Archive for the ‘Propagation’ Category

From Sticks to Stems

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Years ago, a neighbor introduced herself to me as “the plant pincher.” I must have looked surprised because she explained that whenever she saw a plant she liked, she pinched a piece and took it home to try to root it. And, she continued, would I mind if she pinched some of my plants.

She assumed I was surprised to hear that plants could be rooted from pieces. On the contrary, I was surprised to learn I wasn’t the only plant pincher in the neighborhood!

My friend pinched because her budget was limited and her property large. I pinch hard-to-find plants in friends’ gardens (with their permission of course).

Rooting plants from cuttings is surprisingly straightforward. Not everything is easy to start, but once you understand the basics, try your hand at anything.

(more at….)

Fig tree cutting six months after rooting in potting soil

Fig tree cutting six months after rooting in potting soil

Fall is for Fig – Pruning

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Thanksgiving leftovers are almost eaten, my guests have all gone home, and it rained last night.  It was the first rain of the year.  Granted it was only a tenth of an inch, but to my rain-deprived brain, it sounded like a deluge.

The skies have been gray all day, which, combined with sweatshirt temperatures, propelled me into the garden to prune.

I have a love-hate relationship with pruning.  I know, that if I want abundant crops of apples, nectarines, pluots, apricots, peaches, grapes, and figs, I have to prune.

Beautifully pruned grapes at Copia

Beautifully pruned grapes at Copia

While there is a certain satisfaction that comes from snipping and cutting and shaping trees, I have so many to do (about 20 at last count) that the prospect of  annual pruning is totally overwhelming.

And it isn’t just the pruning that’s the issue.  There’s the disinfecting too.

Peaches and their relatives in particular are very susceptible to pests and diseases.  If I’m not careful, my pruning tools can transmit them from one tree to another.  To avoid that kind of contamination, I disinfect my tools as I finish pruning each tree.  Tools get dipped in a 10% bleach solution or spritzed with spray or foaming bathroom disinfectant, then wiped with a dry towel.

The foaming disinfectant is definitely more fun.

Because pruning is such a huge task, I tend to take it in stages.  Figs are far and above the easiest trees to prune thanks to their soft wood.  I hardly ever need to use a saw, just pruning shears, a lopper, and my favorite pruning tool, a Fiskars pruning stick (no, they don’t pay me to say that).

Fiskars Pruning Stik - I love it!

Fiskars Pruning Stik - I love it!

There is another reason I like to start with figs; I want to prune them before they develop next year’s fruits.

Shortly after I pick the last, succulent fig of the year, tiny green orbs begin to form at the  tips of each fig branch.  Those orbs are next year’s fruits.  If I wait too long, I’ll prune off those developing fruits and voila!  No figs next year!

I learned this the hard way.

Today, I started my pruning with the ‘Brown Turkey’ fig that stands aside the stairs to my vegetable garden.

'Brown Turkey' Fig

'Brown Turkey' Fig

I first pruned off all the branches that were growing too tall. I cut off some dead wood and then I worked on the arch I’ve been directing over the stairs.

I started the arch several years ago.   It is slowly taking on the shape I want – one that will eventually allow me to reach up and pick figs as I walk down the stairs!

My post-pruned fig  doesn’t look beautiful now, but when the new leaves come out in the spring, my tree will be gorgeous!

'Brown Turkey' Fig Post-Pruning

'Brown Turkey' Fig Post-Pruning

In a future blog I’ll explain how to prune to control the direction of branches.  But before it gets dark, I have to head out to the garden and finish one more task.

Rather than composting the branches I pruned off my figs, I’ll cut them into 8″ long lengths and pot them up.  With a protective cover (i.e. a loosely tented clear plastic bag), they’ll root over the winter.

By next spring, I’ll have baby trees to share with my fig loving friends!

Festival of Flavors!

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

What’s the surest way to get the most flavor from vegetables and fruits?  Grow em yourself…..from seed!

Starting vegetables from seed was the topic of the talk I gave at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden’s Festival of Flavors this past Friday. The topic seemed fitting since the huge variety of vegetables seeds on the market offers gardeners their widest range of possiblities!

It always seems so magical to me to start with little pieces of what look like wood; Add with some water, light, and a bit of seed starting mix to make those seeds  sprout and grow into bountiful plants that produce delicious vegetables.

Homegrown veggies always put supermarket veggies to shame.

By 3 pm Friday, the seats in the speakers’ area were full and everyone had a package of gourmet red chard ‘Scarlett Charlotte’ seeds I brought with from my good friend Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden Seed.

My dear friend and mentor Jan Smithen, author of Sun Drenched Gardens, introduced me to the audience and away we went.

I love the fact that people are interested again in growing their own vegetables, herbs, and fruits. It only follows that they are interested in starting them from seed. It is a skill that was once commonplace, then nearly lost, but is now coming back around again. Much to my delight!

We started with a lesson on reading seed packets.scarlet-charlotte-2


Its ironic how important label information is and how little effort most companies put into their labels. Some companies do a great job and Renee writes some of the best. She deftly combines romance and detailed how-to with delicious suggestions for cooking and eating each variety.

Being a frugal gardener (is there any other kind?), I presented several examples of containers for starting seeds – old cottage cheese or yogurt containers, take-out food containers, or plain ‘ole four packs recycled from the nursery.

I prefer four packs to six packs, since the cells in a four pack are large enough to support seedlings all the way to transplant. With six-packs, seedlings can get only so large before they need to be “moved up” to larger containers. Saving that step saves my time, and it also means seedlings develop faster since they don’t have to go through transplant shock twice (once being moved up and the second time when I put them in the ground).

And by the way, someone asked me about using egg cartons. The simple response is: “don’t bother.”

Anything being reused has to be disinfected first, of course, to keep the tiny seedlings free of deadly bacteria and fungi. I give containers a good soak in a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach to 9 parts water). While I’m at it, I throw in plastic plant labels so I can reuse them, and I give my pruners a dip too (I dry and oil them afterwards).

Fresh seed starting mix is important as well. As compared to potting soil, Seed staring mix is more finely milled so the tiny seedlings have an easy time pushing up through the surface. It is also pasteurized to kill the pathogens. Black Gold seedling mix is one of my favorites. I had the purple-and-black label bags with me on Friday.

We spent half an hour going through the how-to process of how to start seeds, both small and large, in containers and as what I like to call “seed sandwiches” (more on that in a future blog).

When we ran out of time to talk about how to do cuttings, the audience insisted on continuing. So, I spent another 15 minutes demonstrating cutting basics a beautiful pink-flowering perennial Salvia chiapensis from Monrovia growers.

The audience was wonderful. They were tremendously enthusiastic asked great questions – always the most fun part of any talk.

During the hour-long presentation, I divulged some of my favorite hints for success …Think I’m gonna give them all away here? No way! But I’m happy to share those secrets when you invite me to speak to your group or event!