The multiplication of plants, known as propagation, is an entertaining and rewarding part of gardening. Many people are familiar with growing and multiplying plants using seeds. This method is useful but can be time consuming and, depending on the plant, difficult.
Luckily, many plants can be reproduced from a cutting, a process known as asexual reproduction. With a cutting, you are certain to reproduce the plant exactly, whereas sexual reproduction is a roll of the genetic dice.
If you have never propagated from cuttings before, I recommend starting with succulents. Succulent cuttings need little encouragement to root and regrow. I have often found a broken piece of a succulent that has fallen into some hidden place, grown roots and re-established itself. But like their parent plants, they are sensitive to over-watering and fungal infections. There are, however, things you can do to minimize complications and help your cuttings grow.
First choose a place to make your cut. If the plant is leafy, choose a spot with only one or two leaves above the incision site. These leaves will feed the plant through photosynthesis, but will also release water vapor. When necessary, remove excess leaves from the cutting.
If you are propagating something other than a succulent, look for new growth. This part of the plant is more adaptable than an older or woody area and will root more easily. You may need to wait for another season, when the plant begins fresh growth. Convincing a woody cutting to root can take weeks or even months.
Use a sharp, sterile knife to make the cut. A dull blade can damage cells at the site, causing rot. An unclean knife can introduce fungi and bacteria and transmit diseases.
When propagating succulents, set the cutting aside for a day or more to let the wound callous. This will prevent any moisture, fungus or bacteria present from entering the cutting. If your incision site is narrow, consider making your cut at a sharp angle. This produces a larger wound, but also creates a larger root-growing area.
Prepare a small pot with well-drained soil. Some people prefer to use perlite, vermiculite or a mix of the two. I have the best luck with cactus soil mixed with a little extra perlite. This provides a stable and well-draining environment for the cuttings. Be gentle when placing your cuttings. Pressing them roughly into the medium will damage the wound site and invite the entry of unwelcome microscopic visitors.
You may wonder how this little snippet is supposed to grow. The answer is: plant hormones. Each plant leaf releases a specific hormone that flows downward, instructing the plant to grow new roots. In turn, each root sends a different hormone upward, demanding new leaves. When you take a cutting, you upset this balance. Hormones from the roots are literally cut off, leaving only those coming from the remaining leaves. It is this imbalance that causes cuttings to sprout roots.
You can increase this imbalance, and your chance of success, with rooting hormone. Available at nurseries and garden stores, rooting hormones are synthetic versions of those found within the plant. If you purchase powdered rooting hormone, dip the wound site in it before placing the cutting in the growing medium. If you purchase a liquid type, dilute it as directed and pour it into the growing medium after you have placed the cutting. I use the liquid form and add a little every time I water my cuttings.
Now comes the time for patience. Minimal watering and bright, indirect sun will be all your cutting needs to do its work. Resist the urge to check for roots. When roots first grow, they are only one cell thick and very fragile. You will not be able to see them, and fussing with your cuttings will break them.
Watch your new plants for signs of over- or under-watering and infection. If you suspect a fungal infection, reduce watering and spray the cutting with Neem oil. Rooting time varies, but I usually check mine after about two weeks. Using a thin tool, I push aside some of the growing medium and look for roots.
In the end, cuttings are like children. All you can do is give them the tools to succeed and hope for the best. If you are lucky you will soon have some beautiful new additions to your garden.
Do you want to become a UC Master Gardener of Napa County volunteer?
To obtain an application you must attend an information meeting. For meeting dates, location and times, or to learn more about the program and volunteer commitment, visit the UC Master Gardener of Napa County website.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
My garden continues to be my comfort and my unbiased confidante. It turns out that I am not alone in this feeling.
The children's book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was a childhood favorite of mine. Published in 1911, the story used a garden motif to explore the healing power innate in living things.
In H.G. Wells's short story “The Door in the Wall, "one character recounts a garden experience almost identical to mine. Describing a garden he had entered, he says, “I forgot the sort of gravitational pull back to the discipline and obedience of home. I forgot all hesitations and fear, forgot discretion, forgot all the intimate realities of this life. It was, I tell you, an enchanted garden.”
Horticultural therapy (HT) has been practiced since ancient times. Dr. Benjamin Rush, an 18th century physician recognized as a founder of American psychiatry, was the first to document that working in the garden had positive effects on people with mental illness. In the 1940s and 1950s, health professionals working in the medical rehabilitation of veterans found that working in the garden was beneficial, thus enhancing the credibility and acceptance of the practice.
Today, horticultural therapy is an accepted and widely used option in rehabilitative, vocational and community venues. The therapy helps participants regain lost skills and learn new ones. It can help strengthen muscles and improve balance, coordination and endurance.
HT improves memory along with cognitive abilities, language and socialization skills. People can learn to problem solve, work independently and follow directions in a vocational HT setting.
The University of California at Davis's California AgrAbility Project assists organizations that help veterans plant gardens. The gardens provide many benefits, including peace of mind, hope and a connection to home. CalAgrAbility researchers found other health benefits, including strong evidence that nature heals and helps create therapeutic environments that reduce anxiety, stress and blood pressure.
A leader in the field of environmental psychology, Dr. Clare Cooper-Marcus, says that gardening brings the mind to a state similar to meditation. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers are using gardening as therapy for PTSD symptoms. At V.A. facilities in Connecticut, medical staff has found that veterans working in gardens report relief from depression and reduced substance abuse. Gardening turns the focus away from self and affords an outlet for frustration while providing satisfaction. To find more information, visit http://calagrability.ucdavis.edu
.In San Diego County, Master Gardeners worked with several local agencies to educate residents at a girl's rehabilitation facility. Working collaboratively, they designed a garden and taught the young women about building healthy soil, watering wisely, managing pests and handling food safely. Ten residents participated initially. Their positive experiences encouraged more to join the endeavor.
Residents in the program work in small groups with Master Gardeners. They learn how to make healthy snacks from the food they grow. The positive results include better collaboration, communication and teamwork. The organizers hope to use this plan as a template for other sites in the juvenile-court and community school system in that county.
Napa County Master Gardener Jill Rowley has written about Napa Valley Hospice's gardening program for clients of its Adult Day Services. Participants, who worked with Master Gardener volunteers, enjoyed experiencing the fresh air, watching plants grow, tending perennials and weeding the specially built raised beds. Rowley noted that participants often showed improved memory and increased socialization skills after participating in the gardening.
So when life becomes overwhelming for you or you just need a re-set, I highly recommend that you head out to your garden. Whether you relax in a chaise with a glass of iced tea and a good book or rake leaves like a mad person, I feel sure you will emerge refreshed and in a better frame of mind.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will hold a workshop on “Propagation and Seed Starting” on Sunday, March 1, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Yountville Community Center in Yountville. Master Gardeners will discuss and demonstrate several types of propagation methods, including division, soft wood cuttings, grafting and seed starting. Learn about the tools and techniques that lead to successful propagation and have a hands-on experience. To register, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 707-944-8712 or visit its web site.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.