Posts Tagged rooting herb cuttings

Sunrise Sea Gulls, Twenty-one Pots, and Spring

Snow drops signal spring's imminent arrival.

Snow drops signal spring’s imminent arrival.

I love this time of year in my corner of the southeastern Piedmont. One morning, I can wake up to 14 degrees Fahrenheit and frost so heavy it looks like snow. Two days later, mosquitoes and moths beat at my windows, taking advantage of 60+-degree air. And through it all, the Spring Peepers chorus steadily from the swamp. Add to that the shrieking of female wood ducks when I unintentionally startle them as they paddle on the creek, Red-shouldered Hawks scolding me if I approach their nest too closely, and the cacophony of woodpeckers arguing over territory, and what you have, my friends, are abundant early signs of spring. Oh sure, we may still get a late snow storm or (please no!) ice storm, but that won’t slow spring’s progress for long.

I have always loved sunrises, and they tend to be especially spectacular this time of year. I rise early and watch the chilly ones through my large south-facing windows. On warmer mornings, I stand outside, admire the colors, and enjoy the rising chorus of waking songbirds. If I’m really lucky, just as the sun tops the ridge line to my east, I am treated to the sea gulls.

No, that’s not a typo, I meant what I typed. Even though I’m a couple of hundred miles from the NC coastline, every winter I see sea gulls. I think they’re Herring Gulls. They migrate inland for the winter and settle on the large man-made lake/reservoir that’s about ten miles or so (as the gull files) from my house. Every morning just at sunrise, these thousands of gulls fly from the lake to the area shopping malls, where they feast upon the garbage left by shoppers in the parking lots. They return to the lake in the evening, repeating the cycle daily until they decide it’s time to return to the coast.

A couple of days ago, the gulls decided to steer their sunrise flight directly over my house. Wave after wave of gulls flew overhead in ragged V-shaped formations, the low rays of the sun illuminating their bellies and undersides of their wings. What seemed like an endless stream of brightly lit angels flew silently over my house for over five minutes. There must have been thousands of them. I don’t know if it’s because they are quite high up and out of my hearing range, or if perhaps they really do fly in silence, but their sun-brightened mute flight seems just right for that time of day. Raucous gull calls would definitely spoil the effect. It is a breath-takingly wonderful way to start one’s day. Alas, I was not awake enough to think to grab my camera.

The daffodils are just beginning to awaken to spring's distant call.

The daffodils are just beginning to awaken to spring’s distant call.

I took advantage of yesterday’s mild weather to do a bit of yard work. I am far behind on outdoor chores, due to a self-inflicted injury on my right elbow. Some people get tennis elbow. I gave myself weeder’s elbow when I weeded my front bed vigorously for about six hours straight. (Memo to self: Aging elbows are much less forgiving than young ones.) After three full months of babying my cranky elbow, I’m now finally able to attack a few garden tasks. I started with some raking, followed by a few hours of dividing perennials and potting up some of the excess pieces. I’m helping a friend plant a new flower garden later this year, and I promised her some of my extras to help her get started.

Garden books will tell you that perennials should be divided every three to five years to keep them actively growing and blooming. I’m sure that’s probably true, but I’ve found that most of my perennials are more forgiving than that, and thank goodness, because that’s a task I rarely seem to find time for. I ended up yesterday with 21 pots of varying sizes full of healthy offshoots from some of my perennials, including bronze fennel (seedling explosion in the veggie garden paths), daylilies, salvias, rudbeckias, echinaceas, anise hyssop, columbine, and catnip for my friend’s cherished felines. You can’t even tell where I chipped off bits to pot up, so overgrown are my enthusiastic plantings.

Pots of perennials settled on my greenhouse floor.

Pots of perennials settled on my greenhouse floor.

The sad ones in front are little bronze fennel seedlings. They already look better than they did, so I'm hopeful they'll recover fully.

The sad ones in front are little bronze fennel seedlings. They already look better than they did, so I’m hopeful they’ll recover fully.

While I was settling the potted perennials into the greenhouse for safekeeping, I checked on my rooting flat of rosemary and lavender cuttings. To test for roots, I lightly tug on the cutting. If I feel resistance, I know roots have formed. The lavender cuttings are not yet rooted, but about half the rosemary cuttings are rooted. I pulled one up so you can see how it’s looking:

Rosemary cuttings are showing signs of healthy roots.

Rosemary cuttings are showing signs of healthy roots.

Most folks dip cuttings into commercial rooting hormone — liquid or powder — to encourage stems to produce roots. If I were trying to root more difficult plants, say, cuttings of trees or some shrubs, I’d probably use this product, but I’ve never found it necessary for these herbs. I’ve also noticed that after a few stems acquire roots, the rest of the cuttings seem to root all at once. I suspect that the early rooters are putting chemical signals into the soil that encourage nearby cuttings to begin rooting. All the cuttings seem quite healthy, and the rosemaries are blooming like crazy. You’re really not supposed to root blooming cuttings because the flowers theoretically consume too much energy for the cutting to create roots. But my rosemaries apparently don’t know that, and I’m not going to tell them.

