There are two things that I mention here from time to time which are both invaluable and unavailable. One is my beloved perfect garden hand tool which you canít get because the smith who made it died decades ago. Sorry. The other is sweater boxes with clear lids, once common but not to be found since the disco era. The last time I saw them I bought all six the drugstore had to offer. I have one left, held together barely with tape.
Hereís good news. Sweater boxes with clear lids are again on the market. I found them at Walmart, and they may be in other stores. They put them in the housewares department, but they should be in the garden department. Theyíre really propagation boxes.
Sweater boxes with clear lids bathe cuttings in soft light and keep the atmosphere around them humid. Just what they want. And the six inch height is just the right size for most cuttings.
I put two inches of rooting medium in the bottom. Some people use coarse sand, the kind sold for joints in patio pavers, with decent results. I like a mixture of Perlite and a peat based potting soil. For years I mixed them half and half, but lately Iíve boosted the Perlite to about two thirds.
If youíve brought in some of your summer favorites and still havenít figured out what to do with them,you might as well try rooting some cuttings. Annuals like marigolds arenít going to take, but many plants, particularly ďspecialĒ (i.e., more expensive) plants may be sold as annuals, even listed as an annual on the tag, but really are perennial in kinder climates. A very partial list would include geraniums, coleus, begonias, sweet potatoes, Persian Shield, many more. If in doubt, try it.
Cut a six inch piece just below a leaf node. Strip off the lower leaves, maybe the next set to get to a two inch stub. Unless the remaining leaves are very small, cut them down to the size of a quarter. Snip off any flower buds and blossoms. A cutting wants to survive, and it figures its chances are better making seeds than depending on our fumbling efforts to get it to root, so it will put all its energy into that.
If you use rooting powder, donít dip the stem into the jar. Tap out some on a paper and roll the stem in it. The plant stem has microorganisms that can contaminate the jar.
There is an optional step that can be a big help. Since your slip has no roots to replace lost water, you want to reduce transpiration. That is why you trim down the leaves. Additionally you can use an anti-transpirant like Wilt-Pruf. I like to use the concentrate and dip the top of the cutting (not the stub), but I ran out and canít find it now. So I got a ready-to-use spray bottle, a little messy, but it works.
Another really big help is a heat mat. It is surprising how many really avid gardeners donít have one. They arenít cheap, but no more than a tank of gas. If you drive an SUV, you can get two heat mats. They come in different sizes. Mine is just right for two prop boxes. Or one prop box and one seed tray. Christmas is coming. You can highlight this paragraph and put the column up on the fridge door.
Poke a hole in the rooting medium with your finger and stick the cutting in. Firm around it. Put the top on and keep it in a spot that gets decent light but no direct sun. If you find the right spot, check again in a couple of months to make sure it still doesnít get any direct sun.
Spring is the best time to take cuttings, but this is the only time we have at the moment. Stephen Hawking may disagree, but I couldnít get past page three of his book. I leave it prominently displayed in the living room. With a bookmark stuck in toward the end. This time of year youíll have a lower success rate, but think of it as beta testing.
Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at 12 Burgess Drive, Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail at email@example.com.