Edibles In Containers (Dedicated To My Father)

I was walking amongst my veggies as I was thinking about my post for this week. It occurred to me that it had been about 15 years since I had planted vegetables in the open ground. I grow almost all of my edibles in containers.

My container garden

My container garden

I started raising edibles in containers kinda by accident. We had moved to our new house and I was pregnant with our first child. As large and pregnant as I was, it would have been difficult to start raised beds or clear a space of open ground – so there came the pots. Pots and Pots. Large pots. Small pots. New pots. Old pots. And guess what? Everything grew wonderfully! For some reason I was surprised – I shouldn’t have been. Plants are wired to live and survive. And sometimes thrive!

I think so many of us have gotten the idea that vegetables will only grow in the ground and that pots are for flowers. My dear, sweet father, the one that introduced me to gardening, would clear a “patch” in the backyard and put in a vegetable garden. Every year it was always a big family project. A tiller would be rented and plant starts would be bought from Green Brothers Nursery in Decatur. I would go with him to the nursery and try to talk him into buying every flower I saw. He would mostly shake his head and say something like “We’ve got to get tomatoes, remember?”

My wonderful father is gone and I miss him terribly. I sometimes wonder what my dad would say about my container garden. In regards to my fig tree, I think he would agree that figs should be in pots. He had a tall fig tree at our family home and the birds always got most of the figs. My fig produces quite a lot of fruit, and I prune it to grow no larger than 7 feet tall. I get about 3-4 dozen figs every year and they taste like ambrosia from heaven. The neat thing about this tree is that it was bought at Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello. Jefferson loved figs and had many fig trees around his house. This was a cutting, rooted by the workers at the Monticello nursery and it rode home to Georgia on my lap in the car. Gardening dedication at its best.

Thomas Jefferson's Brown Turkey Fig

Thomas Jefferson’s Brown Turkey Fig

Here are some tips for growing edibles in containers:

Always check that they are moist – keep them well watered. Plants in pots tend to dry out quicker than those planted in the ground.

Use potting soil designed for containers. Don’t use soil out of the garden, it won’t drain as well.

Don’t over feed the plants. Many veggies will put out a lot of foliage and not a lot of fruit if over fed. I put compost and manure mixed with the potting soil at planting time and maybe one more liquid feed during the season.

Many fruit trees like apples, figs and blueberries do wonderfully in containers. You can also keep them pruned smaller for easier harvesting.

A young tomato

A young tomato

A tip on tomatoes – plant them in the largest pot you can find. You will see at the end of the season that the root system of the tomato has completely filled the pot. I know a gardener that plants her tomatoes in huge garbage cans by drilling drainage holes in the bottom and then filling them with potting soil!

My list of this year’s edibles:

Figs, Beans, Peppers, Tomatoes, Lemons, Strawberries, Blueberries, Herbs

Star Trek and Mother Earth

I just went to see the new Star Trek movie. Yes, I’m a gardener and a Star Trek fan. The movie was really great! I enjoyed it very much! I know. You’re asking – so what? Well I had a gardening revelation during the movie. Yes – I know that’s even worse. I’m having gardening thoughts during a high action movie like Star Trek, but hear me out.

The beautiful blue sky

The movie story takes place on space ships and 3 or 4 different planets. How can you differentiate planets in a science fiction movie? How do you highlight the planet Earth? The answer is green and blue. Every time they showed Earth you could see green grass, green trees, blue sky. Earth also had some futuristic, tall buildings but with them you also saw nature. Mother Earth. The big blue and green marble. Without these things it’s not our beautiful home. Our beautiful planet.

At the beginning of the movie, you see Captain Kirk on a planet. It is not Earth. As he walks, in the background you see red trees. It gives you the impression of someone walking through a slaughter house with blood everywhere. But it is not blood, it is the foliage and nature of another planet. A planet that is not our beloved home. There is no green foliage. The beautiful green that is my favorite color. It’s not our blue and green marble hanging in the universe.

A green leaf, sign of life

On Star Trek – Next Generation, one of the first shots on the show is of the resident robot, Data, in a setting that looks like the Garden of Eden. The garden is not real, it is a hologram created on the ship’s holodeck. The creators of the show wanted it to look as though gardens were a very rare element in the future. I certainly hope this doesn’t come true. An article in an organic magazine stated that as years have gone by more and more young people choose not to go into any agricultural field of study. We have less and less farmers. Less and less horticulturalists. And in the future we will have even less. I worry for our nation and for the ability for us to feed ourselves. I feel we must encourage our children to love nature, know where our food comes from, develop an interest in growing food and pass this knowledge on to their own children.