Herb cuttings seem quite happy in their greenhouse flat.

Herb cuttings seem quite happy in their greenhouse flat.

Very soon now, I’ll be starting vegetable seeds in the greenhouse. Rain — perhaps even significant quantities — is predicted for my region over the next few days. My county is in moderate drought, so I’ll welcome every drop. But as soon as the sun returns, I must focus on cleaning up the vegetable garden for spring planting. Ready or not, elbow, here comes spring!

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Expanding Your Garden

Great Blue Heron about to take flight into the new year.

Great Blue Heron about to take flight into the new year.

The handsome creature above was kind enough to park itself on a large oak in our backyard on a cloudy New Year’s Day. Wonder Spouse grabbed my camera (it was closer) and managed to catch the Great Blue Heron just as it tensed before gliding down to the creek. As we can imagine the bird’s great wings expanding wide for flight, so can we imagine ways to expand our gardens.

Over the decades, I have become a more selective gardener. In early years, I planted any plant offered me, and rarely looked farther than my local stores for transplant possibilities. I am now much more selective, saving the diminishing choice spots in my yard for specimens like the Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) I’ve told you about before here.

In that post, I mentioned that I’d never seen my specimen bloom. Having read that the flowers are inconspicuous, I thought perhaps I’d overlooked them on my tree. But now I’m fairly certain that my tree had simply not bloomed for me — until now. Now all the upper branches are covered in fat flower buds just beginning to show hints of maroon petals within.

Those are all fat flower buds on the high branches.

Those are all fat flower buds on the high branches.

I finally found one bud within reach of my camera that was showing the color of the strappy petals.

Lower branches are still holding on to browned leaves, but the reddish tinge of flower petals is visible here.

Lower branches are still holding on to browned leaves, but the reddish tinge of flower petals is visible here.

The flowers are not showy, unlike the spectacular fall color display of the leaves. But their appearance expands the presence of this specimen tree, making it a magnificent year-round addition.

My garden expands as my transplants mature and prosper, but I have other ways to increase my garden’s presence in the world — by sharing it with others.

Like most gardeners, I’ve been giving away plants for many years. Some special plants just love to multiply, and it gives me great pleasure to share them. My shared wealth expands my garden’s reach to both ends of my home state and many points in between. I hear from the owners of those distant gardens when one of my garden babies blooms. It’s fun, for example, to hear whose daylily bloomed first and for how long.

It delights me to know that sometimes my garden expands itself by transferring the gardening bug to others. A housemate from graduate school — a city girl with no experience with the green world when we first met — told me years later that she plants a vegetable garden every year now. Working the garden with me — and tasting the results — persuaded her of the benefits of this pursuit. I am thrilled every time I manage to bring another soul over to the green side.

In recent years, I’ve expanded my garden in other ways. I grow extra vegetables each year, so that — weather and pests permitting — I can share them with friends and the local food bank. The Garden Writers Association sponsors a formal program to foster this idea. They call it Plant a Row for the Hungry.

You can do likewise in your garden. Or if you don’t have space for a food garden in your yard, consider helping with a community garden. The university in the town adjacent to mine runs a successful community garden program on campus. The bounty is shared with university staff and other community members who want to supplement their diets with fresh-grown produce.

And the land conservancy organization in my region supports what it calls the Local Farms and Food platform of their mission by allowing local food banks to operate community gardens on some of the arable lands being preserved by this organization. Arable land — an increasingly scarce commodity in my rapidly urbanizing area — is not just preserved, but put to its best use.

I’m sure my region isn’t the only place with such garden-expanding opportunities. If you are inclined to try expanding your garden in such ways, check with your local colleges, food banks, and land conservancy groups. If they aren’t already growing food to feed the hungry, maybe you can help get such a program started.

I also expand my garden by sharing it with friends who need a little extra beauty in their lives. Last year, I cleaned up and planted a tiny garden space at the home of a friend battling a major illness. Knowing she would be spending many days recuperating at home, I hoped that this small plot full of color would lift her spirits. Because she likes to cook, I also planted a pot full of culinary herbs that could sit on her patio, a few steps from her kitchen.

This year, another friend recovering from a major health challenge has a lovely empty garden space beside her new house. She is excited about planting this area with native flowers that will bloom enthusiastically and attract pollinators. I’ve begun potting up some of my garden multipliers for later spring transplanting to her new bed. And during yesterday’s absurdly mild weather here, I took cuttings of rosemary and Spanish lavender, placing them in a flat in my greenhouse. By the time spring arrives, they will be well-rooted and ready for new homes.

Rosemary and lavender cuttings will root easily in the greenhouse in a few weeks.

Rosemary and lavender cuttings will root easily in the greenhouse in a few weeks.

In my opinion, every southern Piedmont home should have a few rosemary shrubs growing nearby, for enhancing culinary masterpieces and inhaling their aromatically therapeutic properties.

As the years make my joints creakier, expanding my physical garden at home will likely become impractical. But I will always be able to expand my green world in these other ways.

As you readers of this blog plan your own spring and summer gardens this year, I encourage you to expand your thinking beyond your personal garden space. Whose life can you lighten by sharing your garden this year?


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