Category Archives: Propagation

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Multiplying Streptocarpus

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Don’t worry if math isn’t your thing.  Multiplying, or more correctly, propagating Streptocarpus (Cape Primrose), a beautiful flowering house plant, is not complicated at all. 

If you have a streptocarpus, an efficient way to propagate to get more plants is to take a leaf cutting.  The way you prepare a leaf cutting varies somewhat depending on the plant. Check this link for different propagation methods for other plants.     

Many plants will root well in water but some, like Streptocarpus, will form stringy, fibrous roots that may have difficulty becoming established when planted in soil.  That is why a leaf cutting is advised.  It is quite an amazing process as both leaves and roots are formed and the leaf cutting does not become part of the new plant.

You should have all your equipment clean and ready. Take a healthy leaf from a well hydrated plant and either cut out the midrib of the leaf, creating two leaf pieces or cut the leaf into 5cm sections from top to bottom.  Have a clean pot already prepared with moistened soilless potting mix or half and half potting mix and perlite (medium).  Your moistened medium should still be crumbly, not forming clumps, as that may mean it is too wet and may cause your leaf cutting to rot.  Take your leaf cuttings and place them in the soil.  Placing them about 2.5cm deep is advised but my leaf cutting wasn’t that big.  As you can see parts of the leaf curled up but I still managed to get results.  Five plantlets so far!

After your cuttings are in the soil, place your pot in a plastic bag to keep the humidity high.  Leaf cuttings have no roots to support them so they need the high humidity.  Place your bagged pot in a warm, bright spot but not in direct sun.  It is advised to open the bag every week to release excess humidity and to water as needed.  You may find you never need to water while the pot is bagged. 

In about 6-12 weeks you will hopefully have little plantlets forming.  Wait until they have developed enough leaf and root tissue and then pot on to 3-4” pots and enjoy your new plants.

See also this link: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/streptocarpus/growing-guide

Year in review: part 1

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

It is a beautiful fall day as I’m writing this blog, blue sky and temperature around 20 degrees. I have just finished the last jobs before putting my garden to bed for the winter. The last of my 30 or so bags of leaves have been mulched and put onto the gardens, apple trees have all been wrapped to prevent rabbits and squirrels from eating the bark off of them, and I have emptied the rain barrels onto the trees, shrubs and fruit bushes.

Time for both a well earned rest and for me to put together my garden review list for this year. All season long I jot down notes of anything that is working, not working or something that I need to concentrate on or remember for next year and then I compile it into one list. This year I’m going to share my list in this blog, although the list is a little long for just 1 blog so I’ll split it in 2 parts.

I don’t plant many annuals in my garden–a couple of urns out front with 2 hanging baskets, and some large pots at the back. I love the colour that annuals provide all season, but they typically need more watering than I like to do, and I find them expensive. Last year I overwintered some cuttings I took from both my coleus and sweet potato vines as well as overwintering the purple fountain grass. All the cuttings worked great, and in the spring after hardening off I was able to plant them into my pots and urns; they grew really lush and full. The green potato vine was much stronger and more robust all season than either the purple or copper plants, however the purple fountain grass grew back very slowly never really getting the vibrant purple colour back. This year I’ve taken even more cuttings from my coleus along with the green and purple sweet potato vine. However, I decided that I would rather spend the money on new fountain plants each spring.

Urn in author’s garden

I have 2 large compost piles that I use all year, filling to the top with leaves and then burying food scraps the rest of the year. This year I religiously turned the one pile every couple of weeks starting as early as I could and was rewarded with compost all gardening season. In the second pile though, a couple of errant zucchini plants started growing producing lush growth and lots of flowers and I thought ‘why not leave them?’. I’m sure you can guess the rest, not a single zucchini and I was not able to use any of the compost all season. Note to myself if anything accidentally grows out of the compost next year, turn it back in.

For the first time this season I grew Sicilian zucchini, now I didn’t actually realize I had bought this variety until it started growing up the espaliered tree fence and growing 2-3 foot long zucchinis. I’m definitely going to grow them again next year, although in a different location. When the frost finally killed off the plants and we pulled them off the fence, the wires were no longer taut and needed some tightening. Another point to note is that the zucchinis were consistently eaten throughout August and September when they were barely an inch or two longer. I’m not sure why that only happened later in the summer, maybe the squirrel or rabbit population doubled when I wasn’t looking. I’m thinking of placing bags over the fruit as it is growing, hoping by the time it gets to a foot or more it won’t be quite so attractive to predators.

