propagation

Whitney Curtis

Better Gardener: Propagating Hydrangeas

I learned quickly when we started working on our backyard, that small gardens and winding paths don’t exactly mix well with high-energy, long-legged dogs. Our vizsla, Birch, hurdles over shrubs and flowers every day, stands smack dab in the middle of my Solomon’s Seal, or tramples on my hostas. It usually doesn’t bother me, except when he sprints by my hydrangeas. Oh boy. I always cringe, hoping he’s not too close. I follow behind him, picking up the hydrangea twigs that snap off. Here’s what I do to take advantage of the broken branches!

Propagating Hydrangeas

1. Use new, green growth – not the woody area of the stem, it’s older and won’t produce roots.

2. Dip the tip in rooting hormone, about an inch or so. (Using rooting hormone is optional, but I think it really helps!)

3. Clip large leaves in half, so the plant will focus energy on producing roots.

4. Plant in healthy, organic soil. Consider adding perlite and/or vermiculite to help retain moisture for the new roots.

5. Water, wait and then transplant to the ground!

I planted two cuttings in the terra cotta pots above last summer. (The plastic bags only stayed on for the first week or so. I didn’t think they were totally necessary, so I didn’t leave them that way for long.) Once I could feel that the plants had put out a few roots (just tug lightly to feel if there’s resistance), I moved them to the backyard to be in their natural elements. They grew a good bit in the fall so I transplanted them to a bigger container for the winter.

As soon as the weather got warm this spring (around April), I planted them in the ground and they’ve almost doubled in size already! Each plant had a really complete root system, which I was pleasantly surprised to see.

Hydrangeas are an easy plant to propagate, so give it a try this summer! I am thrilled with this easy method of expanding my garden. Now that I know I can do it, I don’t mind as much when Birch takes off sprinting through the garden. In fact, I kind of hope for a stray branch I can take care of.

Photos from my Instagram


Justin W. Hancock

Growing Fruit from Seed

appleblogI get a fair number of questions from readers (and non-gardening friends, too!) about growing fruits from seed.

It seems like a great idea — why buy a $35 apple tree, for example, when you can just buy one for a couple of bucks at the store and plant the seeds. But unfortunately, it’s not nearly that simple in reality.

Most fruit trees are hybrid varieties, and do not reproduce reliably from seed. It’s similar to people — you’re not an exact replica of either of your parents.

In a lot of cases, you actually lose the best traits of the parent — vigorous growth, good quality fruit, or disease resistance.

Another reason that growing apples, peaches, cherries, etc. from seeds of produce from the grocery store is that it takes a long time for them to first bear fruit. So you may end up waiting years for your tree to give you harvests, only to find it’s mediocre fruit.

Additionally, many fruit trees are grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock. That means the tree is actually growing on another variety’s root system; this root variety keeps the tree smaller (only 15 to 20 feet tall, for example, instead of 30 feet or more).

That said, if you have the patience and space for from-seed fruit trees, you can certainly plant the seeds and see what you get.

Note: Some gardeners do this with tropical fruits for low-cost houseplants. Avocado, mango, papaya, and starfruit, for example, all grow readily from seed and make attractive houseplants!


Denny Schrock

gearing up for groundcovers

Spider plants are one of my favorite groundcovers. The variegated form looks great as an underplanting around roses or lining the edge of a perennial bed. Although you can purchase spider plants at garden centers or nurseries that stock indoor plants, you can also propagate all that you need by rooting the “babies” at this time of year and carrying them through the winter as houseplants.

With an average first freeze date of October 12 here in Des Moines, it’s time to snip the spiders and start some new plants for next year. I simply stick 3 or 4 of the plantlets into a 4-inch pot filled with potting soil, moisten, and keep watered well until roots form. In just a few weeks I’ll have 40 or 50 rooted plants. For more on how to start plants from cuttings follow this link.

Spider plants and Elfin thyme rooting in flats in my greenhouse.

Other tender plants that I root at this time of year include coleus and Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha). Like spider plants, rooted coleus overwinter well as houseplants. The Mexican sage needs brighter light, so it stays in the greenhouse over winter.

This year I’m also starting several flats of Elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Minus’), a wonderful low creeper that tolerates some foot traffic. I’ll plant it as an edging around some new beds that I started this year. I guess that you could say that October 1st marks the beginning of the winter gardening season, moving from an outdoor emphasis to indoors, or if you’re lucky, into the greenhouse.