January 4, 2013

Saving Summer - Rooting Cuttings

Rooting your own cuttings taken from summer annuals and tender perennials is easy, but they don't always winter over well indoors, one is best undertaking such tasks with a cold greenhouse, or under lights, if you have a cool cellar or cool sunroom. Indoors, such plants as abutilon ( flowering maples) and salvia species, suffer under the dry conditions and are prone to getting many insect pests.

New Years Day I spent cleaning the greenhouse, which seems like the only bit of gardening I did on my Christmas vacation. Most of the time I spent recovering from that nasty flu, and then a good bout of laziness. It's amazing at how little I can accomplish when I really put my mind to it. Wednesday it was back to the office, and back my routine - it was odd being away from my office for three weeks ( nice, but oddly disorienting). Getting back to the grind and craziness somehow helps me to use what little free time I have, in more useful ways.

I think on New Years Day, it was part guilt and part panic, that got me outside to sweep the benched, rake the isles and re pot a whole lot of plants. It was also sunny, and even though bitter cold outside, under glass, it was sunny and warmer ( 'warmer', as in 50º F).  It was a little nerve wracking as snow kept blowing off of the hemlock trees from the storm we has two days earlier, and it would drop onto the glass roof with a bang. Inside, I wore a T-shirt and jeans, which got wet from the hose, and muddy from the pots - it all felt a little bit summerish.

A well-rooted salvia cutting rooted simply in sand

I found a flat of cuttings from a post that I did in September, where I walked around the garden and snipped various salvias, abutilon and other tender shrubs and annuals. I don't know why I always buy new plants each year, when all I need to do is to take cuttings in the fall, to carry them through the winter. I think I just become bored with the same cultivars, so a fresh colored abutilon sometimes feels new. But I do have my favorites, such as this abutilon 'Firefly' with tiny, deep scarlet-red bells, always worth having a few pots to place around the borders or to share with visitors.

An Abutilon 'Firefly'  cutting that I took in September and placed in a tray of damp sand, is now well rooted and ready to be potted up.
 Cleaning the greenhouse was fun, as I made extra room simply by filling 4 large garbage bags with old containers, flats, pots with cracks and unused insulation ( bubble wrap) from earlier winters. I'm a bit of a hoarder, so purging every now and them makes me feel good. It was also great to get my hands into the soil, as there were many plants to be repotted. I think one of the most rewarding aspects of having a greenhouse is gardening on these short, cold winter days when it is sunny outside.

Many plants needed to be organized, orchids brought together with other orchids, Nerine brought back to the upper benches now that they are out of bloom, sand plunges needed to be cleaned out and pots replaced with blooming South African bulbs or other interesting alpines. With our annual Primula Society luncheon happening next weekend, much needs to be tidied-up. Especially the greenhouse as the day is more garden tour as much as it is business meeting and social party, and since the rest of the garden is under snow, the tour becomes a greenhouse tour.

I took many cuttings of summer-blooming salvia species, each root easily, and one can have dozens of rooted cuttings in a matter of a few weeks. These can quickly become lanky, so it is best to pinch them back to the second internode after the cutting have rooted.
 I also needed to make some room for seeds that will be arriving in the next couple of weeks. Perennials that have been cold-treated will need to be sown, and next Saturday's Primula Society meeting will also include a special members-only seed share from an expedition to the Himalaya ( our good friend Chris Chadwell), so more seeds will be coming from his very special collections from the past year. Other seeds that will be arriving soon are early annuals - that will need to be sown in the first few weeks of January - these include impatiens, begonias and geraniums. Snapdragons too, will need to be sown soon too.

I am so angry at commercial growers for using growth retardant on their annuals ( and vegetables) incorrectly, that this year I am starting everything at home. Last year zinnias, marigolds and most every other annual which I purchased in bloom - all nice and tight in their little 6 packs, stayed that way - nice and tight, failing to produce another bloom after being placed in the garden, and eventually they all died ( and believe me - I can grow most anything!). This year I was 4 foot tall marigolds, sweeps of coral zinnia's, tall spikes of snapdragons, and waving wands of cleome and cosmos that are 5 feet tall, and I know from experience that each of these will either need to be sown into the garden, or started a few weeks early indoors, for store bought plants will sulk and pass away after a month of sitting in the garden and doing virtually nothing.

Geranium cuttings are root quickly, but heirloom variegated forms take more time, and even bottom heat.


  1. Hate stunt growth regulators, too! Likewise I am starting my own veggies and annuals.

  2. Hi Matt, nice pics. I am craving a greenhouse, sigh..... Can you share some tips/tricks/details on rooting plants in damp sand? What kind of containers? How damp is the sand, how do you gauge dampness? Covered with plastic or open to air? Enquiring minds want to know! Thanks for all the info you share with us gardening junkies. Mary Beth


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