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Propagation: Free Plants!

Propagation: Free Plants!.

Propagation: Free Plants!

In my last post I talked about taking some snippets off of some plants I am looking after for a local environmental group, for propagation.  Today I want to share some of my knowledge about how to propagate your own plants from cuttings.
There are lots of good reasons to propagate your own plants. The most obvious in line with the ethos behind this blog is to save money. Gardening on a shoestring is easy, when you have a few horticultural skills under your belt. Probably one of the most important skills you need is propagation.
Another really good reason to propagate your own plants, is the personal rewards. For me there is nothing like the excitement and sense of satisfaction I feel, when I see that first seedling pushing up through the soil or strong white roots forming on a cutting that I have nurtured and cared for.
With a little know how, plant propagation is fun and easy, but best of all it’s a way of getting new plants for free.
There are one or two pieces of kit that you need to propagate your own plants. You need a set of secateurs, to take your cuttings, some small pots or containers, propagation soil and propagation hormone, which you can buy in either a gel or powder form. In regards to the container size I wouldn’t use anything bigger than a 10cm pot to strike cuttings. This is for a couple of reasons, firstly the bigger the pot the more soil you will have to use and potentially waste. Also the bigger the pot means that there is more soil not taken up with roots (your cuttings obviously don’t have roots yet). This means the soil will tend to dry out more quickly and lower the success rate of your cuttings.500ml butter or margarine containers make good pots for striking cuttings in too.

Take a couple of good branches that will provide a few cuttings you should wait until you get back to your potting area to prepare the stems for propagation. This will prolong the viability of your plant material.

These Rosemary branches had a few good spots to take cuttings from, so I cut the branches from the parent shrub and took them back to my nursery to prepare smaller pieces for the cuttings. This means that they will not dry out before I have a chance to pot them.
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In a previous post I described how I make my own propagation mix. For stem cuttings I add a handful of perlite to improve the drainage. This will allow more aeration around the base of the cuttings and will help to prevent them from rotting. New seedlings and cuttings don’t require a lot of nutrients at first. Most of the commercial bags of propagating soil you buy, is made up of either peat or composted pine bark and sand. This allows adequate drainage and water holding capacity for the new plants to get established, but little nutrition because too fertile a soil would burn the new plants. It is easy enough to replicate this type of mixture at home with some compost, coir peat and sand or perlite. You need the ingredients to be able to provide the following conditions:

– Water holding capacity
– Aeration
– Drainage

I took cuttings from my Rosemary bush and a Salvia I have growing called Salvia leucantha. S. leucantha has beautiful velvety purple flowers and is very easy to propagate from stem cuttings.

To prepare a stem cutting for propagation most plants should be cut just below the leaf node. This is the point on the stem where the leaves are attached. At this point there are cells which have the potential to form roots.
You can see the leaf node very clearly on S.leucantha and Rosemary has many leaf nodes so it’s pretty easy to propagate.

You can see where my pinkie is resting on this Salvia stem where the leaf was attached. I usually keep my stem cuttings short, (about the length of my middle finger) this lessens the chance of them drying out in the pot. You should cut the stem at a slight angle. My Nana used to leave what she called a ‘heal’ on her rosemary cuttings. Rather than neatly cutting the stem at the node, she would tear it away from the rest of the plant leaving a little tag or heal of bark on the stem and exposing more of the cambial layer . I think the reason this worked so well is that there were more of the potential root cells exposed and perhaps more surface area for the propagation hormone to get into.

Once you have prepared your stem cutting, you dip it into the propagation gel or powder. This is a synthetic version of the plant hormone which stimulates root growth.

Once you have prepared the cutting you should put it straight into the potting media, to avoid then end of your cutting sealing off and drying out. Water the cuttings straight away and keep them in a sheltered place. Don’t let the soil dry out, keep it moist but not wet.

