Tag Archive: propagation


My second object is small, but none the less important- a plant label. The plant label symbolises gardeners’ efforts to propagate from seed and bring on plants into a state where they can ‘look after themselves’.

It also represents the importance of knowing what you’ve sown, where. It can be a right pain if you don’t and you forget what’s where until you’ve dug up your offspring rather than weeds!

I try to reuse my plastic labels by rubbing off the ‘permanent’ ink with some wire wool each year, which does the job well, though it can mean your next written label is a tad more smudgy than the first as the ink will spread in the fine scratches you create. Still it is the sustainable way to go! (Wooden labels are even better of course and you can also get other kinds, e.g slate).

Copper labels are useful for permanent labels on trees and shrubs and the likes- by impressing rather than inking in the name in the surface you don’t risk losing it to weathering.

Old School Gardener

Flower of the yellow Tree Peony - can be a long time coming, but worth the wait!

Flower of the yellow Tree Peony – can be a long time coming, but worth the wait!

Nick (from Cheshire), and an old friend of mine, contacted me recently with a sad tale:

‘Found my lovely tree peony snapped off at the base. It had taken about 3 or 4 years to flower and this year produced a massive single bloom, so I was hoping for more next year. We think the window cleaner might be to blame. I’ve planted up a few cuttings and it had produced 4 massive seed pods. Do you think there’s any chance of rearing the cuttings or germinating the seeds?’

Oh dear, I know how long it can take to get a flowering tree peony, having had one (Paeonia delavayi f. lutea), for at least 10 years, and only now getting some blooms. I think you’ve got three approaches to try and resurrect this wonderful deciduous shrub, Nick, but all will probably take a further few years to result in any notable blooms, I’m afraid:

1. You might be lucky and get some re-growth from the base of the plant, so don’t dig it up. Check if the break occurred above or below any graft point(most commercially grown Tree Peonies are grown on the roots of their more vibrant herbaceous cousins). If it’s above, you’ll possibly get another tree peony growing, if below it might turn into an herbaceous variety! You might give it a feed of Blood, Fish and Bone or another ‘balanced’ fertiliser to give it a kick-start (or rather re start) in the current growing season.

2. Your taking of cuttings is a good policy, but again these will be slow to produce much growth, let alone flowers. Hopefully you’ve taken ‘semi ripe’ cuttings of fresh growth, and planted these in the usual way, but I’m afraid the ‘strike rate’ may be low. Another form of vegetative propagation for Tree Peonies is layering but this requires a healthy shoot attached to the plant, an option you probably don’t have, and one which has mixed success too!

3. Yes, it’s worth having a go with seed. Make sure it’s ripe before you sow it (put the seed heads in a paper bag and wait for the seeds to dry a bit and fall out of the head naturally). Then sow these around now (late summer, early autumn) about 1″ deep in a soil-based seed compost, cover lightly with grit and put the pots outside. Make sure that the compost does not dry out and protect the pots from rodents. Tree peony seeds require two periods of cold – known as  ‘double dormancy’- with a warm period in between. After the first cold period the roots will develop, but you’ll see little if any top growth. The second season you should see some top growth and you can pot up the seedlings as they outgrow their pots- unfortunately it will probably be 5 years before they are of flowering size!

The RHS say about flowering problems with established Tree Peonies:

‘Tree peonies can take up to four years to settle in and flower, even though the plant may have been bought in bloom.

However, the lack of flowers can be also caused by shallow planting. If the plant did not produce flowers for several years after planting, try lifting it in the autumn and replanting it deeper.

Though established plants are drought tolerant, prolonged periods of drought may affect the flowering the following season. Mulch around the base and water during prolonged periods of dry weather.

Tree peonies planted in shady position tend to flower less profusely. Cut overhanging branches to allow more light to reach the plant. If this is not possible consider moving it.’

I wonder if you can get some free window cleaning on the back of this accident, Nick?!

