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Expand your plant collection at family reunions

By Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/26/16/58/eYzcd.Em.138.jpeg|237
    HANDOUT - CLEMSON COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE
    Sweet peas are easy to propagate with seeds gathered from the plants in summer.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/26/16/58/1uinCl.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - OBSERVER FILE PHOTO
    Beautiful in summer, caladiums can be dug, stored and preserved this fall

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    Ask Nancy

    Q. I have some beautiful caladiums! Can I save the bulbs over the winter and replant them next spring? If so, how can I do it?

    A. In the fall, once the foliage begins to die down, dig up the bulbs, clean them and store in a paper bag in a frost-free place through the winter. Replant in spring and enjoy.


Many gardeners will use part of their summer vacations for family reunions far from home. Sometimes these reunions are held at family home places where treasured plants have thrived for many decades.

This is an opportunity to consider carefully.

Perhaps there are sweet peas growing on a fence that you have always loved. Or a daylily plant that has been growing in a great-aunt’s garden forever. Or a lovely spiraea that you’ve always admired.

Seeds, cuttings and divisions are practical methods of bringing bits of these plants home to grow in your own landscape and keep the memories blooming. For example, gathering seed pods of garden flowers, such as old-fashioned sweet peas, sunflowers, zinnias or hollyhocks, is a snap. You just collect a brown seed pod, pop it open and let the seeds fall into a paper envelope. Don’t do this right outside because many could spill onto the ground. Do this over a sheet of newspaper to catch stray seeds. Keep the saved seeds in a cool, dry place until planting time. Write the name of the plant and the date of collection on the envelope.

Other kinds of plants may require more effort. For example, evergreen and herbaceous perennials such as Lenten roses, ferns, hostas, black-eyed Susans and hardy sunflowers, can be dug and divided. This causes no harm to the original plant, which can be replanted once you complete the division. To do this, simply dig the clump, shake off loose soil and look closely at the base of the plant. There you will see a group of close-knit plants that can be gently pulled or cut apart to make individual plants. Allow some soil to remain attached to the roots to keep them moist. Wrap the roots in a damp paper towel and store these new divisions in a small bag until you get home.

Tall, bearded irises are popular choices and live for many years. They produce fat, horizontal roots called rhizomes at the soil line. But you don’t have to dig up the entire clump. Simply work a trowel between the rhizomes to separate them, then gently dig up one, roots and all. The parent clump may remain undisturbed. Transport them in a paper bag and replant soon.

Many old-fashioned shrubs, including shrub roses, spiraea, hydrangea and azaleas, can be propagated by cuttings you will root in small pots for eventual planting in your garden. A rooting hormone will aid the process.

Make these cuttings about 3 inches long, and use clean shears that have been disinfected with household bleach to reduce the spread of diseases. The cut end should be semi-mature wood located just below the soft green wood at the tip of a branch. Green wood could rot before rooting and more mature hardwood won’t root readily.

It’s best to plant the cuttings immediately in a small pot with potting soil.

Enclose the potted cutting in a plastic bag while traveling. You can put more than one cutting in the pot while they are growing new roots.

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