Category Archives: Propagation

African Violets Propagation

Back in August I had posted about the soil fungus problem that I was having with propagating African violets. The good news is that a spray or two of a copper fungicide took care of the problem and didn’t cause any harm to the plantlets.

African Violet Plantlets

African Violet Plantlets

In late summer I was able to remove the small plantlets and pot them into individual pots. The challenge was finding pots. African violets can be a little temperamental and you don’t want to put them in too large of a pot. The roots need to be able to fill the soil quickly or you can run into disease problems. I needed some small pots but small pots are hard to find.

3 fl oz Cup as a Pot

3 fl oz Cup used as a Pot

Then I learned a trick for the Facebook group African Violet Nerds. Someone had posted that they use small plastic cups for the initial potting of the plantlets. I found a bag of cups at the grocery store that were 3 fl. ounce and seemed perfect for my violets. Plus I got 150 of them for less than $2 – I could never have found 1 or 2 inch pots at that price! All I had to do was snip a couple of holes in the bottom of each cup and I had all the pots I needed.

After the fungus problem, I was also searching for a potting mix in which to grow the plants. I ended up using three parts Optimara African violet potting mix with one part perlite. Optimara’s a big violet grower so I knew I could trust their soilless mix. I just found it to be a little to heavy for my liking so I added the perlite and have been pleased with the results.

plantlet 3After planting up the plantlets, I wanted to give them a humid location for a few weeks until they started to establish themselves. The best mini greenhouse I could find was a large plastic baby spinach container. The height was perfect and the lid allowed me to adjust it so that there would be some increased humidity but also airflow.

I didn’t lose one plantlet and I haven’t had any more fungus problems. Each plant grew and right now they’re starting to bloom. I’ll share the results of this process in the next post.

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Propagating Perennial Hibiscus

I’ve written before about the Southern Belle hibiscus that I have growing along a fence. The plants grow well and are covered with huge blossoms during the summer.

Southern Belle Hibiscus

Southern Belle Hibiscus

I have three plants but I want a fourth to fill in an empty pot along the fence. I grew the plants that I have from seed but I’m finding that Southern Belle is a variety that’s no longer readily available as seed. I considered dividing one of the clumps but that seemed like it would be a lot of work – the mass of roots and stems of the existing hibiscus is large and well established.

Then it hit me – take a cutting. Many plants can be propagated by taking a cutting of a stem and rooting it. The hibiscus shoots are just beginning to grow and I thought that these shoots might be perfect for rooting. Herbaceous plants are usually easy to root as long as the stems aren’t too woody. The hibiscus shoots that are coming out of the ground are far from woody; all of the tissue is very new and soft. If any part of a hibiscus should root easily, it should be these shoots.

So I cut a shoot, trimmed off the bottom leaves (these shoots are so young that the leaves aren’t even full size) and put it into a peat pot with sterile potting mix. As an added help in rooting, I dipped the cut end of the shoot in rooting compound. This compound contains the chemical indole-3-butyric acid (IBA), a plant hormone that stimulates adventitious root formation. While the mechanism isn’t well understood, IBA has been used for years to propagate plants, particularly woody plants. I doubt the hibiscus cutting needed the IBA but figured it couldn’t hurt!

Hibiscus Cutting

Hibiscus Cutting

After potting up the cutting, I put it into a Ziploc bag and placed it near a plant light. It’s now been about a week and the cutting is growing and when I tug on the stem, I can feel a little resistance, a sign that roots are beginning to form. I’m optimistic that this attempt at propagating a perennial hibiscus will work. Between the young shoot, the IBA and the season (propagating plants in the spring is often easier than other times of the year), I expecting to be able to plant this cutting in the garden in a few weeks. The plant will be smaller than the other hibiscus, but it’ll catch up with them in time.

Who needs Southern Belle seeds when there are shoots of existing plants that can be propagated?!

The Tiniest Amaryllis

Amaryllis

Amaryllis

A few weeks ago I checked on the amaryllis bulbs that I had stored over the winter. I have some large bulbs that had blossomed last year and had grown larger over the summer, reaching about 4-5 inches in diameter. Mixed in with these larger bulbs were offsets (small bulbs that form at the base of the main bulb) that I had separated from the mother bulb in the spring and grown during the summer. Some were a couple of inches and one was about 1.5″ in diameter.

Many of the bulbs had started to sprout and I could see a flower shoot emerging from the top of the bulb. But what amazed me was that some of the small bulbs were showing flower shoots! I had assumed that it would be at least another year of growth before this little bulbs would blossom.