Further information:

RHS- Tree Peonies

Plantax 9: Paeonia – physician of the gods

Old School Gardener

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How to Build a Propagation Bench

How to build a propagation bench

Instructions on how to create your own solar – heated bench for propagating seeds and cuttings and looking after seedlings.

Old School Gardener

How to build a Cold Frame

‘Spring is around the corner and it will soon be time to start sowing seeds.

For those of us who haven’t got a greenhouse, (especially a nice warm one like our editor Maddy’s, who has been using her hot bin composter to keep her greenhouse above freezing all winter), the unpredictable weather can have a huge impact on when we start our seeds. With the possibility of late frosts, seeds can be easily damaged, right through to April and May.

So making a cold frame is a great way to start off your seeds in a warmer and more protected environment, until they are strong enough to be planted out in the unpredictable weather……’

Great idea from Permaculture Magazine – click on the title link for further information and other useful links

Old School Gardener

Conifers can be pretty! Flowers like these help to relieve otherwise ratehr monotonous foliage. Picture by Anne Burgess
Conifers can be pretty! Flowers like these help to relieve otherwise rather monotonous foliage. Picture by Anne Burgess

An interesting question about propagating from hardwood cuttings, this week, from Gary Oakeshott of Dorset:

‘Some conifer cuttings I took during the summer have [produced a hard knobbly base but not roots. what has caused this and will affect rooting?’

Hmm.. Gary, this knobbly surface is called callus and usually develops around a wound when favourable conditions for rooting are provided. It seems to be essential in the process of forming roots. The acidity of the soil can affect the production of callus: too much lime and the callus may be hard and prevent roots from breaking through.

I suspect the cause of your problem might be that you’re checking your conifer cuttings for root growth too often? A case of ‘digging up the plant to see if it’s growing’!! Each time you lift the cutting, another tiny wound may have been made and this will have had to callus over before rooting can occur. I suggest that you remove the hard callus with a clean, sharp knife and replant your cuttings- but this time be patient and leave them alone fora  good 2-3 months! Here’s a simple video of the conifer propagation process- useful if you want to extend a hedge with your own cuttings, for example.

The process of wounding cuttings to encourage rooting is an interesting one. You might think it opens up the risk of letting in disease, and whilst this is a possibility, the wounding of the base of woody cuttings seems to be beneficial, especially with those species that are difficult to root, such as Rhododendrons. the wound appears to stimulate root formation, and the cut area allows the roots to emerge from the stem more readily. For the greatest benefit, the cuttings should be treated with a hormone rooting compound after wounding prior to sinking them into compost.

Further information:

Taking hardwood cuttings- RHS advice

Old School Gardener

ChrysanthemumsI’ve received a question from a Nottinghamshire gardener about different kinds of cutting. Mr. R.Hood asks:

‘What is the difference between softwood and greenwood cuttings? I’ve read that chrysanthemums are propagated from greenwood.’

Well, Mr. Hood, the difference comes down to something quite smallsoftwood cuttings are taken from the first flush of new growth in spring, whereas greenwood cuttings are taken slightly later, when the wood at the base of the cutting is a little firmer – these cuttings do not root quite as quickly.  Greenwood cuttings are easier to handle than softwood, and they are less prone to wilting. Therefore, greenwood cuttings should be used to propagate plants that root readily, like Delphiniums, Pelargoniums and indeed Chrysanthemums. Chrysanthemum cuttings could not be easier and for every mother or grandmother plant, you can produce at least 10 of a new generation. For an easy guide on how look at this article.

Softwood cutting

Softwood cutting

And while we’re talking about propagating new plants from cuttings how about evergreen plants?

Cuttings from these plants are usually taken from ‘ripe or semi ripe wood’ (i.e. when stems are firmer and buds have developed) in early summer and autumn and rooted  in a cold frame. They can be anything from 50 -150cm long, depending on the size of the plant, and preferably with a ‘heel’ of older wood where the cutting stem has been pulled away from the main stem. You then strip off the lower leaves, and if there is no heel, make a wound about 13mm long at the base of the cutting. Apply a hormone rooting powder to the base of the cutting (just a light dusting) and insert the cutting to half their length in soil – you can probably put a number around the edge and in the centre of a pot. To help reduce water loss from the remaining leaf/leaves, cut these in half.

