Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Mad Propagationist, Part 1

Before the discovery of heat mats, the gardening year for me would end in October and start up again in March.  The only horticulturally stimulating thing that ever really happened during winter was venturing outside during the occasional arctic blast to wrap Christmas lights and blankets around some of the more subtropical plants (not fun).

Now that I'm armed with a greenhouse and a propagation station in the garage, the gardening year never ends.

The propagation station
To create my pocket-sized propagation paradise, I put a 48"x20.5" heat mat from Home Depot on the workbench in the garage and hung two fluorescent light fixtures 24" above the mat.  Each fixture has four light tubes producing 2600 lumens of light for a grand total of 20,800 lumens.  I have the lights on a timer so they are on for exactly 12 hours a day.  I also have the heat mat plugged in to an ordinary lamp dimmer so I can adjust the temperature as needed.

The great thing about having this station in the garage as opposed to a greenhouse is slugs & bugs can't find it.  It is also very helpful in rooting cuttings and starting seedlings because the air temperature is in the 45-60 degree range while the root temperature is in the 60-75 degree range.  Because the root temperature is about 10-20 degrees warmer than the air temperature, the plants focus on developing strong root systems and don't get too tall or floppy.  Let's take a look at what I have growing here at the moment:

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' pups resprouting from the base
Rooted leaf cutting of an unknown begonia (From Steve Hootman at the RSBG), rooted Fuchsia 'Hawkshead' cutting, and a Beschorneria yuccoides seedling
Bulbules & roots forming on the leaf of Eucomis 'Rhode Island Red'
Learning how to propagate plants is really all about failing upward.  This sweet bay cutting was taken way back in September 2013 (15 months ago) yet has still refused to root!  Four out of the 30 or so cuttings that I originally took are still alive after going 15 months without having any roots whatsoever (most of the others rooted within a few months).  This one even produced four new leaves in the meantime.  Plants are amazing.

A stubborn Laurus nobilis cutting
I have also taken some hardwood cuttings outside.  Here, are Deutzia 'Pink-A-Boo' branches that are about to be mostly buried in a pot of peat moss, left and forgotten about for three months, and then hopefully rooted to become new clones of the original.  I've also taken some hardwood cuttings from willow, grape, and fig branches.

Deutzia 'Pink-A-Boo' branches
Plant propagation takes a lot of patience and diligence but is at the same time endlessly rewarding even for the average gardener who isn't interested starting their own nursery.  Stay tuned to see what else is being replicated in the greenhouse...


  1. It's great to have these gadgets and means now, keeps the interest and activity going through the cold months!

    1. Yes indeed. It's a good thing plants don't have calendars.

  2. came across your blog while researching for plant lust (your post on your first visit to Far Reaches, which I've yet to visit.) Of course, all the cool kids have scooped me, Loree, Mark & Gaz, et al.

    Propagation seems like the logical next step. But that means giving up my notion that propagation entails visiting a great nearby nursery. We are so rich in nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. I'm trying to over winter a few plants in the basement this year, so we'll see.

    Nice blog. Look forward to catching up.

    1. Thanks Patricia! I'm glad you found it. And you are very right about Loree and Mark & Gaz finding everything first.

  3. The begonia looks like B. emeiensis, which is one of the hardier species. Easy to grow, and easy to propagate, but wants more water than any other begonia I've ever grown!