Additional Tips for taking Stem Cuttings:

– Avoid taking cuttings from diseased or unhealthy plant stock: this will only spread disease in you garden and reduce the chances of your cuttings stiking
– Clean up your work area after you finish potting your cuttings, leaving old plant and soil material around attracts pest and diseases
– Clean your pots and other tools before using them in propagation, practicing good nursery hygiene in your growing area, increases your success rates and prevents the spread of pest and diseases in your garden



Baby Sitting Plants

There is a festival held in my town every year called the Platypus Festival. It’s organized by the Friends of Toolern Creek (FoTC) and it’s purpose is to celebrate the return of the platypus to Toolern Creek and promote the work that FoTC does in the community. FoTC have done a great deal of work to restore the creek and the water quality there. In recent years a couple of platypus have been spotted in the creek.
For the last two years I have been a member of the organizing committee of the Platypus Festival. This year I had a little display promoting habitat gardening. I won’t talk about what I did in the first year except that it involved me running around in a green fairy outfit…and we will never speak of it again!
Anyway this year I borrowed a number of indigenous plants from FoTC and grew them on from tubestock so that they’d be big enough for my display. The festival was back in October and the plants are still living in the nursery at my house, because when I tried to give them back to FoTC I was told “nope just hang onto them for now…”

Well its just getting too much for me, having all these lovely plants that I have cared for and nurtured just sitting there…So today I finally cracked and decided to just take a couple of snips for propagating.

cropped cuttings
Its the purple pot and the two green ones.
Dodenaea viscosa (in the purple pot) and Rhagodia parabolica the two green pots. Its been about a week since I’ve been to Bunnings and I have no potting soil left. It was about 10pm when I decided to do some propagating, so couldn’t even go and buy some if that was my intention.
But it’s easy enough to make your own propagating soil. My recipe is two parts sieved compost to one or two handfuls of coir peat. I have plenty of compost and already had the coir peat left over from the last batch of propagating mix I did. Coir peat is cheap! A block of compressed coir peat costs about $3 I think and I go through a block of coir peat every two to three weeks or so.


With this compost bin I can take the compost from an access point at the bottom. The stuff in the top hasn’t finished composting. Down the bottom its nice and hot just, how you want your compost to be and there is plenty of humus which is the bit  I need for my propagating mix. This type of compost bin can be slow if you don’t keep it moving. I stir my compost with an old broom handle at least once or twice a week. This keeps it well aerated and working much faster than if I just filled the bin up and left it.
The garden sieves they sell at Bunnings are too expensive and the holes are too big. This is a $4 colander from Kmart, works like a charm, the holes are the perfect size to get me fine enough particles for my propagating mix.

I more or less just eyeball the measurements and mix until I get the consistency I want. Sometimes I might also add a bit of course sand to the mixture improve the drainage properties. It depends on what I have on hand.
In any case just the basic mixture of sieved compost and peat has been working very well, I have raised most of my vegetable seedlings this year and several cuttings with it, no problems.

Wicking bed for renters

I have been busy in my garden the last few weeks, making things out of recycled pallets. Don’t you just love Pintrest! Well inspired by Pinterest I set out into my community to gather many old pallets!

This is one of the major results of my quest.

20141029_143803 This is also my very first attempt at carpentry.

Its made out two recycled hardwood pallets (I’ll get to the hardwood bit in a sec) and some old roofing tin I had lying about in my yard. It’s on casters so I can move it about to follow the sun and makes it easier to take with me if I have to move house. The thing with having a garden and renting is you have to get creative about growing your food. Everything needs to be ready to go if you want to take it with you to the next house. The pallet at the back of the planter is going to have my pumpkins growing over it. I have planted the Three Sisters pumpkin, beans and corn in this bed. Apparently they make great companions. Beans are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it to a form that plants can take up. This is beneficial to the corn, because they do a lot of growing before the corn cobs actually form. The extra nitrogen around in the soil from the beans helps them out with this. I can’t remember why the pumpkin…I will do some research and get back to you in a later post. I really want to talk about how to build a Renter’s Wicking Bed.

Step one: Assemble your garden bed

It can made out of pretty anything. As I mentioned mine was made from some recycled pallets and old roofing tin. Now the question of hardwood! I hear that a lot of old pallets are made of arsenic treated timber. According to the factory that I collected these two from, these pallets are made of untreated hardwood, so would not be treated. I am taking their word for it. In any case as you’ll see  my soil isn’t really in contact with the timber so I’m not worried. But do just be careful about the pallets that you choose. Now I am not an expert on how and why timbers are treated so here’s a link with more info:
For a wicking bed you want the depth to be at least 400mm. If you use sleepers, that’s two sleepers on top of each other. 