Semi ripe cutting

Semi ripe cutting

The pot should then be placed in a cold frame (you can also root the cuttings directly into the soil in a cold frame , but make sure it has been forked over and manured/composted a week or two beforehand).  Water them well and close the frame completely. Inspect and water them regularly and harden them off during the summer to prepare them for planting out the following autumn.

You can create your own 'mini cold frame' by using plastic covers or bags over pot-planted cuttings

You can create your own ‘mini cold frame’ by using plastic covers or bags over pot-planted cuttings

Another technique, if you don’t have a cold frame, is to put a plastic cover, or bag secured with an elastic band over the top of the pot – this helps to prevent the cuttings drying out, by maintaining a naturally humid atmosphere. These effectively become ‘mini cold frames’ themselves.

It seems you can grow some evergreen cuttings by placing them into a cut potato! - this one is Wisteria.

It seems you can grow shrub cuttings by placing them into a cut potato! – this one is Wisteria, see the link for further info

Further information:

Softwood and Greenwood cuttings – RHS

Semi ripe cuttings- RHS

Propagating shrubs in a potato

Old School Gardener

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Are your Water Lilies taking over?

Are your Water Lilies taking over?

This week’s gardener’s question is about dividing the tubers of water lilies and comes from Paul Theother of South Mimms. He asks:

“I have a garden pond which is so full of water lilies that the other plants are being swamped. Can I divide and repot them or is it necessary to start afresh?”

Yes Paul, now’s the time to remove the plants from the pond and divide them. You can do this at any time between April and June. Cut the tubers into smaller pieces so that each contains a number of ‘eyes’ from which the new leaves are produced. Tie back the long, straggly roots and plant them individually in large baskets to help contain their growth, using aquatic compost and gravel to help to weigh them down. They should be put into the pond at a depth where they can send their flowers to the surface – this will depend on the variety and maturity of the plant.

Another plant that benefits from dividing, and which can yield many more plants as a result, is the Flag Iris.

If you want to do this then wait until after they have flowered. Lift the rhizomes (the tuberous roots), with a fork and discard the older pieces. The outer, younger growth will provide you with your new plants – this is where most of the new horizontal growth will occur. Having cut away the the old part of the rhizome to leave only a small part of this season’s growth and with some roots and leaves attached, trim the leaves back just above the point where they begin to spread out, leaving a small fan.

Replant or pot these up in soil which has had organic matter added – but don’t overdo it. Leave the top of the rhizome visible, so that they look rather like a crocodile in a lake! If you have a windy garden you can plant them slightly deeper – or try to place them somewhere where they won’t be toppled or suffer windrock. The shortest varieties of tuberous Iris can be left undivided for several years, whereas taller varieties should be divided regularly after flowering – usually every third year.

Here’s a picture gallery from Wikihow.

Iris 'Samurai Warrior'- the closest breeders have come to a red Iris

Iris ‘Samurai Warrior’- the closest breeders have come to a red Iris

Further information:

Lifting and dividing irises

A-Z of Perennials: I is for Iris

Do you have a gardening question I can help with? If so please email me at: nbold@btinternet.com

Old School Gardener

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Free Heat

broad beans germinate in warm bag if bark

broad beans germinate in warm bag of bark

‘The bags of freshly chipped bark that are waiting to be spread on the paths in the garden have provided an unexpected benefit. When I noticed how quickly the bark was heating up, it occurred to me that I could use them as giant propagators. The broad beans that had shown no sign of germinating in the greenhouse started to shoot after 3 days in their cosy new quarters. Very satisfying. There is an extraordinary amount of bacterial and fungal activity in the chippings, so much so that I’m taking the precaution of wearing a face mask when spreading it to avoid inhaling the smoke-like clouds of dust. For the photo I moved one of the seedboxes to one side to reveal the network of fungus that has formed.’

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