seeds, cuttings, divisions: making extra vegetation as spring approaches, with ken druse

THE DAYS ARE longer and the sunshine is strengthening—triggers that don’t simply begin to get up our vegetation, indoors and out, but additionally get us gardeners going. The alerts have my propagation-mad pal Ken Druse beginning extra seeds every week and searching across the panorama and the houseplant-filled sunroom for some probabilities to make extra vegetation, his favourite pastime.

Ken is creator and photographer of 20 backyard books, together with one on plant propagation, and is a daring plant propagator himself. Collectively since 2021, we’ve co-hosted the Digital Backyard Membership, a collection of on-line courses about our favourite topic: vegetation. Ken gardens in New Jersey, largely within the shade.

Learn alongside as you take heed to the March 20, 2023 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant beneath. You’ll be able to subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

making extra vegetation, with ken druse



Margaret Roach: Hiya Ken, over there within the shade [laughter]. How are you?

Ken Druse: It’s a bit of darkish, Margaret. How are you?

Margaret: I don’t know. I don’t know. What season is it anyway, this 12 months?

Ken: That’s a very good query.

Margaret: Yeah. I’m completely disoriented, for the reason that starting of the… Effectively, the entire winter, and for the reason that starting of the 12 months particularly.

Ken: I do know we talked about it, however 4 weeks in the past I reduce the ratty, terrible foliage off the hellebores, and no flower buds have been displaying [below], and now they’re in bloom.

Margaret: Yeah. It’s loopy.

Ken: Proper.

Margaret: Yeah. No, it’s loopy. It’s utterly loopy. And similar right here. I’ve by no means seen something prefer it. After which it’s 4 levels, after which it’s 62 levels [laughter].

Ken: Yeah. And also you’re not kidding. That actually occurred.

Margaret: Yeah. It went minus 14, and every week later, 60, or 57 or some loopy factor. I imply, it’s simply nuts. No matter. Anyway.

In order that’s getting us wanting across the backyard at alternatives for “Making Extra Vegetation,” as your guide of about 20 years in the past was referred to as. And in addition I assume as I mentioned within the introduction, I’m noticing in my houseplants, a few of them have been even forward of schedule. It’s bizarre. It’s simply so bizarre out.

Ken: Yeah. However I find it irresistible when the daylight begin lengthening, and the vegetation all the time know, even the vegetation underneath lights that aren’t even close to a window, they know. Some issues that I’ve tried to propagate from cuttings, like a begonia or one thing, they’ve simply rotted and have been horrible, however now they need to get up.

Margaret: Yeah. Completely. So what are a number of the issues that you simply’re eyeing round home or within the cellar or wherever you may have issues stashed or awake or no matter?

Ken: I can’t consider what a busy time it’s. Mid-March is type of the final time for main pruning, so I’ve been doing a little issues like that exterior. And since you inspired me, I did some experimenting.

Margaret: Uh-oh.

Ken: The bald cypress, it’s referred to as bald as a result of it’s deciduous. It’s a conifer, like a pine tree, besides it drops its needles. And I reduce it again proper to the trunk, as a result of it sprouts from the trunk yearly. And it was presupposed to be this actually little dwarf, and now it’s 15 ft tall. So I believed, I’m going to make a column. So I did that, and that’s type of scary [above, Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’ after its hard pruning]]. It’s not precisely propagation, however I do know you and I are digging up our Eucomis bulbs, or I’m anyway.

Margaret: And so whenever you say digging up, they’re in pots the place?

Ken: They’re in pots. Proper.

Margaret: The place do you retain yours within the winter, these pineapple lilies?

Ken: In a chilly a part of the cellar that goes all the way down to… In all probability coldest it goes to, possibly 20 for a few days. However normally it’s about 30 to 40 levels. And I’m going to dig them up, and divide them if they are often divided, if they’ve little aspect bulbs, and re-pot them. As a result of they slowed down on their blooming, and I feel they simply want a bit of refreshment.