The astronauts that walked on the moon said the most beautiful sight to them was the Earth. Earth. The beautiful blue orb in the moon sky. It represented home, everything they knew and loved. I was struck during the Star Trek movie by how much I love our Earth. God must be pleased as He looks down upon his lovely creation. We are so lucky to look up to the blue sky, feel the green grass under our toes, watch butterflies twirl around us. So much of life is filled to overflowing with the trivial things of life. Today I looked up to the beautiful blue sky and the green plants all around me. I encourage you to look at the green and the blue that is around you. To plant something today. And to teach your kids to plant, too.

Garden Tours or Snooping and It’s Okay!

Mother’s Day is my favorite holiday and not just because I’m a Mom. It is when my whole family goes on a local Garden Tour. For those of you that follow me on Twitter, you may have seen that I had gone this past weekend. It’s called the Connoisseurs Garden Tour and proceeds go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It has been held every year on Mother’s Day since the early 1980’s. It’s my favorite gardening event of the year and my family treats me like a queen.

My hubby, who is not a gardener, but loves a redheaded gardener (me), acts as chauffeur for the day. This is his brilliant solution to the difficult parking problem. The gardens on the tour are private homes and therefore parking is nonexistent. He selflessly drives us around to each house on the tour, me and the kids jump out of the car and he parks several streets over till we call him on a cell phone to be picked up. It is such a kind, loving thing that he does for me every Mother’s Day. Otherwise, I would walk my legs off just getting to and from our car. If money ever becomes a non-issue in the future, I have promised myself I will hire a driver for the day and give my sweet husband a break.

It is the simple act of snooping behind someone else’s garden fence. Don’t we all want to see what is in our neighbor’s garden? It’s a fun day. You can see so many different styles and sizes of gardens. We saw gardens the size of postage stamps and one garden that was on 5 acres. I took some photos of some great ideas.

This garden had a gravel and stone walkway out to the street. The gardener had planted Bachelor Buttons in between the flagstones. They were the most amazing blue color. I loved it!

Cobblestone path at a garden on the tour Bachelor's Button close-up

This garden had a wonderful sitting area in a corner. I’m a lucky Mom to have such beautiful children (13-year-old Nathan and 5-year-old Jamie). They love going with me and always notice plants or items I would have otherwise missed. I hope they will grow up to be fabulous gardeners!

A lovely sitting area

This gardener had a metal, bathtub water feature. Very different and unusual. It makes you think of other things that could be used the same way.

A bathtub repurposed as a water feature

I am envious of gardeners with Foxgloves! I’ve tried many times to grow them. One day I will make them work in my garden somehow.

Foxgloves

I loved this container planting with Ferns, Caladiums, and Geraniums. Really pretty and full. Shows you what can be done with a simple container. Love the colors, too.

A colorful planter

Look at this incredible Boxwood garden. I love the sculpture in the center. It shows us all that green should be included as a “color” in our garden. And there are so many shades of green. I love topiary like this because the sun and shade on the Boxwood create so much texture.

A boxwood hedge

Another beautiful water feature. My children loved playing with the gardener’s dog. He was garden mascot for the day!

A water feature with the gardener's dog

Here’s me and my son Jamie. It was a wonderful little nook with a bench and dozens of different kinds of groundcovers. The wheel in the middle is a millstone. I loved the urns on either side of us.

A seating nook

Here is a terraced garden with a Tuscan feel. It was unbelievably high. When you get to the top you find their raised beds of vegetables and herbs. Really inspiring and beautiful!

The Tuscan garden

The last garden we visited was mind-blowing. The size was very large – 5 acres and packed full of trees, shrubs, roses, and flowers. It had a mystical feel to it. Like walking through a mirror into another world. From the street to the front of the house is a meandering path through a forest. In a shady glade is a 7 foot tall statue of a buck.

A deer statue

As we moved closer to the front of the house, we heard beautiful music. When we reached the front steps, we looked up to see a young girl playing a harp. Very well, I might add. She was beautiful and magical and like a little fairy princess.

A little fairy princess on her harp

This garden also had a labyrinth made out of privet hedging. I would love to have taken a picture of it but to do so I would have had to climb a tree to get a good shot above it. It was amazing and the children loved it.