I tend to leave my perennials to self seed as I love growing plants from seed; it is probably one of my favourite things to do in the garden. I have set aside a nursery plot and any seedlings I find in the garden I move into the nursery. Unfortunately this year I noticed a definite increase in the number of swamp milkweed, verbascum and New England asters seedlings. Now I love these plants, but they are taking over both my garden and my garden paths. I grow Verbascum nigrum which is a beautiful stately plant with either yellow or white flowers. It tends to be a short lived perennial but as it grows profusely from seed, I always have a few plants in my garden. Swamp milkweed is a host for the monarch butterfly; in my garden I have both pink and white flowering plants. They prefer moist to wet soil and because my soil is dry, they are also short-lived. Not so the New England aster; this is a native aster which grows 4 to 5 foot with beautiful purple blue flowers, however it can get very large in just a couple of years. Next year I have to dead head these plants, leaving only a couple to go to seed, which I can then harvest and plant in a specific area of the nursery.

Verbascum in author’s garden; this one plant bloomed all summer.

On the positive side, I was surprised by an abundance of aquilegia (commonly known as columbine) in my front garden that I was not expecting. I had left the seedlings thinking from a distance they were meadow rue, only to be surprised by this showing:

Aquilegia in author’s front garden

Aquilegia are one of my favourite plants, but I tend not to grow them as I find in my garden they are eaten by slugs. One day I have a beautiful plant in full flower, and the next day just a few stems still standing. I’ve slowly been replacing them by meadow rue, which for me has a similar lacy look, which I like when paired with hostas and brunnera. Slugs don’t seem to like meadow rue, but for some unknown reason this year, they also left the aquilegia alone. Based on this I have since ordered some seeds from the native aquilegia, Aquilegia Canadensis, which has beautiful red and yellow flowers and also likes sun to part-shade.

And finally the dreaded creeping charlie in my lawn. I have a small lawn which I have been overseeding with clover in my attempt to make the lawn healthier and more low maintenance. Clover has a lot of great benefits in a law including growing in poor soils. Clover is a nitrogen fixing legume, so it will improve the health of the soil and the surrounding grass, needs less watering and mowing, attracts beneficial insects, and crowds out weeds. Unfortunately though it does not crowd out the creeping charlie and actually seems to co-exist with it harmoniously. The recommended solution in a lawn is to hand pull the creeping charlie and because it grows by rhizomes which then root into the soil, removing all parts of the plant can be very time consuming. I have heard that it is easier if you soak the ground first or weed after it has rained. Note to myself, recruit an army to help me after each rainfall in the spring, either that or learn to love it!

Lupins

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished cutting back my lupins for a possible second bloom, scattering their seeds and transplanting baby lupins that have popped up in all the wrong places.

Lupinus, or more commonly known as Lupins, are one of my favourite plants especially in the late spring when they are first in bloom. I tend to lean towards plants that need little to no care, that will attract insects, will self seed but are not invasive, and that give me joy when they are in bloom. Lupins fit that category for me perfectly.

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Lupins in the author’s garden

Lupin is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family Fabaceae, along with peas and beans. They have been grown since the days of the ancient Egyptians and were eaten by the Romans. Lupins like well drained soil, preferring sandy soil, but in my garden they grow well in clay. They grow in either sun or partial shade conditions. I will often let some of the flowers on my plants go to seed, self-seeding throughout the garden. But depending on where they decide to grow, I tend to transplant them and move them around. When digging up a lupin, take care to dig up the large tap root. I prefer to dig them up when they are very small, so I don’t damage the root any more than necessary. I also find it easier on both me and the plant to transplant them into a pot, rather than directly in the ground. This enables me to keep the plant in the shade for a few days, water more often and just baby them along more.

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Photo showing the large taproot on lupin seedlings

For me, lupins in my garden tend to be short-lived perennials, lasting anywhere from 3-5 years. They do not grow true from seed so to ensure that you have a true seedling you should take basal cuttings. A basal cutting is best done before the plant has flowered; you cut a shoot close to the root, take off all the leaves, nip out the top of the cutting and then transplant into a pot filled with compost and soil. When you see roots coming from the bottom of the pot, you can then transplant the lupin into your garden.

