You know you’re a proper gardener when you start propagating plants, and generously giving them away to others. My own garden is full of plant gifts from Elaine and Louise, – none yet from Caroline but one lives in hope.
Indeed one of the pleasures of a walk around your garden is the memories of the person who gave you each plant so it’s lovely to be able to reciprocate with some home made plants of your own, and now is the perfect time to give some cuttings a go.
The best plant presents are usually something a little bit unusual, or choice, so I have been stalking round my plot snipping bits and pieces that I think others might like. So what have I chosen?
Well my first choice was a plant I was given by a dear friend and neighbour for Christmas last year. It’s Philotheca myoporoides, the gin and tonic plant, (so obvs will make a good choice of present for my two boozy sisters). It’s actually an Australian native known there as the long- leaved wax flower and has been nothing but a delight with its ever so slightly succulent aromatic leaves which are now excitingly covered with flower buds. Depending on how quickly it takes to strike roots and grow, C and E will each be getting one for either Christmas 2020 or Christmas 2021
My next subject was a perennial wallflower, which are ridiculously easy to root, they practically jump out of your hand and into the pot themselves. The one I’ve gone for is Erysimum scoparium, a tough old fashioned shrubby species which eventually forms a huge mound of flowers that seem to fill any space given to them very satisfactorily and starts flowering as early as late February.
Next up was Euphorbia martinii, a cracking little euphorbia but one that quickly burns out after two or three years and for just a little bit of effort now, just snipping off some of the new stalks and popping them in a pot of gritty compost you can save yourself £7.99 for a new one in the spring- actually £23.97 as it looks great as a clump of three.
Anyone who reads my fortnightly Growhow columns (and I hope you ALL do!) will know that I’m a huge fan of taking cuttings of almost everything. I really hate NOT to propagate – it’s my fate! And Laura is quite right in saying that late summer is a great time to have a go at this, even if you have never done it before. If they root, it gives you a fabulous buzz of pride; if they don’t, what have you actually lost? Nothing.
I am someone who likes repetition of colours and textures in a garden, and using cuttings of one initial purchase must have saved me hundreds of pounds over the years. It’s also lovely to give them to horticulturally-minded friends and family – it often solves the ‘what to take to a friend’s soiree besides a bottle of wine’ dilemma, and is more lasting than a bouquet of flowers.
Some like Laura’s wallflowers are super-easy to persuade to root. Lots need some protection and warmth while they are rooting – hydrangeas, for instance. But did you know that you can have success by just chopping bits off a frost-hardy plant and sticking them in the ground, as long as you have the room to leave them un-disturbed for a while?
This would not work with softwood cuttings taken earlier in the season – they need a lot more nurture – and may be much easier in the soft south rather than the frozen north, I don’t know. However I’ve managed to populate borders at intervals with the dramatic foliage of dark-leaved elder (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’) by doing just this. Same with Weigela, Rubus, Choisya, Euonymus, Abelia, Myrtus, Lonicera…….
I did nothing weird or difficult. I simply took unflowered shoots 6-8″ (15-20 cm.) long at about this time of year, took off the lower leaves, stuck about half their length in the ground, labelled and watered them, and just let them take their chances. I’ve done the same with masses of roses, though I take longer lengths of these (about 12″/30cm) – cuttings are growing on their own roots of course rather than being grafted onto a rootstock, and that can occasionally lead to problems, can’t it, Laura…..
They don’t all make it of course. I’ll carefully dig up the ones that show new growth, to grow on in individual pots. I’ve learnt not to be too hasty with the cuttings that are just…..sitting there. If I’ve given them what I reckon to be a decent amount of time to root (say, 6 months) and nothing’s happened, I’ll give them a gentle tug. If there’s ANY resistance, I’ll leave them there in the hope that they make a U-turn – and by golly, I reckon we have become pretty used to those in the last few months, have we not,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,!
Why wait? It’s not too late – go propagate! All right, all right, I’ve run out of rhymes, so let’s see now if Caroline can add to the debate (sorry, it just slipped out)…
There’s no mystery about why Laura hasn’t got any cuttings from me. It’s because despite Elaine’s bright and breezy advice, mine start to decay from Day 1 in their polythene and yogurt pot sarcophaguses until the whole atmosphere of failure and gloom in my greenhouse drives me to put them in the bin.
And far from gushingly giving them away as gifts (if you need to bulk up the gift of a bottle of wine, why not just add another one?) my problems started last week when my friend asked ME to take some cuttings from HER hydrangea (bought on a fabulous trip we made years ago to Logan Gardens in Dumfries-shire). What madness! Tina was making the same mistake our teachers made all those years ago in assuming some of my sisters’ skills must have rubbed off on me.
No time to go to my gardening solution centre Dobbies, I feverishly logged onto Amazon Prime and bought a mahoosive propagator. With scissors aloft I advanced towards the hydrangea hoping that unlike animals, it couldn’t sense my fear. I followed all the advice about snipping below some leaf nodes, stripping the leaves and the vital gritty compost but almost immediately the doubts crept in – does it matter that the remaining leaves touch the top of the propagator? Should I keep it in the warm or the cool (apparently hydrangeas quite like shade).
If they look healthy to you it’s because they’ve only been in that propagator for a day. Trust me they will be lifeless sticks in six months’ time. I just don’t have the knack.
On my way home I called into a nursery and comfort-bought a nice looking verbascum (Helen Johnson) that I assumed would seed itself all over my gravel like its yellow cousins do. That’s until Laura called for a chat – ‘Oh no’ she said, ‘it will only survive for a year. You need to take root cuttings – they’re easy’. Whaaaat! Easy for who? If you have any tips for a serial cuttings failure, please pass them on…..
NB: Louise has not just one plant but a whole miniature collection of them as her plants of the moment. Click into the box below to find out what they are.
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