Notes from Windward: #70


Propagating Perennials


February 7, 2010

     Since the winter is a resting time for most plants, it is also a great time for propagating perennials. The demands on plants are much lower during this dormant stage, and so they are better able to withstand the stresses that propagating can place on them. Over the past few weeks, we have been working to propagate a variety of useful and edible plants.

soaking hicory nuts prior to stratifying

Hickory Trees:

      Hickory trees are native to the eastern hardwood region. Their strong flexible wood is known for use in making tool handles and their nuts can be either food for humans or forage for animals. With some of our tool handles breaking recently, we have been talking about adding hickories to our forest as a continual source of wood for handles.

     When I was back east visiting family over the holidays, I lucked upon some hickory trees in the woods and so gathered up some nuts that the squirrels had so kindly unburied from the foot of snow on the forest floor. Hickories, like most northern tree nuts, need to spend several weeks in a cold, moist environment in order to germinate. Various websites recommended soaking the nuts for four days prior to stratifying them, so I did. They are now in the fridge, nestled in amongst some moss.

grape cuttings


     Grapes are of course a delicious addition to any perennial gardenscape. They also create shade and take advantage of vertical space. Grapes are most easily propagated by taking dormant cuttings, which combines well with pruning in late winter. You want to gather cuttings from healthy portions of first year growth, preferably where the nodes are close together. You want to have at least four nodes per cutting, three to be planted beneath the soil for rooting, and one above for leafing out.

      When taking the cuttings it is important to distinguish between the bottom and top of the canes to ensure that you plant it with the proper orientation- an easy way to do this is to have one angled cut and one flat cut. It is also important that the cuttings do not dry out prior to rooting them, so I just put the ends of the cuttings in some moist soil when transporting them back to Windward. I mixed up a 3:1 soil mixture of perlite:peat to use as the rooting medium and dipped each of the below ground nodes in rooting hormone prior to planting.

     From here, there are several options. With this first batch, I am trying to create the optimum environment for callus cell formation. (Callus cells are undifferentiated plant cells that form as a necessary first step in many propagation methods. Any new roots that form from the grape nodes will grow from callus cells). So, I have placed the containers with the cuttings on a heating pad, to warm the soil to 75-80 degrees F. I am attempting to keep the above ground stems of the cuttings moist by periodically spritzing them with water, and am keeping the soil damp but not soggy.

     If this works, roots will be forming within 1-2 weeks. There are many online descriptions of propagating grapes from cuttings which include diagrams that may prove helpful.

MaryLou checks out a knot of rhubarb


     Rhubarb is a plant that will theoretically take advantage of the our spring moisture and provide a wonderful complement to strawberries come June. Rhubarb is best propagated in winter by dividing the roots when a single clump is large enough.

rhubarb knot divided in half

     Today, MaryLou and Carina prepared a new bed in the spiral herb/perennial garden for a new rhubarb patch. We have had rhubarb growing in the experimental tires, but rhubarb likes a cooler, shadier environment than the black tires provide and so moving them up into the shade of an oak will hopefully provide a better growing environment for the classic spring crop.

      One of the rhubarb clumps we transplanted from the tire was large enough to be divided and so MaryLou did so simply using a sharp shovel. Long term, we would like to get a "wild" patch of rhubarb growing down by the creek, but it looks like we will have to let the plants grow some more before we have enough plants to make that worthwhile.

planting plums by the new entrance


      For a while now we have been gathering plums from one of the abandoned homesteads nearby. There is one patch that seems to have propagated through runners and so has grown into a plum thicket. Last week on a trip back from town, Opalyn and I dug up some of the smaller saplings to transplant them on site. In an effort to take advantage of the landscape features, we decided to plant them down by the seasonal creek, where the plums will have the greatest access to natural moisture.

      Currently, each transplant has several stems growing, which we will eventually want to trim back to encourage a tree shape that will grow above the deer munching level. However, we will wait to do this until after we know which of the stems have survived the stress of being uprooted and moved.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70