A Passionate Propagator

Welcome to A Passionate Propagator’s Blog!

This blog brings together the 50+ years of Hormex experience and a garden writer who never met a plant she didn’t want to propagate. Our goal is to provide useful information about reproducing a variety of plant materials in a way that engages your attention. I am the aforementioned woman who has grown up propagating plants for fun and, occasionally, profit. My name is Nellie Neal and I advocate for gardening 24/7 at my website, www.gardenmama.com. Hormex is, of course, the leader in rooting powders and liquids used by both professional and backyard growers everywhere. They are this blog’s inspiration and patron; I am its writer/photographer. New blogs will post weekly at www.Hormex.com, you will find propagating tips at my website, and I am available to field questions on the subject at either site. For too long, the subject of propagation has been a well-kept secret among gardeners, considered arcane or difficult or just nerdy to do. I am here to declare that in 2012 we propagators will come out and play in public, let people know how much pure joy there is in producing plants, and learn more together about our shared passion. So, let’s begin with my story.

On a road trips with my great aunt and uncle, I shared the backseat of a big Buick with whatever wouldn’t fit in the trunk on our way home. Azaleas from the growers around Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, AL, were a particular favorite but she also favored roses and other shrubs grown at Roark’s Nursery west of Monroe, Louisiana. It was on a Sunday jaunt there that I finally bugged her enough to get a red wax begonia of my very own. A small pot, with leaves that almost covered it and flowers as red as the lipstick I hoped one day to wear. I put it on a sunny windowsill, watered it, and it grew. Neither the begonia nor I knew of the horticultural perils involved, thankfully, and we lived in close proximity for months. One day I returned from school to find mayhem, my begonia turned upside down on the floor with its tallest stem, shattered, 4 feet away and mangled. Our cat, usually as light-footed as Fred Astaire, missed the leap from my bed to his customary perch on the sill and toppled my beloved begonia as he scrambled to recover his dignity. I was shattered, too, and took what was left to my mother in trepidation. Would she be angry about the mess, and what of my plant?

She looked over her reading glasses at me and the disaster in my hands, put down the papers she was grading and smiled. With two well-placed thumbs, her perfect manicure repotted the begonia. I was used to that, as she could do anything, but then the magic happened. She snipped off the end of the broken stem and its bruised flower, added water to a coffee cup, and put in the broken stem, now a finely prepared cutting. Her instructions were simple, “Leave it on the windowsill with the other one, and close your door when you go to school so George can’t knock it over again.” I did, and in two weeks, little white roots shot out of the stem into the water! One favorite plant had become two, and I was forever hooked on plant propagation. So, if it is so simple, why don’t we stick every plant into a cup of water to root it? The answer is twofold. Many green plants will root in water as will a few woody ones, such as canes of angel trumpet clipped before frost and curly willow branches left in a vase. However, most woody plants cannot survive pure water for long, succulents and cacti will rot, and plants like poinsettia that exude latex will foul the water on their way out. In addition, the roots created in water are often adventitious, which means thin and rather fragile. They develop with no resistance and can be unprepared for the rigors of life in garden soil. That is why it is usually a good idea to pot up cuttings rooted in water for at least a few weeks in container growing mix before transplanting into garden beds. Think of it as a transition time, like moving tender plants indoors a few weeks before you plan to turn on the heating system to reduce leaf drop. By rooting in other media such as sand, vermiculite, or a host of prepared mixes, and by using the appropriate Hormex product to encourage the process, the plants you root will be sturdier by far.

Comments? Questions?

Write to GardenMama Nellie Neal: mama@gardenmama.com.

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