Amaryllis Plants

Amaryllis Plants

When I saw the bulbs with flower shoots, I potted them up and put them into a sunny window. Now a few weeks later I have three amaryllis getting ready to blossom. One bulb is small – under 3″. Another is little – under 2″. The third is just plain tiny – 1.5″. I don’t know how many blossoms these little bulbs will produce but it’s nice to see that my amaryllis propagation is finally paying off.

Rex Begonias: Parenchyma and Propagation

Rex Begonia

Rex begonias – the “king” of the begonias – are plants with their own unique look. These begonias aren’t grown for their blossoms; they’re grown for their foliage which comes in various shapes and colors. Rex begonias are great houseplants and they grow well in outside pots in semi-shaded areas.

What I find interesting about these begonias is the way that you can propagate them. Stem cuttings of these plants root easily but the most common way to multiply rex begonias is by using leaf cuttings.

To do this, you simply take a begonia leaf, turn it over and make a small cut across each of the main leaf veins. Then you place the leaf on potting medium right side up and use pebbles or floral pins to ensure that the back of the leaf is in contact with the medium. Within a month, small plants will begin to grow where the cuts were made on the leaf. These can then be removed and put into separate pots.

I’ve done a lot of propagating over the years but I’ve only recently started using leaf cuttings. I’m amazed how a rex begonia leaf with a few cuts on it can turn into a number of cloned plants.

Adventitious Shoots forming from Parenchyma

What’s even more amazing is how this happens. Within plants there are a number of different kinds of cells and one of them is called parenchyma. This kind of cell is found throughout the plant but is especially present in the leaves. Parenchyma is usually the center part of a leaf, sandwiched between the epidermis cells. In the leaf, parenchyma cells photosynthesize but they also serve for wound healing. In some cases, parenchyma is also the source of adventitious roots and shoots. (Adventitious roots and shoots are simply roots and shoots that grow from an “unexpected” location, like a leaf.)

Adventitious Shoots on a Rex Begonia Leaf

When you take a leaf of a rex begonia and make cuts across the main veins, you expose the parenchyma cells within the leaves and they begin wound healing. But if this leaf is place on a potting medium, the same parenchyma cells will develop adventitious roots and shoots. The roots develop first and then the leaves and shoots will emerge and a new plant will begin to grow.

I find this is fascinating! If we were like a rex begonia, we could cut off our hand, make a cut on each of our fingers, place the hand on a growing medium and clone ourselves. But of course this wouldn’t work – we’re not plants and we don’t have parenchyma! But rex begonias do and it’s amazing to watch a leaf produce a number of small plants, each a clone of the parent plant. All of this is thanks to the parenchyma cells within the begonia leaf.

Seed Storage

At this time in the year, the garden is all planted and I have left over seeds. Since my garden isn’t huge, I seldom use an entire packet of seeds in one year. For some plants, like grape tomatoes, the packet has 25 seeds and I grow one plant each season; that packet will keep me in grape tomatoes for years.

This brings up the whole issue of seed storage. Seeds are alive and the two biggest factors that affect their viability are moisture and temperature. To make a seed germinate, you need to give it water and warmth; to store seeds for the long-term, they need to be kept dry and cool.

There are lots of sites online giving information about storing seeds and many of them make it seem like a big process to keep your seeds from year to year. A number of seed companies offer seed storage kits that include special containers and desiccant to keep the seeds dry, all at a premium price.

If you’re planning to store seeds for 10 or 20 years, then being very exact with the moisture content of the seeds and the storage temperature makes sense. But if you’re like me and you just have some packets of seeds that you didn’t used up this year, seed storage is pretty easy. In fact, if you’re only keeping them for a year, leaving the packets on a shelf in your house is fine! Almost all of the standard vegetable and flower seeds need no special treatment to remain viable for one year.

Basic Seed Storage

Since a packet of seed will sometimes last me 3 years or more, I do keep moisture and temperature in mind when I store my seeds. I’ve found that putting them in a tightly sealed container and keeping them in the house works well.

The one place I wouldn’t put seeds is in the refrigerator. There are two problems with the fridge. The first is that a refrigerator is very humid. Unless the seeds are tightly sealed, the moisture will get into the packets. The other issue is ethylene. This gas is produced by aging and damaged plant tissue so if you have vegetables or fruit (esp. apples) in your refrigerator, there will be a lot of ethylene gas. Ethylene shortens the life of a seed by causing premature aging. Because the risks of moisture and ethylene don’t outweigh the benefits of the cooler temperature, I just keep my seeds in a cupboard away from sources of light and heat.