Margaret: Yeah. I discover with the pineapple lilies that they make a number of offsets. And so after I take them out of their pots, such as you have been saying, after they decelerate, what I discover is that if I then un-pot it the subsequent season after a disappointing bloom, there’s too many bulbs in there. You realize what I imply? It’s simply too crowded.

Ken: Bought crowded. Proper.

Margaret: And so I’ve began doing it each different 12 months, making it extra systematic, after they’re confined to pots, moderately than wait until they fail a 12 months. They all the time make stunning foliage [above, ‘Sparkling Burgundy’].

Ken: You’re forward of me.

Margaret: They usually all the time make stunning foliage anyway, so I like them anyhow. In order that’s a good suggestion really, to get on that now, that dividing, and making… And should you don’t have room or use for the extras, give them to pals. However that’s a good suggestion to do this now, as a result of when spring-spring occurs, there’s not going to be time for any of this. It’d be good to test a few of these issues off the record.

Ken: There’s such a listing.

Margaret: Yeah. No, I do know.

Ken: However we should always say that pineapple lilies are referred to as that as a result of the flowers appear like pineapples. They’ve little inexperienced leaves on the high of an extended, tall flower spike. We love them. They’re really easy and delightful.

Margaret: Yeah, they’re great. They’re great. And it simply makes for “annuals,” issues to place in your containers that you simply don’t have to purchase yearly and are uncommon wanting. And as I mentioned earlier than, the foliage is sweet, steadily it’s freckled or speckled with splashes of purple. Some are all purple foliage. After which even the stems typically virtually appear like spots of an animal’s pelt [above, at Margaret’s, E. bicolor foliage].

Ken: I used to be going to say, leopard.

Margaret: Yeah. They’ve that animal-skin type of look, that spotted-leopard look. Fairly great.

Ken: And folks in hotter climates can develop them outside.

Margaret: Yeah. Like zone 7 and so forth, a number of them. Yeah.

Ken: There’s a number of issues that, as quickly as the bottom is workable exterior and never too moist, I’ll be digging them up and dividing them. You know the way they present in books two spades again to again prying aside a plant? I by no means try this. It appears to break them. So I normally dig up the entire plant, put it on a tarp, take my devoted serrated knife, and reduce them aside. So I’ll try this if there’s a congested hosta, or if I simply need extra of that hosta in one other place, type of an echo, I’ll dig it up and reduce it in two to 4 components, so long as every half has a rising level or an eye fixed.

And Siberian iris [below], the center of them die, so each, I don’t know, three or 4 years, I’ve to dig these up. However then you definitely don’t get 4 vegetation, you get 24 vegetation.

Margaret: Yeah. And actually that donut gap within the center is useless stuff, and also you throw that away. Yeah.

Ken: Useless, proper. And all the skin stuff slows down the blooming and every thing.

Margaret: Yeah. Once more, if there’s time, as a result of it is a freakish 12 months in a number of components of the nation, weather-wise, in case your late winter lets you safely be going round exterior—if it’s neither snow lined or slippery or mucky, the place you’re going to break the soil—getting a soar on a few of these issues like we have been simply speaking about.

Like we consider dividing… and so we’re each within the Northeast, and so we consider a number of time doing that in April into early Could and so forth. However by then you may have foliage pushed up, and you’ve got flower stems or the start of them pushed up, and transferring the factor with out damaging it’s tougher. So that you’re saying go forward, be courageous, do it a bit of earlier. It’s not like we’re going to have a deep freeze, 3 ft of frost within the floor once more or one thing in March or no matter.

Ken: Proper. So long as the place the plant is, and possibly should you’ve marked it and considered it. You’ll be able to divide issues which have… and you’ll even reduce some issues again and divide them later, however it would have an effect on the blooming. So should you dig up the phlox when it’s 12 inches tall and reduce it again to six inches, it’s going to nonetheless reside, and it’s going to bloom. It’ll be shorter and it’ll be later. However I’m simply saying, since you shouldn’t simply hand over since you’re getting a bit of behind, I might say.

