Good morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where last night's storm left us with 7" of wet, clingy snow. Central Vermont received about a foot and other places 2"-5". A year ago today the weather had been quite warm for much of March and there wasn't a snowflake to be found. A tad different this year as there is plenty of snow at the flower farm and "feet" of snow here at the house inside the field perimeters.
Although I would love another spring like last year, it will not happen so my attention turns to more work on the website, making signs for the gardens, getting plant labels written out for odd items that don't come in big numbers, and rearranging things at the flower farm so I can get the delivery trucks backed in exactly where I want them so as to save time and energy. One of the things I have found time to do this year is plant some cuttings from hydrangeas, willows, ninebarks and lilacs.
I have been doing various cuttings for about all my gardening life. I started with house plant cuttings way back when and just went on from there. The farm ladies next door taught me how to do African violets, geraniums and coleus, and as a young buck I had jars of plants rooting on windowsills where free space and sunlight complimented each other. From there I got into grafting apples and rooting shrubs. It became an exciting hobby but not one I have regularly pursued. This year is different and Gail is showing a little attitude problem about the tables full of plants appearing here and there and taking up the limited space in the front room where sunlight prevails on less snowy days than today.
I purchase the plastic seed starting trays without drainage holes and sheets of plug trays in the 50 or 72 plug size. These are inserts for the seed type trays and the plug holes taper a bit from a total 2.5" depth. The taper encourages good root development. Here's a picture of a 72 plug tray. The taper starts at 1.5" at the top and goes to 7/8".
I buy the seed trays and the plug trays with accompanying dome covers. These are clear plastic and I use the 2" tall domes and the 7.5" domes which come with built-in ventilation holes top and sides and with little do-hickey's that let you adjust the ventilation. The dome height needs to match the size of the cutting you want to take and I always seem to end up trimming after I have "stuck" the cuttings. The domes, by the way, are important to help control humidity and encourage rooting. It the old days I used plastic wrap and before that, we used a spray bottle on a regular basis and didn't cover anything. There weren't any seed trays when I got started so we used old coffee cans for a lot of what we rooted.
The most important part of this project is the mix. I use a mix of one-third peat based potting mix, one-third composted/dehydrated cow manure and one-third coarse (that's coarse!) sand. I usually mix in a five-gallon plastic bucket and as of last week use a power paint mixer that a friend gave me. Hands work fine but be sure to get the three components well mixed. I mix dry first and then add water. I truly dislike filling all the little holes but that's part of the job and I ensure that the mix is packed in --not hard packed but tight enough to hold the cutting well.
The size of the cutting is what I receive the most questions on. Truly this is something you learn over time. I clip the end of the branch, try to only cut single stems/branches, keep the diameters to 1/4" or less, and ensure that there is a viable terminal bud. You will notice some top growth in a week and as long as you keep the cuttings misted with water and the soil mix damp, you will get an acceptable percentage of root cuttings.
Taking cuttings is a way of expanding the numbers of your collection. There is one caveat which you can read about on my yesterday's Facebook page. It involves plant patents. It alludes to the plant police but doesn't go that far. Some plants are patented and that's a twenty-year affair. There are a number of very confusing things that people do when patenting or trademarking but regardless, the point is to follow rules, check when you have a question and show respect for what went into getting a neat plant, shrub or tree to your life!
Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature is holding a steady and even 31 degrees, the wind remains at zero and Karl the Wonder Dog wants to go for a walk. Have a nice day--and think about cuttings.
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