batch of geraniums for adorning pots and hanging baskets this summer. By snipping a few cuttings from your, or a friend’s, overwintered plant, you’ll be rewarded with cheerful displays of pink, white, orange or red flowers.
Before you grab a pair of shears and go knocking on your neighbor’s door, however, mentally prepare yourself. Not all window-box geraniums come through this kind of boot camp looking spry and healthy. But if you (or your neighbor or coworker), has a vibrant mother plant, then proceed with confidence.
The technique I’m about to describe — acquiring new plants from cuttings — is a basic one that you can apply to most cuttings. Gardeners hosting garden tours in hoity-toity districts of say, New Orleans, shun this practice, lest their prize plants depart through the front gate in pockets of hundreds of visitors. Who can blame them, really? Gardeners for the most part, are a frugal lot, and the idea of free plants is usually a welcomed skill.
You’ll see. 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.
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 overnight, before planting. This helps the geranium root, rather than rot in the damp soil.
Begin by filling a clean plant pot or container with soilless potting mix or vermiculite.
For cuttings, 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 razor blade (preferably one that has been sterilized 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 one or two leaves. Leaves are necessary to continue photosynthesis.
Poke holes in the rooting medium with a pencil to insure the rooting hormone remains on the cutting. Rooting hormone is not necessary (you can also place cuttings in jars filled with water), but it does stimulate new roots growth. You can find it in stores where indoor plant supplies are sold. 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 four to five 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. While you’re at it, why not take a few extra cuttings to root up and give away as gifts? It’s one way to light a candle against the crazy, winter weather.
What’s the best way to grow vegetables in Kodiak? To learn how locals do it, sign up for Kodiak Growers Facebook group, and be sure to chat with folks at Sutliff’s True Value and at Strawberry Fields. As usual, you can find Marion Owen on Facebook, Instagram or visit her blog at marionowen.wordpress.com.