All in all, I don’t worry too much about seed storage. I keep them dry and try to keep them cool. I’ve never had a problem with seeds germinating even after a few years of this very basic storage. To me, it’s just one more example of how tough plants – in this case, seeds – really are.

Day-Neutral Strawberries in Bloom

At the end of March I planted day-neutral strawberries in a raised bed. These are the strawberries that provide three harvests during a growing season. After about three months of growth, the plants are doing well. They have the brightest green leaves and also the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on strawberry plants.

Strawberry Stolons or Runners

For the last month I’ve been removing runners from the plants. All strawberry plants produce runners which are technically termed stolons. A stolon is a stem of a plant that grows along the surface of the ground and produces roots and plants at the nodes along the stem. This is a way that plants clone themselves, producing new plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant.

June bearing strawberries are often planted far apart and the runners are allowed to form new plants that create a bed of cloned plants. When I was researching day-neutral strawberries, I read that the plants don’t produce as many runners and it’s recommended that any that do form be removed. Because of this, the plants are spaced much closer than June bearing plants.

When I read that day-neutral plants didn’t produce a lot of runners, I was expecting to find one on every other plant. How wrong I was! I’ve found that each is producing about 5 runners. This seems like a lot but when I grew June bearing strawberries, each of those plants could easily have 10 or more runners. So I guess the articles were right – 5 is less than 10 but it still seems like a lot. I’ve followed the article’s advice and have been faithful in cutting the runners off of the plants whenever I see them.

Day Neutral Strawberry Blossom

The plants have also started to bloom. When I first planted them there were a few blooms but I cut all of them off so that the plants could get established. Now the blooms are everywhere so I guess this is the summer crop that’s forming. It’ll be interesting to see how these strawberries grow. The same articles that stated there weren’t a lot of runners also reported that the berries are smaller in the summer because of the heat. Well, the heat is coming, so we’ll see what this summer crop of berries will look like.

The fun part of growing something new is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no frame of reference when it comes to growing strawberries that can be picked in July – day-neutral strawberries are a brand new experience for me. I can’t wait to see how these summer strawberries look and taste!

African Violets – eBay Updates, Repotting and Offsets

The vegetable garden is planted, the flower beds are growing and the rain is falling. It’s good day to spend some time with the african violets.

eBay Violet Leaf with Plantlet

I noticed that one of the eBay violets has a small plantlet emerging from the potting mix. I planted them in early March so it’s a two or more month process to go from a leaf to a plant. Now how long it’ll take this tiny plant to bloom is something only time will tell – I’m thinking late fall or early winter.

I’ve been reading about violet care on two sites: Optimara www.optimara.com and the Violet Barn www.violetbarn.com. Both provide great information on growing african violets. I’ve been growing violets for years but after checking these sites, I realized that while I thought I was repotting my plants, the fact is that I’ve never repotted a plant in my life; I’ve alway up-potted. When you repot a plant you remove some of the soil and then return the plant to the same pot or one of the same size. In up-potting, you put the plant into a larger pot.

African violets don’t get that large and in most cases a 4″ pot it big enough. If you keep up-potting, the pot will be too large for the plant; violets need repotting. People who grow violets for shows and competition recommend that you repot at least twice a year. Now I can’t imagine being that obsessive but all of my violets have been in the same pot for at least a year.

So I did some repotting for the first time. After removing the plant from the original pot, I snapped off any old or dead leaves and removed a fair amount of the soil from the plant. I then used some fresh potting soil (a light, fluffy soiless mix to which I added some additional vermiculte and perlite for drainage) and repotted the plants. I planted all of them so that the lowest leaves are at the soil surface.

When plants are growing well, the ratio of leaves to roots is in perfect balance, allowing the plant to absorb water as quickly as it is lost from the leaves through transpiration. When repotting, I caused major root damage and threw off the leaf:root balance. So for the next few weeks I’ll keep an eye on the repotted violets. I think they’ll be OK but if they start to wilt – a sign that the roots aren’t absorbing enough water – I’ll put them into a plastic container to create a mini greenhouse. This will increase the humidity of the air, decrease the transpiration from the leaves and allow the roots to grow and bring the plant back into balance.

African Violet Offset

While repotting I found that a couple of plants had offsets. An offset is a small plant that grows from the base of the original plant. If you let them grow, the violet will lose its even shape and the plant can become crowded. So I cut the offsets off of the plant and placed them in a pot. I’m keeping them in an enclosed plastic container until they develop some roots.

My houseplants tend to be neglected during the spring and summer growing season because my focus is on the plants outside. So I’m thankful for a rainy day when I can tend to the neglected houseplants.