Plant Propagation


One of my favorite things about plants is the unbelievable abundance in nature. If you know, or if you look closely you see babies everywhere. Seedling maples, sarcocca, digitalis, perennials that can be divided. Flowers that have reseeded in the garden. Pumpkins in your compost and other volunteers. Overgrown iris, huechera’s, sage’s, dianthus, daylilies, agapanthus that just need dividing. Then there’s the whole range of plants that can be easily propagated. Hydrangea, old roses(I don’t recommend cuttings from grafted roses, so much mosaic disease), viburnums, buddleia, willow, lavatera . Other plants can be readily propagated as hard or soft wood cuttings. The best time is October and November here in Northern California, by now in December you can still transplant and divide plants. But cuttings will just languish in cold soils and not start to root until it starts to become warmer and the days longer, that happens here about Valentines day.

What I also love about that is later you remember where and when you took those cuttings. The coral bells from my grandmother’s garden, I’ve had in all my gardens. The roses growing all over the place started from cuttings. I have the rose Le Marque growing right now propagated from Mark Lappe’s yard about fifteen year’s ago. It is a huge rambler growing about 20 feet up his deck. My friend Sherry and I started it for our wholesale rose business, later I planted one in the garden I built at Odiyan. Now I’ve taken a cutting from that rose last year and it’s growing here in my yard. I always remember the rose it came from in Mark’s yard. Next I can offer it to his children for their yards.It’s the memories that makes gardens so special. Also now at a gift giving time a very inexpensive gift.

One of the best books I’ve ever found on propagation is by the Royal Horticultural Society. I have an older version of this but have referred to it for twenty years. Very worthy book for your gardening library.

Greg Lowry at Vintage Gardens, the worlds best rose nursery, recommended taking cuttings from blooming wood. That otherwise the subsequent plants would have less blooming vigor. I usually take a 12″-16″ piece cut from bud to bud. Newer wood seems to more readily root. The idea is to keep these plants alive until they root. They might loose leaves, especially if they are deciduous. I usually try to root soft wood cuttings outside in good garden soil. Right now I have an area in my vegetable beds. Lately I haven’t used rooting hormone, preferring not to use chemicals. My success rate is not as good, but I’m just rooting for myself now, I can always plant more.

One time I visited my neighbor who was a well know plant woman in our area. Building a large ornamental garden at a time when people were still traveling up here in boats. She was 92 at the time and asked me for cutting of a dwarf hydrangea I had. These are very slow growing. I loved that enthusiasm and optimistic approach. I later worked in this garden after her death and the hydrangea is there. Growing slowly.

Vegetable Growing

I have big goals for our garden here. I want to produce veggies for ourselves and some of our local community and work to inspire others to garden.I’m still learning about growing vegetables. I love that about gardening that you can do it for so long and keep finding these huge areas of new information .There is just so much to know. I walked around with another veggie gardener on our last baking day and we talked with such enthusiasm about pests, seeding, veg.varieties.It’s different than the fine gardening I’ve been doing at work and in other gardens. I think it’s a really important background for farming to have the horticultural experience I’ve had, but farming and vegetable growing is slightly different.

For many many years, I had good intentions of growing vegetables, but after the first crop, the flowers would blow in and I felt I needed them more than the veggies. They soothed and satisfied me deep down in a way I now feel about vegetables. I don’t know why this finally changed. Maybe now because I have enough room to really grow vegetables and flowers. But really it’s surprising to me that I keep wanting to weed out the flowers. Not that I don’t still have a lot of flowers as well. I sold some to a local florist this year. I’m planting shrubs here with the intention that they would be good to market as floral greenery. It’s just that my priority has changed to something that goes into mine and another’s stomach . I think many of you gardeners would have similar experiences. It’s rather embarrassing , I felt strange not wanting to grow the vegetables. Here’s my old house pretty flowery no vegetables in sight.

Organics in the garden

We decided to change our gardens at work to all organic a few years ago. The garden was looking good but it just didn’t sing. We wanted the gardens to be beautiful. radiant, shining with energy. This does not happen using chemical fertilizers.I had tried early on using Organics and had a variety of problems with animals. The time I fertilized the small heathers and the turkeys flocked in fluffing and dust bathing while they ate all the fertilizer.Covering the heathers with soil or rooting them out.The crows who quickly got wind of it after the turkeys attracted their attention actually pull the plant out of the ground to eat what might be further down.The pigs after that, the pigs are another story. Anyway I went back to fertilizer that didn’t attract so much attention. I still used Green sand or cottonseed meal on the lawns. These have no animal products in them to attract the wildlife.

Years later we decided to get a dog at work. We started with Tashi a Great Pyrenees dog. After about a year I noticed the animals were staying away because of the dog. Another year and three more Pyrenees the garden is well protected from invaders, yet those crows..

