Semi-hard Timing

The neighbors probably think I’m dotty, and it’s not the first time. A recent surge in temperatures has quickly hardened the tender green shoots of several shrubs I want to root this year. So for several days I’ve been making a regular tour of the front garden, bending stems to see what’s ready to root and I’m sure it looks as silly as my early morning efforts to relocate ladybugs from the Scotch roses where they breed to my vegetable plants!

June is traditionally the month when new growth begins to firm up on woody plants in the subtropics where I live. The transit to semi-hard wood, what I call summer wood, happens earlier in tropical areas and perhaps as late as July in the temperate zone. Finding stems that feel right can be like testing a pound cake for doneness. Every recipe gives you a time and temperature for baking, but you are always advised to adjust for your own oven and even the conditions where you live, such as elevation and humidity. That means you have to test with a toothpick to be certain when the cake is just done to avoid under or overbaking. Likewise in the garden, you know that the wood that roots best is neither tender green nor completely hardened off to woody. The new growth will collapse and rot before it roots and harder wood hasn’t the capacity to root during the growing season. Later in the year, of course, many hard wood cuttings can be rooted using the bundle process. But to find semi-hard wood, its ‘doneness’, you have to test, so that’s what I’ve been doing and maybe you are, too. Let me know if you are rooting woodies – and whether they have made it to semi-hard wood where you live.

Like lots of gardeners, I have a lorapetalum that cannot be contained. Years ago, the label said it would be easily maintained at 4’ tall and wide. Hah! Not wanting to prune it 6 times a year, I soon turned it into a small tree and it is beautiful. Meanwhile, across the yard my neighbor has ignored an old stand of azaleas under pine trees. Privet and other weed plants had taken over and years of pine straw covered everything, creating an eyesore at least, a traffic hazard and a pest haven at worst. A dear friend got tired of not being able to see to get out of the driveway and cut most of the mess down. Now I want to root some Lorries for my side of that space to distract from whatever grows back. The stems are stiffening quickly and should be ready to cut in two days.

It’s a good day when I can add a vase of cut flowers to the dinner table. Every vase should have roses, but I grow mostly shrub types that do not cut well. There is one, though, that has it all for me – easy to grow, stiff stems, and big fragrant flowers. It is a classic tea rose called Aloha given to me as a cutting that I have propagated into 4 reliable sources for the table, but I want more to plant and give away. That rose has been in bloom since February and I deadheaded it about a month ago. The new shoots are still a bit green so I’ll have to wait – and keep testing.

Lately I have really gotten into lower growing shrub roses and have created 2 hedges that surround a large bed. Now I want to fill in one more section with a found rose from Texas known as Caldwell Pink. It’s usually 3 feet tall at most, but I have one that starts blooming much shorter than that and will make a fine hedge. In previous years, I have rooted non-flowering stems of CP because the flowers never stop on the new growth even if I do not deadhead them. That’s the wood I’m waiting to collect now but it still can wrap around my finger too easily. Maybe in a week.

One of the finest native plants I know is beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. In high shade, it is a splendid fountain of green leaves with metallic purple berries bursting from every leaf joint. But it is too huge for the front garden so I was tickled to discover a dwarf form at a nursery in Texas. In the interest of space (and because I just had to have that yellow cestrum) I violated my personal rule: when buying new plants out of town, always buy 3 so you can plant two and grow one in a container for insurance. The one has done well, but it is old and the shade is getting dense above it. The plant has given me one more reason to propagate, to continue an old plant with a new clone. It is ready to cut now and this time, I’ll root at least 3 including one to grow in a big container opposite the yesterday, today, and tomorrow plant (Brunfelsia) in my courtyard. Come to think of it, the ytt is getting old, too – I’d better check it.

All these cuttings will root fine when I make a fresh cut to roll in Hormex Rooting Powder right before I slip them into my usual lightweight mix. I root outdoors in shade during the summer, but the success numbers might be better if I used a mist system. Hmmm, I could string some misters over the outside area and if the next month is very dry, it could make all the difference. I’ll let you know how that goes!

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