In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2007
Regional Report

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New plants from this lovely salmon geranium will grace my garden next year.

Taking Annual Cuttings

Often by this time of year frost has killed many of our annual flowers, making it too late to take cuttings to bring indoors for the winter. And, as usual, the frost caught me by surprise this year. However, my geraniums are still in beautiful form outdoors, so I've had a reprieve. In fact, I'm going to bring in the pots and take my cuttings at my leisure.

Taking cuttings of unusual flowers to save for next year is easy to do and it saves money. Also, small pots take up less space on the windowsill than large pots. I love my geraniums but I know they tend to suffer indoors and don't look so great unless they get plenty of light. I can grow cuttings under lights in the basement, though, and have them in fine form for next spring.

Although there are several ways to propagate annuals, stem cuttings seem to be the easiest. Choose healthy plants with plenty of long stems.

How to Take Stem Cuttings
Cut a stem into sections 3 to 4 inches long with at least two leaves, and remove all extra leaves and any flowers. Flowering tips are too succulent and will often rot, so cut them off. Dip the end of the cutting in water and then in rooting powder (available from any garden center). Insert the cutting deeply enough into sterile potting soil to assure that one node is below the soil. A node is where a leaf originates and where a cutting forms new roots most easily. It's also important to have enough stem below the soil to hold it upright.

Leave Geraniums to Dry
Although most cuttings should be planted soon after they are cut, geraniums should be cut and just left on the table to dry for at least an hour. Last year I accidentally left my cuttings out to dry for a whole day and they still rooted just fine.

Containers and Soil
Anything that holds soil and drains well will work to hold cuttings -- from recycled plastic nursery pots to paper pots or any other containers you can get your hands on. It is important to use sterile potting soil, though, since cuttings will be growing in it for several months and you certainly don't want to fight diseases.

Growing On
Keep the cuttings well watered and check regularly for rot. Remove any yellow or rotten leaves to keep things as clean as possible. Seldom do all cuttings root, and with some types of plants you will be lucky to get half of them to root. So take more cuttings than you think you'll need.

It's critical to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Strong light will help keep the cuttings strong, but it is certainly okay to use a windowsill. After several weeks, give a slight tug on each cutting. If it resists, it's already formed roots and is on its way. If the cutting comes out but is still firm and green, put it back and firm the soil around it.

Pinch, Pinch, Pinch
As the new plants begin growing, keep them pinched back hard to avoid soft, leggy growth. If they form flowers, pinch them out so the plants will put all their energy into making roots. Fertilize them with a very dilute houseplant fertilizer around February 1, and by the time the weather warms, you will have lush, healthy plants ready to begin hardening off for the big move outdoors.


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