In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
October, 2009
Regional Report

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Give a strawberry plant a good place to spread and it will propagate itself.

More Plants for You

I have more to say about techniques for propagating plants, as discussed in the column prior to this one. But there's more to consider if you're serious about making more plants.

Peat Pots and Beyond
When you're a little nutty about starting seeds and rooting cuttings, you'll try most anything people suggest. That's why I rooted tomatoes outdoors in coffee cans and started pepper seeds atop my refrigerator in egg cartons. Both worked to an extent, but the tomato soil heated up terribly in the metal containers. And the pepper seeds quickly outgrew their soil and rooted into the Styrofoam, making transplant a real pain. There are better ways.

Indoors or out, the same principles apply: start seeds in sterile seed starting mix, thoroughly clean any rooting containers that you recycle, water the soil mix once, then sow seed. The need to avoid introducing pathogens into the seed bed leads many gardeners to use peat pots and peat pellets. These simple devices cannot be allowed to dry out, and are easiest to manage with bottom watering. I use peat cups for many seeds, like parsley, that are not easily started outdoors in the garden. Reserve peat pellets for seeds of plants like poppies that collapse when their roots are disturbed.

Fresh Seed
Just a word or two about the pack rat part of this obsession. You can read all about how to store seed, and some of it is important. Here's my first confession: I have drawers full of seed packs, for of all sorts of plants. Each year, I dutifully go through and toss out any that are more than five years old and sprout a few of a few older ones to see if they're viable. They almost always are.

I don't refrigerate, don't freeze, don't use a seal-a-meal. I leave seeds in their paper packs and toss them in a drawer indoors. If you do put them in the refrigerator, leave the seeds in paper, and put the packs into a plastic box. Water is the enemy, as is excessive heat and sunlight. It makes sense to exclude water or condensation since the first step to getting seeds to sprout is to provide water to them in an environment that is as wet or dry as they require.

Many seeds sprout much faster if bottom heat is provided, and some, like lettuce, need sunlight to germinate. Germination happens when a viable seed takes up water and its first root or shoot bursts the seed coat and emerges to begin growth. When the first leaves emerge, they are called seed leaves and are often small and formed differently from the true leaves that follow.

Leafy Passion
Rooting from leaves is one technique that deserves more attention. Clean sand is best for most plants commonly rooted from their leaves. Some need their obvious stems attached, like African violets, and a recycled deli dish works well for them. It's important to make a fresh cut at the end of the stem at the moment you are sticking it into the damp sand in the dish. Plunge it in so most of the stem is below the sand. Succulents, especially sedums like the old favorite hen-and-chicks, will weep a little when you remove the leaf for rooting. Let them sit out for a few hours before sticking into the sand to prevent rot.


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