Notes from Windward: #67


Bush Cherries and Wild Plums

Lindsay's tries some winter cuttings>

     One of the most wondrous characteristics of plants is the numerous ways in which they can reproduce. The production of flowers and seeds allows for the recombination of the parents' genes, perpetuating the biological diversity that we are ever so lucky to be witness to. However, plants can also be propagated through asexual reproduction, a process that skips over the flower and seed steps (and therefore genetic recombination) to create a separate individual that is genetically identical to its "parent". This type of asexual propagation is especially marvelous when a plant has a certain combination of characteristics that is particularly attractive to a steward—for example the fruit is tasty, abundant and stores well—and the steward wants to replicate that plant exactly.

     Agriculturalists have taken advantage of this property of plants, the ability to reproduce an entirely new and identical individual from just a piece of the parent plant, for hundreds of years. There are several possible methods for asexual propagation, and some work better than others depending on the plant with which you are working, the time of year and the materials at your disposal.

     This past week, I have been experimenting with a method referred to as making cuttings. Essentially, you cut off a 6-8 inch piece of new growth from the desired plant, making sure there are several buds on the cut piece, and plant it into a couple inches of soil. The idea is that the piece of the stem underground will develop roots of its own and so with time, sun and water this stem will develop into a whole plant. To stimulate the production of roots, you can take advantage of the fact that plants use chemical signals to communicate desired actions or responses, and so by providing an external chemical signal that plants recognize as "make roots" by applying rooting hormone to the base of the cut, you can facilitate the propagation process.

     I have made cuttings with two types of plants that we would like to have more of here at Windward. The first is a bush cherry that we already have growing on site, and the second is a naturalized plum that is growing down along the Klickitat River, which in summers past has provided the kitchen with mouth watering deliciousness.

     Different plants root better at different times of year, and some websites I read suggested that plums and cherries root better in the summer. But I thought it worth the effort to see if we could root these during winter, and if it doesn't work then we have all summer to do it also. The first step is to find new growth (from this past growing season) on the plant you want to propagate—usually it's a different color and not woody. I made a "straight" or "simple" cutting from the middle of the new growth, discarding the tip. I then rolled the lower end in rooting hormone (Naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA) and indolebutyric acid (IBA)), and placed it in moist soil. To maintain the moisture surrounding the cuttings, I fitted a clear plastic bag over the top, use a spray bottle daily to moisten the cuttings, and keep them out of direct sunlight.

     I found the Washington State University website to be clear and informative.

looking south from the Windward woods

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69