Margaret: No, under no circumstances. However on this finish of the season, once more, not when the bottom’s nonetheless frozen, and never when it’s mucky and so forth, however as quickly as you possibly can, it’s O.Ok. to go round, like whenever you’re planting these peas [laughter], it’s okay to go round and look and see if there’s just a few issues that could be able to divide a bit of sooner than regular.

Ken: Or transfer.

Margaret: Proper.

Ken: I’ve bought a listing of issues that… I do. I’ve things-

Margaret: I’m teasing. I’ve like 2,000 of them that want transferring [laughter]. It’s horrible.

Ken: And a few issues… I’m transferring a dwarf Hydrangea paniculata that has crimson flowers, and I’m transferring it throughout the backyard to a spot the place there’s a red-leaf peach and another crimson issues, so I’m transferring that for aesthetic causes.

Margaret: Proper. So it’s not as a result of it’s too massive for the house or no matter. It’s a design selection. Proper. So what different issues have been… We have been speaking in regards to the bulbs, and really I’ve different bulbs or bulb-like issues in storage in my cellar. I’ve a number of… What do they name them? Voodoo lilies, Sauromatum and different loopy… Amorphophallus and so forth. Loopy issues that…

Ken: Smelly issues [above, the flower of Sauromatum venosum at Margaret’s].

Margaret: Smelly. And a few of them are awake. If I go away them of their pots, they get up in January, February typically, and I’m like, “Uh-oh, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t bloom. It’s going to stink. It’s going to odor like a useless animal within the basement.”

Ken: After which it’s a must to give them mild after they begin pushing their leaves after that.

Margaret: Yeah. So there’s different issues that I’ve saved which can be going to be divided and “making extra vegetation,” such as you all the time say. However what different issues are you eyeing for propagation initiatives now?

Ken: We will discuss seeds in a couple of minutes, however I discussed the begonias, which is type of a softwood slicing. They’re not even wooden. However that is the top of the interval for hardwood cuttings, that are cuttings from woody vegetation like shrubs. They usually’re made when the vegetation are nonetheless asleep. And I feel the final ones to make are cuttings from willows. Some folks do dogwoods, too, these twig dogwoods and the willows that we develop, both pussy willows or willows with coloured form of foliage.

Margaret: Yeah. Form of shrubby ones. Proper.

Ken: Proper. So earlier than they leaf out, which is mid-March normally…

Margaret: The place you’re.

Ken: Proper. I’ll take nice-sized cuttings, and I simply put them in water. Effectively, should you reduce your pussy willows for adornment, don’t put them in water, as a result of they’ll final for months. It’ll final for a 12 months and look good. However if you wish to propagate them, put them in water, they usually’ll begin making roots within the water. Willows do. However you need to attempt to transplant them into some type of medium when these roots are lower than an inch lengthy, and nonetheless white. As a result of after they get a bit of longer than an inch, they both get tangled, or worse, they rot. So that you do it younger. And should you fail, or should you solely get 50 %, you’re doing O.Ok. I’ve by no means gotten 100%.

Margaret: Yeah. A pal got here and took a bunch for her flower farm just a few years in the past, of my varied twig willows and twig dogwoods and so forth, to ultimately develop and promote the colourful stems in preparations, as a result of they’re so fabulous. And the factor about it’s, if you wish to do smaller cuttings, it’s a must to keep in mind which aspect is down, so to talk.

Ken: Positively. Sky aspect up, earth aspect down.

Margaret: As a result of they received’t root the opposite approach.

Ken: That’s proper.

Margaret: It’s type of superb. It’s type of great to know that it “is aware of,” once more, talking of the intelligence of all these creatures.

Ken: It’s humorous, we have been speaking about Eucomis, and I make Eucomis leaf cuttings. And after I reduce the leaf into… I’ll take a leaf and reduce it into 4 components, however I take a marker and I make an arrow for the sky aspect. As a result of if I flip it over… Similar with mother-in-law’s tongue, Sansevieria. They received’t root in the event that they’re upside-down.