This garden had many different fountains and water features. One water feature became awe-inspiring when you reached the top of a hillside and looked down at the tiers of ponds. Only a photo will explain it properly. Amazing!

A water feature with many beautiful pools

I love living in the Atlanta area. We have such an amazing climate to garden in. I am so grateful for this annual garden tour. I can think back to so many wonderful gardens I have seen on many Mother’s Day weekends. Thank you to all the gardeners who opened their garden gates and let me and my children walk through on Sunday.

My Top 3 Lemon Scented And Lemon Flavored Herbs

My container herb garden

My container herb garden

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m passionate about herbs, especially lemon scented ones. I try every spring to stay on a “plant budget” at the nursery. That means I am careful what plants I buy, know where I’m going to put them, and try to not make impulse buys. Part of my money goes for flowers, then shrubs I have studied about, then herbs that I can’t live without. Three of my favorite herbs are lemon scented and lemon flavored. They make the most wonderful tea and also flavor everything from chicken to cookies.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balmLemon balm has medium green heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are slightly serrated and a little wrinkly. It is a hardy perennial growing anywhere from 1 to 3 feet tall. It grows in partial shade, but it will also grow in full sun if it has enough water. Like all herbs, it prefers soil with good drainage. The small, white flowers it has later in the year are insignificant but because of these it can reseed itself abundantly. I would try to contain it in a bed of its own or maybe a very large decorative pot. This herb needs some restraint or it might try to take over your garden when your back is turned. As a medicinal herb, lemon balm is excellent for soothing the nerves and helping with stress-related digestive disorders. In cooking, it has a wonderful lemon scent and subtle lemon flavor. Many people like lemon balm tea made with dried or fresh leaves. Its subtle flavor is great in cakes and cookies, too. Below I have included a few recipes with lemon balm.

Lemon balm

Lemon Thyme

Thyme is a twiggy little plant with tiny oval-shaped leaves. Lemon thyme is a little lighter shade of green than the normal, regular thyme plant. Small flower spikes appear later in the year and encourage every bee in your neighborhood to it. Thyme is a perennial that grows from 6 inches to 1 foot in height. It loves to grow in full sun and dry, sandy soil. I Pot of lemon thymehave cooked chicken with lemon thyme, but surprisingly the tiny leaves taste great in salads, too. I’m contemplating covering a dry, sunny hill with this plant. In the least, I would love laying on it and rolling down it. It is a problem area for me and maybe this would be the solution. I certainly wouldn’t mind it if the plant were to spread around. As a medicinal herb, thyme has a soothing affect on nerves and removes mucus from head, lungs, and the respiratory system. I love to add fresh thyme leaves to green tea. It is lemony, soothing, and wonderful. Below are recipes with this lemon wonder.

Lemon thyme

Lemon Grass

This heavenly scented plant has long, strappy leaves like the ornamental grasses. As you can see in the picture, I just bought my lemon grass. I put a pencil next to the pot to show it is about 8 inches high but will reach 3 to 6 feet in heighth if I plant it in the garden. The nursery worker reminded me that even though it is small it will end up the Lemon grasssize of a compact car. I will plant mine in a large pot to keep it confined. It loves to grow in full sun and it originates from tropical climates. Unless you garden in zone 9 in the US it will not act as a periennial for you. As a medicinal herb, lemon grass helps with insominia, stress and sore throats. Lemon grass is used in a lot of Asian cooking and due to its stringy and tough tecture should be removed before eating any dish. It is wonderful dried in teas.

Lemon grass

Recipe Ideas

Lemon balm makes a great tea all by itself. I have a teapot that makes tea for about 3 people. I add 2-3 tablespoons of dried or fresh lemon balm leaves and let it steep for about 15 minutes. Strain through a tea strainer and serve with a few drops of stevia or your favorite sweetener.

Lemon thyme makes a super tea also. I love to steep 1-2 tablespoons of fresh leaves in my 3 person pot for about 10 minutes then add green tea for the last 3-5 minutes of steeping. It makes a wonderful lemony, green tea that I love so much.

Lemon grass, lemon thyme, and lemon balm mixed together make a wonderful tea especially soothing for bedtime. All three herbs dried and then mixed together in the tea pot give a very different taste than any one of these herbs alone. (around 3 tablespoons of dried material all together – steep for 10-15 minutes).

