Some of our most enjoyable times in the garden happen when we are outdoors propagating our favorite plants. Choosing and cutting stems from plants we like, dipping
them into the hormone solution and sticking them in neat rows in the propagation bed–it’s quiet, repetitive work that keeps our hands busy and our eyes sharp. It has the feel of yesteryear’s pastimes before technology stepped in to distract us from the pleasures of working with our hands.
And then there are the grand visions of plants to come.
We sit at the table in the cool shade of the gazebo that Bob built, and we work. We’ve chosen a fine day. Cotton clouds sail on blue skies and a light breeze ruffles trees. Turtles jostle in deliberate turtle ways for positions on their log. The flavors of honeysuckle, gardenia, and confederate jasmine envelop us, for this is the season of their bloom.
A Carolina wren alights on the holly and begins his lusty song. The gang of four (finches) jabber at the feeder. And fish crows squawk in tandem. Sometimes we tease them by squawking back—can’t help it–but we never know if they get the joke or ignore our bad puns. There’s not a car horn, a lawn mower, a weed whacker, or the rumble of a construction truck. In the distance we hear a boat riding the waves on the Sound, but mostly it’s just our quiet conversation.
A couple of large potted hydrangeas in bloom on the porch remind us of past successes. Once upon a time they were the 3-inch double-leaved cuttings we are preparing today. Soon we are circled by a pile of cast-off stems and leaves, and it is lunch time, and the reverie will end. The afternoon will be spent on the worst of garden work: ridding beds of rampant trumpet vine; whacking at mounds of Japanese honeysuckle; transplanting vagrant red daylilies ; or routing out an alien fern purchased in a weak moment that now owns the garden. All this before the heat of summer descends and we throw up our hands and give the garden back to jungle for the rest of the summer.
But those peaceful hours spent creating new plants stay with us, and that is what prompted us to begin this series on propagation with stem cuttings. This is not meant to be a set of can-do, simple, step-by-step directions that take you automatically from a tiny cutting to, voila, a successfully grown plant in no time at all (though that sometimes happens).
No, we’ve had too many side trips along the way for anything that direct. Instead, we discuss what we call the yin and yang of taking stem cuttings. We give you options to try. We make suggestions for you to consider. We discuss what went right—and wrong—for us and why. Hopefully we give you an understanding of the process beyond the basics, so that when things don’t go right for you—and they don’t always go right—you have some ideas of why and what to try next.
It’s been one grand experiment for us. Half our garden, maybe more, comes from plants we propagated: single plants we purchased, then multiplied; slips from relatives and friends; roadside plants we invited in. When you propagate a plant and watch it grow, you understand it as a friend. If the cutting came from someone dear to you, you will never forget.
It’s been a rollicking ride, and who knows what fun is around the corner. If you read our memoir of plant-propagation escapades posted on June 6, 2012, Plants for Pennies, you’ll see why we are hooked on propagating plants with stem cuttings.
For more on propagation with stem cuttings, check out our June 2012 post, Plants for Pennies, and our sidecar articles: Pamper your Pruners Using Hormones Soilless Media? Homes for Cuttings Choosing Candidates Taking Cuttings Potting New Plants