Step two line your wicking bed with something waterproof. All I had was this tarp. Underneath is a plastic mat that I got for free from Bunnings. This was to protect the tarp from any rough edges on the pallet underneath. Bunnings uses them to place between their stacks of pavers. Wasteful really when that plastic sheet just goes in the skip! At present I happen to be moonlighting as a plant merchandiser at Bunnings so was in a position to acquire a couple of these before they went to landfill. So there is no contact between my soil and the timber. It is in contact with the plastic however not much I can about that nor am I that worried. See my pink hammer :) Yea I totally hit those nails up with some girl power LOL


Step Three: You need somewhere for the water to get in.


This is two pieces of poly pipe, joined with an elbow and two worm drive ring thingies!You can use PVC pipe, but at about $4 for the pipe and rings this was what I could afford at the time.  There are holes drilled into the poly pipe that is sitting in the bottom of the bed to allow the water that gets put in from the top to leach out into the bed.

Step four: Rock it up! Fill your wicking bed about a quarter to half way with something...Something porous with a large particle size, like gravel or as I’ve done here scoria, again what I could afford. The lining and the rock is the reservoir that holds the water for your soil to wick up to the plant roots.


Step Four: You need a hole! You need an overflow point at the top of the scoria line. This will allow the reservoir to drain, if it gets overfilled as a result of rain on the garden bed or someone watering from the top. It help’s to avoid water logging your plants
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Step Five: You need a filter.
You need something between your soil and reservoir to stop fine particles like silt and clay from your soil getting in the reservoir. A faded old  pink flanno bed sheet was what I had handy. You could use geofabric or hessian sacking. It has to be something that is permeable to water.

Step Six: Soil
Fill your garden bed with soil and the reservoir with water. You will know the reservoir is full when water begins to run out of the overflow hole. You should also water the soil so that it settles and any air pockets are eliminated. This will make wicking more efficient. You can water your plants when you first put them in, this should be the only time you water the soil from the top. After that the water should wick up from the reservoir, like a self watering pot. Don’t forget to mulch!


Another day at SKINC

Last week at SKINC, we were cleaning up tube stock of Austrostipa stipoides. Another botanical name to add to my spell checker’s “add to dictionary” option!
A. stipoides or by its common name Prickly Spear Grass is a coastal species found growing in primary dune scrub, coastal cliffs and salt marsh. According to my handy, dandy Flora of Melbourne the species is local to the Sandringham, Frankston and Mooruduc areas as well as Williamstown and the Kororoit Creek mouth Altona.
We cleaned up a few hundred of these, which had become weed infested in the nursery. This species is particularly popular with local council plantings in the area. Some of the common weeds you find infesting container stock in the nursery include, clovers, liverworts and flick weed. My job that day was to go through the hundreds of A. stipoides and remove the weeds by hand…

Image So the plant I actually want to keep in this pot is the little grassy looking one in the middle.

We had to remove the top layer of potting soil, to ensure we got all of the weeds out and then add fresh soil to top up the pot.


Here’s an after shot and below just a couple of shots of some of the weedy pots and some liverwort.


and the liverwort monster removed from one of the pots…Actually I really like liverworts, they’re very interesting little organisms, there may be  future post about them!




Volunteering at an Indigenous Nursery

I’ve been volunteering at the St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Cooperative (SKINC) in Melbourne. It’s a good way to keep ones knowledge and skills up to date.

SKINC propagate  a  range of coastal, heathland, woodland and grassland species. They collect seed locally to preserve the genetic integrity of the local species. Seed collected of local provenance, means that the seeds and any locally collected propagation material retains the local genetic characteristics, that have evolved to the environment of the specific area. These unique characteristics may contribute to the long term survival of the species in the area, under the local environmental conditions.
Collecting and cleaning native seeds:
Seed develops inside of fruit, which has developed from a pollinated flower. Seed is collected when the fruit is mature. Many Australian natives have woody or dry fruits. An important aspect of seed collecting is to ensure that seed is collected from fruit that is mature as immature fruit will contain immature seeds…well obviously

Now In order to extract the seeds for woody, non-succulent fruit it needs to be stored for drying in a warm, well ventilated place. Period of time stored for drying will depend on the species.
For small quantities the fruit can be stored in paper bags. After the fruit is dried out, the seeds can be extracted from the fruit or husk. This cleaning is done by various methods including: sieving, shaking or by hand.

In this picture I am cleaning up some seed collected from Lasiopetalum baueri by . by hand. This involves  taking the dry fruit and rubbing it between my fingers so that the husk falls off. The fruits of L. baueri are capsule shaped and split into 3-4 segments. Each segment will contain a seed.


In the picture at the top is the small pile of seed I garnered from the large piles of husk in the photo beneath
Once the seed was cleaned we put it into a glass container for storage, until its time to sow them.