Lemon grass and chicken make a super combo. A friend of mine told me he takes long straps of lemon grass and wraps them around the chicken pieces. He then puts the chicken in a bag with Italian salad dressing and lets it marinade in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. He and his wife tell me it gives the chicken a yummy flavor. I look forward to trying it.

I have also found a super recipe for lemon balm butter cookies over at A Busy Nest. Take a look at it here. They have a lot of incredible recipes and are an invaluable resource. I would encourage you to give them a look.

Hedges – Let’s Try Something Different

Sometimes we need privacy in our garden. To hide away from the world. I have found it is important to my soul to have privacy in my garden. I call it “marinating in serenity.” I love to walk around the garden and look at what is currently blooming or have a pep-talk with a rose bush that is looking sickly. Another prominent gardener that I admire calls it “getting lost to oneself.” This can not be done with a neighbor strolling over to gossip. Or the cable man gawking from his truck across the street. Therefore, hedges are what we need!

The English love to make “garden rooms” with tall privacy hedges of holly or hornbeams. In my part of the country, people love to make hedges with Leyland cypress. They sometimes end up looking like a row of green soldiers standing next to each other. Variety is the spice of life. Why can’t we all think outside of the box and come up with something different?

Viburnum shrubs with Jamie

These are three viburnums I have along my fence. My youngest son Jamie is in the picture for size reference, he is six years old.

My neighborhood rules state that our fences cannot be over 6 feet tall. I wanted something taller, due to the unusual height differences in the ground around our garden. I decided to plant a hedge that was unusual and something not often seen. I chose the Viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake’ for its beautiful blooms in spring. This is a hedge I have never seen before and it reaches a height of almost 12 feet tall. Even though the Viburnum loses its leaves in the winter, the twiggy branches that are left make a nice screening.  The tags that came on the plants said they would reach 5 feet. I knew this was not true due to the research I had done. The nice thing about this shrub/tree is that you can limb it up. In other words, you can remove the bottom branching up to 4 or 5 feet from the ground. This turns it into more of a tree that you can plant flowers underneath. I always try to put the right plant, in the right place. By placing them in front of my fence, I didn’t mind how big they got. I had hope they would grow large. And of course, they did.

Viburnum flowersThe following is a short list of other ideas for hedging material. I tried to think outside of the box.

Camellias, Tea Olives, Roses (Rugosa), Hydrangea (Annabelle), Bottlebrush Buckeye, New Dawn Roses (attached to supports), Magnolia (Little Gem)

Is My Gingko Tree a He or a She?

I think my Gingko tree is having an identity crisis. You see, Gingkos can be male or female. I bought the tree from a reliable plant nursery with the guarantee that it was a male Gingko. Female Gingko trees produce a weird looking fruit. When this fruit falls to the ground and rots it smells like the nastiest thing you can think of. On a rare occasion, a male Gingko can be hit with a late spring freeze which changes it from a male tree into a female tree. The tree coming close to death causes it to try to produce fruit in order to reproduce. It is an amazing thing and apparently from all the information I’ve gotten does not happen very often. Of course this would happen to my tree – nothing in my life is ever normal.

Gingko leaves in the fallSo, you might ask me why would I buy a Gingko tree to start with. Well, it is one of the most beautiful trees in the fall. The yellow coloring is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Then the tree drops its leaves almost all at once, leaving you with a circle of bright yellow fallen leaves under the tree. With a large Gingko tree, it is an amazing sight. I have heard there are many old Gingko trees at the University of Georgia campus and one day I’m going to go see them in the autumn. There is a beautiful example of a large old Gingko in our little town and every autumn I always plan my daily route around that particular house. But, unfortunately, my little guy turned girl is only seven feet tall and doesn’t seem to want to grow faster or taller.

Gingko leavesWhy am I talking about a problem that happens in the fall? Because for the past few springs I have stood next to the tree, begging it to not make fruit. However, my pleas of “Please don’t make fruit!” have failed, and once again I see the beginning of tiny fruit on its branches. I have come to the conclusion that I will have to cut it down and replace it with a different tree. For now, however, there is very little fruit for me to pick up in the fall but I worry that when it grows large I will not be able to keep up with it’s stinky fruit production. I think it has to go. I’m sad. Does anyone have an opinion? Should I keep it or cut “Stinky” down?

Spring Is Finally Here!

