Field propagation

As a maintenance gardener there are some opportunities to do field propagation. If you understand the forces at work then you can keep plants alive and multiply them to make greater abundance. Plus it is a lot of fun.

Maybe the plant grew too big for its space, or it was planted in the shade and not the sun. Or, the new owner of the garden wants a brand new landscape. You are tasked with digging up the plant and either moving it or getting rid of it. You can do it.

Most plants will survive a move. Ideally you want to keep as much of the root as possible, and make sure the roots do not dry out once it is out of the ground. You will want to keep it out of the direct sun for a while ( a few days to a couple of months, depending on the time of the year). Cutting back some leaves (say 30-40-50-60% of the foliage) will keep water loss to a minimum and increase the survival rate.

So use your round point shovel or spade and dig around the plant. The bigger the plant the wider you go. Go straight down, not slanted in, if possible. Get as much as the root as you can. All the way around. Go deep. At some point, rock it back and forth, pull it up and out. If it is still attached somewhere, cut that roots with your spade, with an old saw you don’t mind putting in the dirt, with an ax, or with a reciprocating saw. While you are digging and moving it, wear that eye protection. It is easy to approach in close and have a stray and itinerant little stick of the plant poke your eye out.

Put the plant in a tarp or big bucket to move it. Try not to get dirt everywhere. If the dirt is really too heavy then shake and bat some of it off. If you can plant it in the ground somewhere right away then do it! Unless that spot is in the hot hot sun with drying wind and hydrophobic soil. In that case you really should have waited until the rainy season to do the transplanting.

If you are not planting it, heel it in. This is laying the plant down with the roots in some wet soil in a shady semi shady spot. “I’m too busy to get to it right now, but the plant is okay for a bit like that, and I’ll deal with it as soon as I can.”

Then you can sell that magnolia tree or camellia bush to another client for 50 80 100 dollars. Eventually you are thinking about owning a small nursery…

Many grasses or plants with grassy looking forms are candidates for easy propagation. The plants I am thinking of have names like Juncus, Hemerocallis, Festuca, Dietes, Aristea, Nerine. Dig them up. split em in sections using that old hand saw again. Plant them. Beware of too small sections that cant handle the process, that dry up and die. Be careful with some of the african rushes in the restios group because in the process of division they dont take it too well. They may die back further and take two three months to return to a semblance of normality rather than just keep trucking along.

Sowing and planting annuals:
If you have a yard with bare dirt or open sands that is not mulched and weed clothed and filled with weeds then you may have a spring time flower show with annuals. Lightly cultivate with a hard rake (not a flex rake) in November or so, just after the first rain. Buy your pound or two of seed beforehand so you are ready to go. My favorites are Clarkia farewell to spring, Eschscholzia California poppy, Phacelia, lupines, and sunflowers Helianthus. Over sow to make sure the stuff pops come spring time. Sow and spread the seeds evenly as you press them into the soil with your shoes. Or cover lightly with available soils. If you are lucky, the plants like the spot, and drop their seeds. Pretty soon your hillside is all naturalized with wildflowers that persist year after year. The only things is… hope for rain. Pray for rain. Otherwise that 100 dollars you spent on seed is a bust. Well worth a try at least.

Making cuttings: Some of these tricks I learned on my own, others I picked up about twenty years ago watching my teacher General King Sip, park supervisor Andy Stone, and any number of kind and knowledgeable plant people who were happy to share.

Many succulents are easy to grow. Just take a piece and stick em in the ground. Especially true for aeoniums, crassulas, delosperma, and aloes. Ideally after cutting them, you would let them callus, sit around for a day, then plant them. But if you are sticking them into pure sand, and hold off the irrigation for a bit, that is the same idea. You just don’t want that rot to creep into the open cut of the stem.

One time they were rerouting the path in the garden and an angel’s trumpet tree brugmansia was in the way. And we did not want to lose the specimen and just junk it. So Andy cut some sticks of it and stuck em in the ground. Took off some leaves of it too, to cut down on the transpiration. This is on a north facing shaded and wet hillside that is pure sand. Sure enough, the cuttings took. Up higher, in a tiny bit more sun, beautiful ol lady Ora Walker had her bed of rose cuttings. Sounds like some fancy thing but it was just three short little wood boards with a the back of it a chain link fence. Filled with sand and little labels to indicate what plant was what. She would make five inch cuttings and stick them in the sands of Golden Gate Park. No leaves just sticks like a pencil. Sometime in the fall winter. Give them three four months, come back, pot em up! Super easy and fun too. Sand is pretty good as a cutting medium because it has large pores that are easy for roots to grow through and it drains well. That means rot is less likely.

Many plants may not be succulent succulents, but they have a woodyish stem that is juicy and chock full of nodes. Nodes which have the ability to send out roots quickly. If you happen to be hedging or cutting back Begonia fuchsioides, Impatiens sodenii, or Strobilanthes penstemonoides, then save those pieces. Take them home, put them in a vase with water. They will root easily sitting in water. Then you can plant them back out in another garden, and maybe even charge the client for the plants. If you do enough of this kind of thing, then you may be tempted to open a nursery…

I was transplanting some rhododendrons, Salvias, and Spiraeas the other day. Although they were irrigated often, the soil right below was dry dry dry bone dry. Right below meaning about 3 inches down. This is the kind of place where more compost and wetting agents would be helpful, as well as trying out different irrigation regimes and nozzles.