Some propagating can be done now
Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 8:00 pm
More often than not, plant propagation is a relatively easy and straightforward operation. A great number of your favorite woody and herbaceous things can be propagated, to make more and more, without the luxury of a greenhouse, though one simplifies things.
We hark back to our grandmother’s day and remember the half-gallon fruit jars turned upside down over rose cuttings during the winter months. It took all winter to get roots, but so what? Mammaw was biding her time before a warm morning heater as she did her winter mending, and those cuttings were quietly going about their work.
Among the simplest of propagation operations is division of perennials, and some woody things, at the root.
Most perennials can be dug and torn into smaller pieces after they have been in the ground several years. Indeed, some can be thus treated even before you remove them from their nursery pots.
A lot of shrubs, and even a few trees, sucker out to make numerous growing points over the years. These kinds of things can be halved, tripled or divided even further by slicing away some stems with roots or cutting the whole ball of roots into pieces.
Coming to mind are many varieties of hydrangeas. These, after a few years, can be chopped into quarters and easily moved.
Even easier, if more time-consuming, is layering. Some shrubs will self-layer on their own when a low branch sags to the ground and stays in contact with the soil long enough for roots to form, at which time the new plant can be cut away and moved.
Hydrangeas are among the most likely to self-layer, with azaleas and rhododendrons doing it, too. We have several large rhododendrons that self-layered years ago and were moved to our woodland. The parents of them are long gone.
Layering can be enhanced by deliberately selecting a low branch and placing a rock or brick over it to keep it anchored until rooting occurs. If the bark on the bottom side of the branch is scraped off where it touches the ground, rooting will be speeded up.
Seed propagation is generally slower. In some cases, germination can take two years or more under even controlled conditions.
Stray seedlings, however, abound under some plants. Mostly these will be herbaceous things, but some shrubs seed heavily as well, nandinas among them.
Among my top 10 perennials are hellebores. Most of mine are Helleborus orientalis (taxonomists now insist on Heleborus hybridus). After a few years in situ, most hellebores seed heavily.
It takes three years, however, for the seedlings to flower. Happily, these can be moved at will most any time of year during their adolescence.
In the grand scheme of things, three years isn’t a long time, particularly if you are young.
Fall and very early spring are generally considered the best times for root division of most perennials, though ornamental grasses better wait until growth is under way in mid-spring.
However, for most really hardy things (i.e. tall sedums, summer phloxes etc.) winter division, as long as the ground isn’t frozen tight, is no problem if the crowns of the plants can be discerned.
An advantage of winter division is the fact watering is almost never a problem for months to come.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is the garden writer for The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at (731) 642-1162.
Published in The Messenger 2.5.13