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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Garden Spot

Air Date: Week of

Living On Earth’s traditional gardener, Michael Weishan (WYS-han), shows host Steve Curwood some techniques for propagating plants during the summer months.


(Music up and under; fade to traffic sounds, and digging)

CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener. Michael, it's about 100 degrees in the shade out here. What are you doing?

WEISHAN: I'm out here by the road in the road garden here, digging up some iris, because we're going to talk about dividing plants, because it's the perfect time of year.

CURWOOD: You don't mean mathematics, do you? Because I'm not so good on division.

WEISHAN: No, we're talking about propagating plants. There's many different ways that one can go about getting new plants for the garden without having to go to the garden center and plunk down a lot of money. And one of the easiest ways to do that is through division. I mean, we're out here by the iris garden and I want to show you how we go about starting some new plants.


WEISHAN: Here we have a very large clump of iris, and things are starting to get a little crowded. And if I wanted to get additional iris, for instance, for another area of the yard, all I need to do is take my shovel (digging sounds) and cut in-between the plants. And you see how I've just now popped these two up?


WEISHAN: Well, (grunts) I pull them out of the ground here, and you just cut the leaves off, so that they have a little less of a strain here to get re-established.

CURWOOD: So you've left about 6 inches of green stuff on this fork.

WEISHAN: Exactly.


WEISHAN: And there we have two new plants ready to roll.

CURWOOD: All right. Well now, let's head back into the other part of the garden where we can look at some other things we can do on a hot July day.

(Footfalls and bird song)

WEISHAN: Dividing, of course, isn't the only way you can start new plants. There are several other ways. And one of the least-known is a process called layering. Essentially, layering is the process of getting roots established on a branch that's still attached to the mother plant. And you can use layering on a large number of plants. Old roses are one of the easiest ones to do it on. And it's a really simple process. You dig a very shallow hole, and you take the branch and bend it down to the ground. And then you cover it with soil, like this, and you put a weight or something on top of it, like this stone. And the roots will slowly form here where we've buried this. And when it's fully rooted, we'll snip it off the mother plant and have a whole brand new rose. The nice thing about this is that plants that are very hard to propagate by seed, to have come true to seed like roses, can be propagated this way through layering.

(Scraping sounds)

WEISHAN: We still have another process that we can show you, and it's as simple as doing cutting, so let's step into the greenhouse. Okay, right here in the greenhouse I have cut up some tips off the boxwood. And what I've done is simply filled a number of small, little pots with a good potting soil, and dipped them in a growth hormone, a common variety, it's called Rootone. And put it in the container, and put them in a damp, cool place. Keep it out of direct sunlight; it's important to keep the cuttings in the shade until they're fully rooted.

CURWOOD: Okay, so you have about, oh, four inches or so, four to six inches of new growth that you snipped off to do this.

WEISHAN: Exactly. We just snipped off about four or six inches of the tips of the branches, and put it right in the soil, buried it about an inch deep.

CURWOOD: So this is really a way to save dough.

WEISHAN: Yeah, you can save a lot of money. Now, what's required is a bit of patience, because obviously you have to wait for them to root and you have to wait for them to grow, but if you have the patience and not the checkbook, this is a method for you.

CURWOOD: Okay, Michael, how do you know which plants are good for cuttings, which can be divided, which can use this layering technique?

WEISHAN: (Laughs) Well, some I know from experience, and most of them I don't. So I do what everyone else should do, which is to consult a good propagation guide. And there are two great ones to start with. One was published a few years ago in the mid-80s by Story, called The Secrets of Plant Propagation. The author is Louis Hill. This has a terrific index in the back telling you exactly when and how various plants can be propagated. Another one that came out with terrific illustrations just recently, very easy, step by step guide, is the Taylor's Weekend Gardening Series. It's another wonderful book, and you can really save a lot of money by propagating your own plants.

CURWOOD: All right. I want to thank you for taking all this time with us today, Michael.

WEISHAN: Oh, my pleasure. A little hot, but you're always welcome, Steve.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener, and publisher of Traditional Gardening magazine. If you have a question for Michael or a comment, you can reach him through our web site. It's www.livingonearth.org. And click on the watering can.



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