So we started to use really good mulch on all the rhody’s , Happy Frog Soil conditioner www.foxfarmfertilizer.com/products_soils2. worked really well for us.Making sure it’s pulled back from the crown of the plant. Then we used organic chicken manure as an amendment for our soils and the lawns in the fall .The first year we were happy with this. Plus some organic all purpose fertilizers. Then we got slightly out of balance . The chicken manure didn’t seem to work right. Is it really organic we began to ask ? Are the chickens being fed organic feed ? Are we handling all these antibiotics and GMO corn residue in this manure. Probably. Organic does not mean organic in this case. Labeling laws that prevent us as consumers from really understanding what we’re buying.Labeling as advertising, pinpointing certain economic groups interests. We are now relying instead on compost we make ourselves. But at home I rely on our own animals composted manures , I know what they are being fed.

Gardens growing up, the ten year old garden

In our part of rural California , gardening can be quite a recent endeavor .Many people here are living out their dreams and have built their own house and planted a few fruit trees. Then they might get more passionate about the garden and start buying random plants at many nurseries. Or maybe they’ve hired a landscape architect or designer and installed their garden using professionals. As the garden develops these plants really look good the first few years, but then ? Even the architects routinely over plant to make the garden look good the first 2-7 years. It’s quite easy to move these plants that no longer fit when they are young. In California November,December is the time for doing this.

I was thinking as I weeded , pruned , tore out, moved plants yesterday, that the garden is like a person. Developing into different stages of growth. Baby, toddler, adolescent , young adult , grown up, and old age. It seems to me in each of these developmental stages there is a key point of distinct change. These points in the gardens growth are very significant times they are times to reassess what is happening in the garden.

I find in the many gardens I’ve built that initially , to make it look good you over plant. Plus you probably plant many perennials to fill in spaces until the shrubs grow to the young adult size.In about seven to ten years you’ll see the shrubs and trees becoming grown ups. The perennials become a superfluous plant that no longer quite works in some situations they also might have lived out their life span. Or maybe it’s grown in and established itself to be pleasing to the eye. The other thing that becomes issue now is what I’ve decided to call shrub protocol. What shape are you going to try to keep that shrub ? What shape does it want to be? Is it the right plant for the location you’ve chosen? Do you know how to prune it ? If you’re not happy with it make sure you’ve answered the question about pruning it. Most shrubs and trees need some care and shaping each year especially as they get older . Taking out dead wood is important and cutting it in a way you get the results you desire ,so it will stay a size you’ll be happy with.Once you establish the protocol it will be easier to keep the shrub or tree to that first cut in the future. Not every plant needs to grow into it’s full size. Lot’s of plants can be shaped to fit where and how you desire.

You might decide it’s too much work to keep pruning something , especially trees .Trying to keep them smaller and creating a difficult situation to get up and prune them later. But most shrubs can be easily restrained with knowledge of how to cut and shape them.

It’s very nice to see each plant distinctly and not have it merge into the other plants around it. Especially if it’s nearer to a house or building. As you get further away in the landscape shrubs can blend into natural settings . These outskirt areas can be good places to move shrubs that have overgrown their spaces.

I really like this next phase of the garden when it becomes a young adult and you start to see the gardens potential. Have fun playing and moving plants when it’s cooler and wet.I don’t recommend moving them over and over . But don’t be intimidated about moving plants in this age range either. Keep as much soil around the roots as you can. Move it quickly. Water it in. Care about it and give it good attention through the next year to make sure it establishes itself well.

In this photo we’ve moved five large shrubs out of this bed. Plants and trees here still need pruning but the balance is better without the extra shrubs.

California Gardening 2


Today, hoeing and pruning in the garden. Cutting back roses, fuschias, wisteria and I started in on the apples although they are still leafed out.I prune now so I can dormant spray a few times and also because the spring growth starts so early here. In all gardens there is a time to cut plants back clean them up for future growth . Everything you do in the garden now will be what you see in early spring. Planting bulbs is still possible as well as garlic and onions( sets or seedlings).But for me mostly it’s about clean up, weeding and pruning. When you prune roses and other shrubs really think about the height you want to see the plant grow to next season . Look at it’s typical length of growth from the last year then cut accordingly. Do know, about what your pruning. If you don’t know it’s name(in Latin ) and it’s growth habit and what kind of wood , old or new it blooms on, don’t prune it ! Shrub roses do get pruned differently than regular hybrid tea roses.My shrub roses, here Sally Holmes a well loved hybrid musk I grew from a cutting, wants to be 5’x5′.So do I let it or not? My choice.

Fertilizing is important now before the temperature really drops and the micro organisms move slower making it difficult for nutrients to be made available to the plants. I know if I don’t get lawn fertilizer on right now the lawns will yellow up this winter and be difficult to re-green come spring. I like to use cottonseed meal or green sand. Keeping plants healthy and happy is always easier than dealing with problems later. Just like in people, prevention is always the best. Load a healthy dose of aged manure or compost on plants , shrubs and planting beds. Fertilize shrubs with a all purpose organic fertilizer. I use Calif. Organics 7-5-7.

While gardening is very therapeutic and gives you time to process thoughts and to watch your mind. Like cooking you should never garden with anger or impatience. The energy you give the plants will either help or hinder them. Most plants need lot’s of care and nourishing and will later show their appreciation.

When I used to work in the greenhouse at the monastery the head lama used to tell me to “Nurse” the plants. You know like in a nursery or like a mother.

Is this not the best wheelbarrow ever?