A Dogwood blossomThere is nothing better than spring! I love the look, the feel, and the smell of spring. It brings a renewed energy to my body and my demeanor. My six year old once asked me what blue smelled like. I don’t know. But I do believe green has a smell and it is the smell of spring.

I love walking through my garden every day and just noticing what is blooming or in bud or just beginning to have a few leaves. It seems everything wakes up from winter at different times. I am always mesmerized by it all.

Every year in spring, I am so thankful that I have herbs growing in my garden. One of the first plants to awaken in spring is my lemon balm. I step into the flower border, and into the lemon balm to baste myself with it. It’s aroma attaches itself to my pant’s legs and stays with me most of the day. Lemon balm tea is used by many people for its relaxing benefits. It is reported to help with insomnia. The native Americans rubbed it on their bodies to repel insects. I have harvested a huge batch of it to dry for tea. I took a huge mixing bowl outside and filled it to overflowing. Then brought it inside, washed it and dried it with paper towel. I made little bundles – four or five stems each and attached the stems together with rubber bands. I hung them all up to dry for a week. I am excited to taste the tea.

Mint drying on my spice rack

Another herb I really like is called pineapple sage. I thought I had lost all of it but suddenly I see it popping up in the border. It seems to be telling me, “You shouldn’t have worried. I’m still here.” There are so many wonderful things about it. First, it smells like pineapple when you crush its leaves. Second, it blooms in the fall the most wonderful shade of scarlet. I know many people have trouble integrating red flowers in a flower border. I suggest we stop worrying about it and enjoy the electrifiying color of red. When pineapple sage is in bloom and the maple trees are wearing their red leaves the combination is breathtaking. I wonder if it could make a pineapple flavored tea?

Every year I fall in love with herbs all over again. Yesterday, I looked over an old herb book while eating my bagel for breakfast. It was so wonderful viewing the pictures of beautiful herbs growing in overflowing gardens. How lucky we gardeners are to have such riches. When you fall in love with gardening it never leaves you!

My English Garden

Okay, first I would like to apologize for not posting as often as I should. If you’re going to have a blog and not post very much – that’s kinda stupid. Sorry. I got lost in motherhood and to be honest, I love to garden much more than I love to write about gardening. I’ve spent a lot of time writing comedy lately and really enjoying it. I hope in the near future to start a blog for my comedy writing.

So often I would work in the garden and tell myself I Inside the Garden Gateshould write a post about what I’m doing but then I would go in and realize I need to start dinner or homework needs to be graded. I’ve had a lot of emails from friends, followers, and family telling me to get off my bohonkous and write. They have suggested I get more personal and less clinical. Put in lots more photos and talk about what I’m doing. Okay. Okay.

Well. I’m a forty-something lady, with two sons, a wonderful hubby and a beautiful, never to be finished garden. When I’m not in the garden, my nose is pressed against the window looking into the garden. If it’s sunny outside and I’m not in the garden I feel a little guilty. I somehow think it can’t live without me. I really do think gardening is a form of an obsessive compulsive disorder. I really do love it, though.

Garden - North SideThe style of my garden is an English cottage garden. Yes, that’s right an English garden built in a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been studying lately the connection between Southern gardens and English gardens and they are very similar. You could take a picture of a Savannah or Charleston garden and swear you were in England. Boxwoods, ivy, roses. A lot of the same plant types are used in both.

My garden has lots of ivy, roses, hydrangeas, viburnums, itea, ornamental grasses, etc. I love Lamb’s ears; they add a wonderful silver color to the garden. I’m in love with flowering shrubs and plants that reseed themselves like Sweet William, and Balloon flowers. I love herbs like lemon balm, catnip and chives. I have planted lots of chives around my roses to help deter pests. My lemon balm photographs are in an Asian cookbook. If anyone has any great recipes for lemon balm then please e-mail them to me. I have a lot of lemon balm!

Viburnum - Summer SnowflakeOne of my most favorite plants is my viburnum cultivar “Summer Snowflake.” It is so wonderful when it is in bloom and in my region they can get to be 12 feet tall. More like a small tree than a shrub. I have planted many around my fence to add height to the fence. In our neighborhood we can only have 6 foot tall fences. The viburnum gives a sense of privacy.

I try during the spring and summer to cut flowers to bring into the house. I love the old “still life” paintings of flowers One of my rosesand fruit and tabletop scapes. What do you think of my “still life” photo of flowers? I’m very happy with it. Flowers make me happy. I sometimes think I would like to take pictures of my summer flowers and frame them for my walls. Then I could see them all year.

