Propagation for Overwintering Insurance

26 Oct

So this year I decided to do what I said I wouldn’t do a few years ago… Bring a bunch if tender stuff in to try and overwinter it again. I don’t know what it is, but people always seem to want what is difficult to keep, rather than the perfectly serviceable, even beautiful stuff that is hardy itself. Soooo, here I go trying to keep various Cupheas, more tropical type Salvias and Fuchsias, and some other random stuff inside this year. It’s kind of silly in some ways… Most of this stuff is fairly easy to replace in 4″ pots for around 3-4 dollars each, but instead I’m gonna play the watering roulette to see if I can pull things through till spring.

One up side to all this is that if I can keep things alive till February or even March, I can propagate the hell out of the ones I really like, to spread even more cheer for next summer’s garden. This is kind of why I want to do this, to have a whole bed of Cuphea ignea a d boxes full of Fuchsia triphylla ‘Mary’. For the rest, I’m just being curious, lol.

But of course, while I was bringing things in, I couldn’t help but start some things as “insurance” of some of the stuff I am leaving outside I don’t want to loose either- a couple of supposedly hardy salvias, some of the more water sensitive Cupheas, a pelargonium or two, that kind of thing. This is like saying, ok… I have the big one that should survive, but if I grow on a couple of cuttings, maybe I can have better odds of getting at least one to survive. And if they all do, cool… More to plant out in spring!

Where exactly I gonna put all these pots until that happens is the big question… The big windows in the living room are already two deep with pots, lol, and I didn’t even get everything in yet *sigh*.

Ok, so this post is mostly about my propagation systems. So… Years ago I got this rather nice propagation box from the good folks online at the Garderner’s Supply Company. I think back the. It was strictly mail order, we’re talking 20 some odd years ago, lol, long before Internet commerce was a thing. The unit is a little best up now, the styrofoam base is a little broken down around the edges, but it still works great, and seems the folks at Gardener’s Supply haven’t done anything much to change it. I kind of wish the base was a little more durable, but it is nice it’s so light, so that when you pick it up when it’s full, it still is pretty light. So this basically is a basin well, with a little stand thing that fits in it, and a grid like thing that sits on top of that, which when filled with an appropriate soil mix grows out the cuttings or seed. The ingenious thing with these is the sheet that wicks water up from the well to underneath the growing cells, and keeps things reasonably hydrated if you just remember to fill the well back up every few days. If the well dries, the wicking sheet dries, and then all bets are off. I long ago lost the cover to mine, but it was shorter than I liked anyway. I now simply place the whole thing in a steroids type bin, inverted so its sitting on the lid. Works great, and gives me more room for the cuttings to grow, and not incidentally, better control over air flow, and an additional tray for water, for more humidity control as well.


Here you can see the unit inside it’s bin. I got these bins from Costco, a set of three was around 10-15 bucks I think. Well worth the cost for this, and we use ’em for all kind of other things too. They work great. To begin with, when I first put the cuttings in, I keep it basically closed, and will even leave a little water in the lid to up the humidity in the enclosed bin, to aid the initial surge to produce roots. Here, I have placed it in a sunny south facing window. On a sunny day, these heat up. In Seattle, there isn’t too much problem with this, but in warmer climates you might want to keep watch they don’t get cooked in there, lol, but it’s generally cool enough here that’s not a problem I have had.

Now, that little unit quickly filled up, and I had more I wanted to make cuttings of. Last year I made my own self watering units from plastic bottles. This worked ok for some things, not so great with others. They are easy to make out of something that generally gets used once or maybe a couple of times, then thrown out… And we did some work on the house this summer, where some guys ended up using a bunch of bottled water and I saved the bottles from them, so I had a bunch of them waiting to be used… So, I decided to try making a tray like the one above, but from these bottles and an old wash basin we had. I did them the same as the others I did before-

1) poke a hole in the lid with a sharp pin, then pry it open with a small Phillips head screw driver. I poke from the top down first, then a second time from the inside out, so the excess plastic is poked to the outside, and the inside of the lid is more or less smooth.

2) cut a length of cotton twine or yarn about 8 inches or so, double it over and tie a knot about and inch from the cut ends. Poke the loop through the hole from the inside out, leaving the two ends on the inside. This will act as the wick for the pot. Put the lid back on the pot, make sure you don’t catch the string in the threads.

3) with a sharp knife, I use a serrated bread knife, cut the bottom off the bottle. Last year I wanted free standing ones, so I cut half way down, so the base of the bottle could act as a well for water. This year I wanted a deeper pot, and am using the wash basin for a reservoir, so I cut them about an in h from the bottom, maybe a little less. These bases I discarded, and now have taller “pots” to work with.

Here is the finished project, full now, and most of them starting to grow after a week or two. I took the lid off for this pic of course-


And lifting one of the bottles up so you can see how they work-


With an in h or two of water in the wash basin, the pots can wick what they need up into the pot. So far so good… But what I am going to do when these get big enough to come out of these pots I’m not sure. I’m kind of hoping they can stay in this basin all winter, but they may get wayyyy too crowded. We will have to see.

Some things definitely do better than other propagated this way. If its a plant that likes it dry, this probably won’t work well. If however, it likes constant moisture, this should be a great way to propagate it. Assuming of course you watch the water level and never let them dry out.

And about that… Gradually over time the plants will tend to slowly dry out the soil in the pot, so you may need to water the pots every once in a while. Usually though, you just pour the water into the basin and let the wick draw what the plant needs up into the soil. Of course, fertilizer can be added to the water if your plants need a boost, but remember that in a multi pot system like this, everything will get it, lol.

So, what all do I have in the propagation pipeline at the moment?

Salvia patens ‘Cobalt’
Abutilon megapotamicum
Pelargonium ‘Tango Velvet Red’
Coleus ‘Kiwi Fern’
Senecio confusa
Lantana camara ‘Lamdmark Peach Sunrise’
Osteospermum cultivars
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’
Fuchsia ‘Billy Green’
Fuchsia ‘Mary’
Stronilanthes dyerianus
Cuphea ignea
Cuphea llavea ‘Flamenco Samba’
Cuphea llavea ‘Tiny Mice’
Cuphea cyanea ‘Caribbean Sunset’
Bacopa monieri
Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’

There may be a few more in there soon- another salvia I forgot to take a cutting of, some other fuchsias we had in baskets, that kind of thing. I just hope I get half this stuff through till next summer!


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