Lasiopetalum baueri is very interesting to look at with long narrow drooping leaves, that are red underneath. The pinkish/grey petal like organs on the flowers are actually the calyx: which is usually the leaf like structure that protects the flower bud. In the case of L.baueri the calyx is enlarged and persistent instead of falling off as often would be the case with other plants. They flower in spring. The species is found growing on primary dune scrub in the Sandringham area in Melbourne.
This was my first day at SKINC in about ten years, it was a very interesting and rewarding day. More posts to follow on SKINC


Friendly insects…well that depends

I am always reminding my students that the organism, plants, insects, birds whatever in their garden do not exist solely for their pleasure or irritation.

I often begin a session on plant pests and diseases with the comment that “you are not at war with the insect and plant kingdoms!”

It’s amazing how many people actually think that way. That the plants that have flowers we enjoy and produce food that we eat  live to serve the human race! People actually believe there is such a thing in nature as “good plants/insects/animals” and “bad plants/insects/animals”
I have actually encountered this type of thinking throughout my horticultural career. Maybe it’s just me but I have a lot of difficulty thinking of an aphid for example as inherently  evil just because it’s food source happens to come from plants that I either enjoy for their various aesthetic attributes or its a plant that also happens to be my food source.
Is it just human nature to attribute human intelligence to things out side of themselves, that effect them in one way or another?
The whole theory behind, “friendly insects” and “unfriendly or bad insects” seems to be embedded with that mentality of “if you’re with us, you’re against us” The insects that feed on other insects, are not doing so to help us out.

Guess what? Plants that produce beautiful flowers and parts that are tasty to humans, do not do so, just for the benefit of the human race. Nine times out of ten, the parts we think are beautiful or tasty, are actually part of the plant’s reproductive system. Simple enough to understand that right? You’d think so, but people do live in their own narcissistic little worlds… *looks sheepish for a moment… as she sits furiously blogging her opinion to the world?*
Apparently some god supposedly gave “Man” dominion over the earth and all of its creatures… I am not even going to go into the numerous, misogynistic and prodigious fallacies of that little piece of biblical rubbish, even though there are still people who seem to have it embedded in their psyche. <insert rant here>
Ahem…well I just mean that I don’t personally feel the need to wage war against and dominate nature and am of the opinion that we as humans are merely just another species; part of a greater cycle. A cycle that involves many billions of other species, that help maintain the balance of the planet’s ecology. Well seven billion humans consuming the earth’s resources can’t be good for that balance. Maybe we are the ‘pests’?
In any case for me it is not logical to go out into the garden and obliterate thousands of organisms just because one particular group of them happens to be feeding (we will refrain from the word “attacking”) on the same organisms that are the source of my food and pleasure.

I have seen gardens that have been bombarded with every herbicide and pesticide, guaranteed to wipe out ecosystems in a matter of moments. These are abominations of perfection! Not a single blemish on that rose bud or apple, perfectly plump, luscious fruits  and vegetables abound. Not a single dandy lion dare’s turn it’s sunny face to the blue sky in this garden no sir!
There is not a single vertebrate creature here to upset this paradise of human created bounty! Nope, no aphids here…No caterpillars, snails or earwigs. No bees either, no spiders, no lacewings, no worms in the soil…You have conquered nature?
. You have killed everything, eliminated all of the competition to your existence all of the competition to those things which you have decreed should be allowed to live, your plants.

Actually you have destroyed the balance of the ecosystem in your little kingdom, called ‘garden’.

The minute you stop spraying those chemicals around, the entire artificial system will collapse, because often the creatures which are so successful at decimating your crops are also the first to recover. There are so many of them for a reason.

There is also a phenomenon known as ‘resistant population’. Simply put, some insect species  have become resistant to the chemicals we spray to destroy them. A number within a population will be resistant to the chemical. You will kill off all of the weakest specimens, leaving a small number of the resistant population to breed up and recover to continue feeding on your plants. Artificial as apposed to natural selection. Darwin had something didn’t he?
The consequence is that you must then find another method to which they are not resistant.
Now this post is getting rather long so I will cut it short here and leave you with a picture taken in my garden this morning.


I’m not sure if this a winged adult aphid or a parasitic wasp feeding on the aphids, it’s easy for an untrained eye like mine to confuse the two. I’ll need to have a closer look some day soon when I have time. Watch this space


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