Margaret: Proper. In order that’s one other one, houseplant-wise, that we may very well be making extra vegetation of.

Ken: Yeah. Later when the Eucomis leaves are out. You might keep in mind I did that for a sale at Wave Hill, for a plant sale, and I feel I had a dozen vegetation from leaf cuttings in a 12 months. It was nice.

Margaret: That’s actually… And it’s not one thing that I might’ve considered doing. And so I keep in mind seeing that, however I additionally keep in mind seeing your footage of… You’d have, once more with the right aspect down within the moist medium, and this little creature fashioned on high the highest.

Ken: There have been clusters of bulbs [above].

Margaret: It was the weirdest factor. I imply, I don’t know what was occurring beneath the soil floor, but it surely was like these little bulb piles, or miniature, teeny-weeny infants have been being born on high of that leaf slicing. It was nutty. It was actually nutty.

Ken: That’s the actually thrilling a part of making extra vegetation. When one thing like that occurs. Effectively, when you possibly can nurture a plant and watch it develop and also you’re a part of it, it’s simply thrilling, I feel.

Margaret: Yeah. So do you need to inform me about a few of… Are you doing something with any of your houseplants?

Ken: It’s type of early. I appeared round, and I could be dividing a number of the… I assume there are Alocasia that haven’t gone dormant. And typically they’ll make little aspect shoots, and I’ll reduce them aside and pot them up. Nevertheless it’s a bit of early for me to make extra herbaceous cuttings than issues like begonias, issues which can be fairly straightforward. However in a few weeks I’ll be doing extra.

Margaret: So that you have been speaking in regards to the elephant ears that we develop, virtually these tropical-looking creatures that we develop. And a few of them you overwinter, virtually like houseplant-ish.

Ken: Proper. Precisely. And the begonias are ones which have stems. They’re not like Rex begonias or rhizomatous begonias that creep. Ones like angel wing and fibrous begonias, they’re fairly straightforward. And I attempt…

Margaret: And what would you be doing, although, with these? So if I had a upright begonia… I had this one massive one, actually I had it solely two years, I don’t even know what its title is. I bought it on the nursery one spring a pair years in the past, and it became this shrub. I imply, it was this huge factor, and there was no approach I might match it anyplace. And I believed, properly what are you going to do? And within the fall, I reduce it again. I reduce out a number of the stems, and I introduced it in. And don’t , the rattling factor is waking up and being comfortable and it’s going to be high quality. It’ll in all probability be a shrub by the top of the 12 months once more [laughter], however that wasn’t very scientific.

Ken: I did that within the fall with some issues like Coleus, I’ll reduce them again after which take that new development and root that mid-March. However with the begonia, you form of mentioned it, should you’ve bought a begonia that’s gotten actually woody and misplaced its leaves, I’ll make a slicing to have a brand new plant, a juvenile plant, as a result of a number of them look higher as youngsters, after which I try and discard the remainder of it [laughter]-

Margaret: And also you fail, and also you don’t have the guts to eliminate it.

Ken: And infrequently I fail. No, that’s why I reduce that Taxodium exterior. I believed, is that this merciless, or is that this horticulture? That’s what I ask myself. As a result of lots of people would suppose it’s torture.

Margaret: So with the piece of the… Let’s say we’ve this begonia, and it has these upright stems. And so if we took one, and we… Would you first root it in water a bit of bit, virtually like that willow you mentioned, simply so it will get barely rooted, after which put it in medium? Or what would you…

Ken: Effectively, it form of is dependent upon the plant, however I feel if it’s mid-March and if there’s new development beginning, I’d in all probability take a slicing of a tall angel wing, I’d take possibly a 3- or 4-inch slicing, and I’d put it in one thing like moist perlite.

Margaret: Possibly put a bit of plastic wrap precisely over it.

Ken: Precisely, I used to be simply going to say…

Margaret: Make a bit of hood, like a bit of terrarium-ish.