Because lupins are members of the legume family they are nitrogen fixer plants. Using a specific bacteria, ‘rhizobia bacteria’, that allows them to draw nitrogen from the air, convert and then store the nitrogen in nodules that grow on their roots. The nitrogen can become available to other plants in a number of ways. If a nodule breaks off and decomposes, the nitrogen becomes available in the soil and when the plant dies or if the plant is tilled back into the ground, the nitrogen also becomes available. In addition, lupins have a large tap root that is great for breaking up compact soils.

Most of the lupins you buy in garden centres are not native to Canada, as there is a native lupin–the wild lupin or Lupinus perennis which is considered native in Ontario. It is normally blue or purple and prefers a dry, sandy soil, but will grow in any well-drained soil. Wild lupins are often used in restoration projects because the large tap root helps to control erosion. It is also essential to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly which feeds exclusively on it and is a host to other butterflies. If you want to add this plant to your garden, you are best to buy the seed from wildflower farms and ensure you follow the instructions carefully as the seeds need specific conditions to germinate.

An example of a wildflower nursery selling the seed is given below:

https://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=18&product_id=112

Alchemy in the Garden – Layering

by Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

“A seemingly magic process of creation”

Layering is an asexual (vegetative) method of plant propagation that produces genetic replicas of the parent plant. In this technique, the newly developing offspring remains attached to the parent plant.  This keeps it supplied with water, carbohydrates and nutrients avoiding some of the pitfalls of traditional cuttings.

What makes this possible is totipotency. Every cell in any plant—except for egg and sperm —is capable of regenerating into a complete organism or differentiating into specific cell tissues. Under appropriate conditions, a cell can be induced to multiply into roots, shoots, leaves, or flowers.  One example of this is the formation of adventitious roots.  These are roots that form from “non root” tissues.  Growth of these roots are promoted in part by the plant’s own hormone auxin.

“Wounding” the shoot being layered by making a small sloping shallow cut on the underside of the stem/branch induces this process.  Wounding is known to produce adventitious roots by increasing levels of auxin at the wound site and by forming callus (dedifferentiated plant tissue capable of becoming roots).

Simple Layering

  • Select a young vigorous shoot that is low to ground
  • Wound stem, keeping wound slightly open using matchstick
  • Dust with rooting hormone
  • Dig shallow hole, set stem in contact with soil,
  • Secure stem in place (u-shaped pin or rock)
  • Fill hole and mulch to keep moist
  • Check for roots in fall, sever from parent and replant new shrub
  • Recommended for climbing roses, forsythia, honeysuckle and boxwoodSimple

Tip Layering

  • Works well on plants with long whippy stems like berry crops
  • Tip of shoot is pegged into soil, secured and buried at point of contact
    Tip

Serpentine Layering

  • Similar to simple except that multiple points are wounded and buried
  • Good for plants that produce long shoots such as clematis, grapes, wisteria, rambler roses, vining honeysuckle, willow and viburnum
    Serpentine

Stooling/Mounding

  • Process encourages masses of basal shoots which are allowed to layer naturally
  • Cut parent shrub back to near ground level in dormant season to encourages masses of basal shoots
  • In spring, when shoots are at 15cm, they are covered with dirt leaving tips exposed
  • Repeat process as shoot grow to 25 cm
  • Buds inside dirt will form roots
  • When plant reaches dormancy again, remove soil and newly rooted shoots and plant on
  • Recommended for this technique are smoke bush, dogwoods, spirea, daphne, magnolia, cotoneaster
    Stooling

Resources

Bryant, Geoff (1992) Propagation Handbook, Basic Techniques for Gardeners, Stackpole Books

Dunn, Bruce (Feb. 2017) Layering Propagation for the Home Gardener, Oklahoma State University Extension, http://extension.okstate.edu

Evans, Ervin, Blazich, Frank (Jan. 1999) Plant Propagation by Layering, North Carolina State Extension, http://content.ces.nscu.edu

Rich, Lee (2007) Making More Shrubs, http://finegardening.com

Stefman, Bianka, Rasmussen, Amanda (2016) Physiology of Adventitious Roots, Plant Physiology, Vol 170 pp 603-617.

Yadav, Deependra, Sing, S.H. (2018) Vegetative Methods of Plant Propagation: I- Cutting, layering, budding, Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 7 (2) 3267-3273.