Still Life with RosesRoses Close UpI’m trying to grow fruit in the garden, too. I have a small amount of strawberries. I also have 3 small blueberry bushes which turn a lovely red color in the fall. Last year I didn’t get many blueberries as they were still too young to have much fruit. I think this year I will have to fight the birds, chipmunks, and rabbits for those blueberries! I also have a fig tree in a large pot. It came from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. No, I did not steal a cutting from his tree. They sell plants at a nursery on the grounds of Monticello. My understanding is that it was propagated from a cutting from one of his Brown Turkey fig trees. According to an arborist there, he was quite the fig farmer! Baby StrawberriesI’m not sure if that is true, but I still think of it as Jefferson’s fig. I leave it in a large decorative pot so that harvesting is easier and I can prune it to keep it small. The figs I harvest (2-3 dozen a year) taste spectacular. I am anxious to grow more fruit and veggies. I would love raised veggies beds on the south side of our garden. There is always something to wish and plan for. Bye for now. Happy gardening!

Garden - South Side

Angel with the RosesBay Window GardenSweet William

Gardening Thieves

I have struggled recently with the moral issues of obtaining plant cuttings through trespassing on land not belonging to me. I think every gardener eventually lusts over plants they see in other people’s yards, store parking lots and even highway exit ramps. Once you develop a technique for taking cuttings and propagating new plants, you begin to look at the world with a whole new view. Suddenly, a plant nursery is not the only place to obtain new plants. You must reign yourself in or before you know it, you have a mini-nursery of your own with baby plants to take care of. I am very aware as a parent that we are examples to our children and asked my husband recently if I am a bad example by taking plant cuttings in this manner. We came to the conclusion, that as long as I am not running amuck in someone else’s yard maybe it’s okay. Maybe I’m not contributing to the delinquency of a minor. My poor children have sat in the car on more than one occasion with their nose pressed to the window watching mom “steal a plant cutting.” 

The rules and regulations put forth in our family state: Bushes behind the dry cleaners are fair game, but perennials in front of the neighborhood library are not. Roses in front of the abandoned supermarket are game, but the coleus next to the city police station are not. The previous example should be self-explanatory due to the “Arresting” nature of the situation.

I still wrestle with the moral implications of what I am doing. Many gardeners I have seen interviewed on television have come straight out and admitted their weakness for taking a tiny bit of what didn’t belong to them. One such gardener even admitted taking seed from a plant at a national historical home and garden. I think if the park rangers had caught him in the act, they wouldn’t have been happy.

Whenever I “take” a cutting from some other place, I always think of an article written by the prestigious Irish gardener Helen Dillon. She wrote of returning to her home, after a trip, to find two women in her front garden.They were dividing up the cuttings they had just taken from her plants. Helen writes,”They didn’t even have the modesty to divide the loot upon return to their own homes.” She then states she had to “lay down with a cool compress for the remainder of the evening.” I’m sure I would feel the same way.

And so I stick to my self-proclaimed rules for stealing. I don’t venture into other people’s gardens and I try to be a good example for my munchkins. I wonder what philosophy other gardeners have created for themselves. Let me know. Happy gardening!

Increasing The Shrubs In Your Garden

Gardening can be an expensive hobby with buckets, watering cans, and shovels to buy. By the time you have invested in a few good tools, you find you have very little money to spend on plants. A great way to save money on plants is propagating what you already have in your landscape. Especially if you have a plant that you think is really terrific and you want more of it. It is by far the best way to save money in the garden and a lot of fun to boot. And if you have children, it’s great to get them in on the act, too. My 9 year old son has been gardening with me since he was a toddler.

There is nothing like planting a shrub that you have started from a cutting, nurtured, and then planted in the garden. The simple act of pruning a shrub to maintain size or shape can provide you with plenty of shoots to root for cuttings. Unfortunately, the more difficult a plant is to propagate, the more expensive it is in the nursery. Luckily, the majority of shrubs are easy to root from cuttings and this is the subject I will cover here.