Ken: Slip it right into a plastic bag that’s open, and go away it open. Or in an previous aquarium that’s open. You need to have humidity should you can have it.

Margaret: However not rotting, not soaking. O.Ok.

Ken: Proper. Once I shut stuff up, I do know folks do it, however issues rot for me, so I all the time like to go away a bit of little bit of air circulation.

Margaret: I by no means had this earlier than; it’s such a typical houseplant, the Tradescantia, I feel it’s zebrina or one thing, it’s purple on the beneath and striped on the highest. And the poor factor, I had simply gotten it as some filler in an annual pot. I didn’t have the guts—massive shock, to throw it away within the fall. Nevertheless it simply appeared like… I imply, that is only a week in the past. It simply appeared—I couldn’t even consider it was nonetheless alive [laughter]. Among the items have been hanging approach down, cascading over the sting, they have been hooked up to what appeared like dried-up wire. You realize what I imply?

Ken: Yeah, I do.

Margaret: And but they have been nonetheless alive. And I’m like, “What are you doing? It’s such as you’re on 6 inches of dead-looking stuff, and then you definitely’re alive down there hanging down?” So I took these reside items, and I did a glass of water and stripped them down, and left just a few leaves on the finish and put them in water. And I believed, I’ll attempt. What the heck? I can use it as filler in a pot once more. So whenever you mentioned the factor in regards to the coleus, is that… What would you may have achieved with that? You mentioned you had propagated them?

Ken: Issues like coleus, I can’t consider a number of issues… Some issues that we get within the backyard heart or that we’re rising they usually’re ornamental exterior, we put them in pots, after which what do you do? So I normally convey them in and put them underneath lights really. So I’ll reduce them again to love 3 inches, after which this time of 12 months, they begin to push new development.

Margaret: And so you utilize that as your inventory plant for cuttings.

Ken: I exploit that. Proper. As a result of then they’re younger, new juicy development, that’s going to root very simply.

Margaret: O.Ok. And also you root it in water, otherwise you put it proper in that medium once more, such as you have been simply saying with the opposite issues?

Ken: Beneath the lights the place it’s humid, I’d do it in medium immediately, however that Tradescantia, you would in all probability develop it in water for 5 years, however then it’ll be fairly a large number. I wish to get them into medium when the roots usually are not too lengthy.

Margaret: As quickly as doable. O.Ok.

Ken: As a result of they get all tangled.

Margaret: So earlier than we run down on our time, I simply need to guarantee that we get to some seed issues.

Ken: I’ve taken all my packets, and I’ve organized them by the date that they need to be sown. And I’ve written on the seed packets, and even some seeds that I’ve saved and put in envelopes.

And the way in which I do it’s, I get a 3 and a half-inch plastic pot, and I’ll do every plant in its particular person pot. I don’t do them in a flat collectively. So all of the tomatoes will go into… One type of tomato will go into one pot, and one other type of tomato, very quickly, I assume mid-March, go into one other pot.

And I’ll fill the pot first with some medium, fill all of it the way in which to the highest, after which press it down with an immaculately clear different pot [above], and fill it virtually to the highest. And I put the seeds round, after which I cowl them with a bit of little bit of medium, in order that they’re lined with medium equal to their thickness. So it’s not a lot. I don’t bury them. And if the packet says that the seeds want mild to germinate, then I don’t bury them in any respect. I’ll do them on the floor.

However on the floor I sprinkle granite grit on [below], which is what the rock gardeners do. On all of the pots, I sprinkle a really skinny, one- to two-grain layer of granite grit, as a result of it’s inert, and the medium received’t dislodge it, even whenever you’re spraying water on it if it’s a must to water it once more. And since I’ve been doing that, which is like 20-something years now, I haven’t had the collection of fungal ailments that’s referred to as damping off, the place the seedling comes up, it appears nice, after which swiftly the subsequent day it keels over.

Margaret: It drops useless. Yeah.

