Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Plants for Free - Propagating Lavender
Lavender is one of my favourite flowers - it's fragrant, bees love it, it grows into nice looking shrubs, and I use the blossoms in my handmade soap. And with more and more product sales this year I know that I need to make sure that I have enough homegrown lavender to use in my products.
Lavender can be successfully propagated in various ways depending on the time of year. In summer and autumn you can take semi-ripe cuttings and winter is the time to plant ripe cuttings. But in the spring you propagate by take either soft-wood cuttings, layering an existing shrub or by sowing seeds.
Taking cuttings is basically snipping a piece of an existing plant and placing it in compost to grow its own roots. In effect, the small plants that result of taking cuttings are clones of the parent plant and will produce the exact same foliage, flowers and root system - providing the parent plant wasn't grafted. Many plants can be propagated this way and it's the cheapest and most effective way to increase the number of plants you have in your garden. It's also a wonderful way to share plants in the community since you can take cuttings from plants in friends' gardens or even from shrubs found overhanging public footpaths, pavements, carparks and green spaces. Granted you have the permission of course (wink wink!). It's also a non-obtrusive method of propagation and the parent plant will not be affected at all. So the next time you see a lovely rose bush, Hydrangea or Lavender shrub do keep it in mind for a propagating experiment of your own.
Soft-wood is the new fresh growth that plants put on in spring. Each sprig of soft-wood can either be left on the shrub to increase its own size or it can be taken off and used to root a brand new plant. Early on in the spring some of the new green growth might be a bit short so it's also possible to root from the main stem the new leaves are growing out of. This older stem is called ripe wood and will readily grow roots providing that you cut it in the right place and apply a rooting compound.
Using a very sharp knife cut just below a leaf node about five cm (2 inches) from the top of the cutting. A leaf node is any place along the stem where the joints of leaves grow out of and you can see what this means in the above photo. Using scissors is not a good idea for this step either, in case you had it in mind. They actually pinch the stem as they cut and partially close the stem making rooting difficult.
Using that same knife cut all but the top bunch of leaves from the stem. You need a few leaves to feed the plant but too many forces the plant to direct energy and food to the leaves rather than to the business of putting down roots.
Now dip the bottom 3 cm (3/4 inch) of the stem into your Rooting Compound and then bury the cutting along the edge of a small pot filled with suitable compost. You want the compost to be able to retain moisture but to be free draining so 50% ordinary compost mixed with 50% Perlite. Terracotta pots are a bit better than plastic pots for this exercise since Terracotta can breathe, whereas air and water can't pass through plastic. This breathe-ability creates better conditions for rooting and can also reduce the chance of fungal attacks. And if you're able to soak the terracotta pots in water overnight, all the better. The ceramic will actually absorb some of the water making the material immediately more breathable.
After your cuttings have been prepared and planted in the compost water them thoroughly but gently. Place them in a warm place such as a greenhouse or conservatory and place a plastic bag over the top. The bag helps to retain warmth and moisture and is essential unless you're using a dedicated propagator set-up. Rooting will take place within the next 1-2 months after which they can be gently taken out, potted up individually and placed outside in a cold frame to harden off. Once they are about 8-10 cm (3-4 inches) tall they can then be planted outside in slightly alkaline and free-draining soil. If you have acidic clay soil as I do, then try digging in some garden Lime and grit into their final position before planting out. Boggy and acidic soil will cause the demise of your carefully propagated lavender seedlings.
Like last year I'm also growing lavender from seed, though it takes quite a bit longer to have adult plants than if you grow from cuttings. Most people don't bother with seed but as I've said before, I'm an official crazy seed lady! However, saving lavender seed yourself can result in plants with unpredictable flowering and growing habits so I recommend buying packets of seed from a reputable dealer.
The seeds I sowed two weeks ago are already coming up in their seed tray and I've included a picture of them below. They'll likely stay in their seed tray a bit longer than most of my plants but by summer I'll have them planted up in large modules before potting them up in individual pots by autumn. The lavender you see growing in the bottom picture comes from seeds that I sowed this time last year and have been overwintering in my cold frame. They'll be planted out in a newly dug bed in the next week and will have filled by the end of the summer.
Propagating your own plants from cuttings rather than seeds can be a rewarding experience - both in terms of gardening enjoyment and financial savings. It's also very easy to do and once you've propagated one plant you'll have the basics for propagating almost any other. Patience is always key when it comes to nurturing any living thing but those weeks or months of waiting will pay out dividends when the time for planting out rolls around. If you're interested in learning more, I'd highly recommend buying a good book on propagation - two of which are in the Amazon sidebar on my blog. Plants for free is always a good thing in my book.
Click this link to go to part two of this post.