Types of Cuttings: Soft, Half-ripe, and Hard 

Cuttings are the most commonly used method for increasing shrubs. There are three different types of cuttings you can take from your shrub: soft cuttings, half-ripe cuttings, and hardwood cuttings. Many gardening books and manuals will often tell you touse one type of cutting for one type of shrub and another type of cutting for another type of shrub. In all honesty, this does not always work that way. I have taken many different types of cuttings from a plant, been successful with some and then tried to duplicate my process the following year only to fail miserably. My best advice is to try soft cuttings first, then half-ripe and finally hardwood cuttings and judge for yourself which is working best. A pot containing a dry, dead stick or a mass of green mush will tell you how well you’re doing. And by the way – experiment – that’s how to become a good gardener. Experiment and fail and learn from your mistakes. Many famous and legendary gardening gurus when interviewed have said the secret to their success has been that through their failed experiments they have learned to more closely observe the plant – its needs and temperament.

Soft Cuttings

Trim below leaf nodeThese are cuttings taken from the growing tips of the branches and trimmed just below a node (a node is the point at which leaves occur on the shoot). The best time to take soft cuttings is during late spring and early summer. If success is achieved and roots form, you could have a well-established plant by autumn. The easiest way of taking the cutting is to remove it from the parent plant by cutting it off with hand clippers. Select a shoot 3-8 inches long. Clip the branch off just above a set of leaves. This allows the shrub to continue making future shoots from this cut area. Then take your cutting and trim the branch off just below a leaf node. Discard this bit. Next remove all leaves from bottom 2/3 of shoot. I sometimes leave only a couple of leaves on the top of the shoot for photosynthesis purposes. The bottom one inch of the cutting can then be dipped in rooting hormone. Studies have shown an excess of rooting hormone can actually retard the rooting process so use only a very small amount. I have two small children toddling around my potting bench so I choose to not use any chemical rooting helpers. My rate of propagation is probably not as high as it could be, but my children and I are not breathing in anything potentially harmful.

Inset cutting into soilAfter you have prepared the shoot, insert it into a small pot of potting soil. First, make a deep hole in the soil with a pencil or your finger, then insert the shoot. Only bury half of the shoot in the soil. It is important that the bottom of the cutting be in contact with the soil. Firm it in by inserting your finger or pencil to the side of the cutting and pack the soil around it. A mixture of potting soil heavy on Perlite will work well in rooting cuttings. I add a heavy dose of sand to the soil which can also help.

The problem with soft cuttings is just that – they are soft and delicate and prone to wilt. To prevent this it needs to be kept in humid conditions. A clear, plastic bag covering the pot works well to keep in moisture. Be sure to support the bag off of the shoot with sticks poked in around the edges of the pot. Without plastic, I have arranged cuttings in their pots under a big leaved shrub. It tends to be moist, shady, and humid under there and can work well to protect them. I am currently housing five or six cuttings under a large hydrangea bush and they all seem to be doing rather well.

Check the cuttings regularly. If any show signs of rot, remove them from the other potential cuttings and discard. The cuttings may root in as little as a few weeks or may take a couple of months. Some may not be well-rooted until spring the following year.

Half-ripe Cuttings

Half-ripe cuttings are taken between early summer and early autumn. This type of cutting is generally easier to root than soft cuttings. They are much less likely to wilt. Although the bottom of the cutting is stronger the growing tip is still soft and delicate. Take these cuttings from the parent plant exactly the same way as in soft cuttings. Prepare the shoot, trim it up, and use hormone powder if desired. However, these cuttings do not need as much warmth and humidity as softwood cuttings. They can be placed on a bench in the shade.

Hardwood Cuttings

These are the easiest of all cuttings to root. Take these when the leaves have fallen, using current seasons growth which is ripe and woody. Cut these branches 6-12 inches long and discard the soft tip part of the branch. The top cut you will make needs to be just above a dormant node and the bottom cut just below a dormant node. Prepare a pot with potting soil, as before, and insert cutting. Keep this in a sheltered spot and by late spring or late summer you should have a well-rooting cutting.

Beautiful New Shrubs

Finished cutting potted upWhen you start, remember rooting plants from cuttings is easy. I have a lovely new hydrangea all thanks to my husband and his paint brush. While painting the trim on our house, my husband hacked at a hydrangea branch that was in his way. After being handed the sad, tattered shoot I frowned at him. My husband is a wonderful man but in no way a gardener. I took the shoot, trimmed it up, and prepared it in a pot of compost. If it didn’t root, I would not have been upset. In fact, I was so busy I didn’t really check on it for a month or more. The happy end of my story is I planted a beautiful new hydrangea in another area of my garden. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Have fun gardening!

Have any questions? Please contact me.