Ken: However the granite actually helps. After which after they’re bigger, I’ll transplant them. And the opposite factor that you do is you are taking these seedlings exterior, and I’m going to attempt that this 12 months in the event that they’re not too heavy, as a result of I feel I’ve left them on the warmth mat too lengthy.

Margaret: It’s no accident, actually, that the mat is technically referred to as a germinating mat or a germination mat. It’s for germination. It’s not for rising. And so in a laboratory setting it’s solely used for germinating, or in agriculture is barely used for germinating. The minute you see any development, that factor has to come back off.

It doesn’t imply then that they need to be chilly. The room, the ambient temperature nonetheless needs to be no matter that plant wants. A tomato wants hotter than a lettuce or spinach or a broccoli. Nevertheless it signifies that they don’t need that cooking of the soil, that backside warmth that’s going to stretch them out, like too little mild would stretch them out.

Ken: That’s simply what it does. It stretches them out.

Margaret: It stretches them out. Yeah. So we should always simply say, the granite grit, that is poultry grit, and you’ll steadily get it at a spot like a Tractor Provide retailer or no matter. You’ll be able to even get it on-line, but it surely’s costly to ship. Nevertheless it type of appears like birdcage gravel. So it’s little, and there’s completely different sizes of it. Yeah. Granite grit.

Ken: It is available in three grades. And should you can solely get one, get the starter grade, which is the smallest. It’s like very coarse sand. And granite’s good as a result of it’s not alkaline, and also you need one which doesn’t have any components, which is offered. You could find it. And never oyster shell, as a result of that’s actually calcium.

Margaret: Yeah. And sand is a risk. Not seaside sand, however clear…

Ken: Yeah. As coarse as you could find it.

Margaret: Yeah. Clear, sharp sand. That’s one other risk. And I do know different individuals who use that in propagation as their topdressing, their mulch, their skinny cowl of the seeds, as you describe.

Ken: Yeah. I don’t use vermiculite, some folks do, however I don’t use vermiculite for something. That’s one other story [laughter].

Margaret: Yeah, I feel the opposite factor that’s actually vital, moreover the hygiene that you simply have been simply speaking about, is sweet mild, not a windowsill setting, however correct mild. After which additionally… now I’ve misplaced my prepare of thought [laughter].

Ken: You have been speaking about mild, and it’s humorous as a result of it’s modified a lot. When the seeds are within the pot, I feel in all probability the highest of the pots are like 4 inches from the sunshine. It’s a number of mild. And I used to have fluorescent bulbs and tubes, they usually have been sizzling. In order that’s one other downside.

Margaret: Yeah. These new LEDs don’t emit a lot warmth, which is great-

Ken: Hardly any warmth.

Margaret: …as a result of that may additionally stretch out the seedlings. However I remembered what I used to be going to say, which is that you simply have been describing this group pot the place you are taking one number of tomato and you place it multi function pot to get began. And so then when these present their first little true leaves… So it could be 10 of them or 20 of them, seeds, it’s not like one tomato seed in that three and a half inch pot. After which when they’re far sufficient alongside, they begin to present their first true leaves. You prick them out, you are taking out these seedlings and provides them every their very own little cell or pot relying on what the plant is and what it wants subsequent.

Ken: Proper. And not on the warmth mat [laughter].

Margaret: Proper. So I simply needed to double again to that, as a result of we’re not saying that you simply begin with 1,000,000 three and a half inch pots [laughter], the place you wouldn’t have sufficient lights or warmth mat ,to get something began on this group of every selection. After which these are potted, onto a barely bigger quarter, every particular person plant.

So after all we’ve used up our time, and we haven’t made that many extra vegetation, however I’ve bought to go all the way down to the cellar now and see the Eucomis and inform them you mentioned good day.

Ken: You try this.

Margaret: All proper. And I’ll speak to you quickly. I’ll see you on the Digital Backyard Membership earlier than lengthy.

(Images by Ken Druse besides as famous; used with permission.)

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MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its 14th 12 months in March 2023. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Pay attention regionally within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Jap, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the March 20, 2023 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You’ll be able to subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

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