September 17, 2014
We have plenty of space to grow more plants in the orchard! We could spend a lot of money purchasing all the berry bushes and companion plants we need to fill the tree guilds and planting beds. Instead, we are propagating our own plants, mostly from cuttings and division. New plants, new skills.
I took my first propagation lesson at Seattle Tilth. The winter savory we cut and planted in that class is now growing in the Liberty tree guild. A ‘cutting’ is a piece of new growth taken from the plant and cared for while it races to develop roots to stand on its own.
Propagation from a cutting is not as simple as just snipping a woody stem and sticking it in the soil. Some plants, like willow, are almost that easy but most require careful attention to several factors. The new growth must be cut at the right time, properly prepared, placed in the right medium, and kept moist, but not wet. So far, I’ve been successful with winter savory, grapes, currents, honeyberries, lavender, and elderberry. I have failed with figs and blueberries, but I’m not giving up. I’ve learned a few things and I’ll try again.
Propagation by plant division is much easier. Often it is as simple as digging up a plant, dividing the root mass, and replanting as two or more plants. For example, at a spring work party volunteers divided the daffodil bulbs growing around the pear tree and moved half of them to the Early Fuji tree guild.
Strawberries divide themselves by sending out runners. I’ve been placing the young runners in little pots where they can take root and mature. I then move them to a new guild.
Propagation from either cuttings or plant division gives you an exact copy of the parent plant. As such, it is important that you like what that parent produced. Before I take cuttings of a fruit-bearing plant, I taste the fruit! Likewise, if I want to propagate a pollinator plant I make sure I’m cutting from a plant that bees like.
As I’ve worked at starting new plants, I’ve amassed a few resources. I usually start by doing a web search on the name of the plant I want to grow and then add ‘propagation’. I find the state and county extension service sites most trustworthy. A good one from North Carolina is http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/pdf/hil-8702.pdf The Secrets of Plant Propagation, by Lewis Hill, is an excellent manual to which I refer frequently, but I am not always patient enough to follow his highly regimented methods.
We still need volunteers to help on the Plant Selection Committee. Please consider serving.