Yarb Tales - Cuttings
September 26, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

This week Master Naturalist volunteers and the Ozark Unit of the Herb Society of America are preparing for the 27th Annual Herb Harvest Fall Festival that will take place October 6, 7 and 8. There are still seats available. The early-bird deadline for registration is September 29. Thank you to everyone who supports and participates in this enjoyable and educational event.

Cooler temperatures settling in. The new moon begins this Friday and it will be moving through the fertile signs of Libra followed by Scorpio through next Tuesday. These factors are perfect for propagating perennials that persist from year to year and tender perennials that survive winters with protection from freezing temperatures. Fall weather is conducive to plant growth and there are still plenty of light hours in the day during September and October. There is time for the new roots to develop before cold winter temperatures slows vegetative growth. We will be propagating cuttings from our rosemary collection, mints, salvia species, thyme varieties and other herbs needed for spring planting and sales.

Everyone can propagate new plants from cuttings. Before you begin, think about the basics you need to provide for the new potential plants. These basics include a pasteurized propagation medium that both drains well and retains moisture. Wash containers that are big enough to support the new roots until the plants can be transplanted. Select a nursery area that has partial shade, a convenient source for water and protection from intense wind and winter cold.

We use commercial pasteurized propagation medium and mix in some ground granite rock to provide sharp drainage for cuttings made from woody plants. Various mixtures of perlite for drainage and vermiculite and peat moss for water retention are also used. Some growers prefer coarse sand. Garden soil is not a good choice for propagating cuttings because it does not drain well and it may contain fungal diseases.

We utilize 2 1/2-inch plastic pots for plant containers to strike roots. Pots should be washed in a 10% bleach solution to kill unwanted fungus, bacteria and pests that may be on the surfaces. Cuttings can also be stuck in small groups in 6-inch shallow, azalea pots or directly into a bed of coarse sand. If cuttings are grouped together in a container, they should have at least 2-inches of space between each one so that air can circulate freely around them.

Take cuttings from semi-hardwood, 3 inches to 4 inches long. Strip the leaves from the lower portion of the cutting and stick this end into the moistened medium. If the plant has large leaves, such as pineapple sage, lemon verbena or hydrangea, pinch or trim off leaves that will droop down and touch the surface of the medium. The leaves  that remain will continue to manufacture sugar for the entire plant; they also contain auxins (hormones) that send signals to the lower portion of the cutting to produce roots.

Make every effort to keep the cuttings moist and in the shade so that the leaves and stems do not wilt. Cuttings should be set in a protected location, out of direct sun. Mist the new cuttings at least once a day for the first week or two until the stems can grow roots. The goal is to keep the leaves and stems turgid with water supplied in the medium and in the atmosphere around the cuttings. Gradually reduce the frequency of mist. Adjust how much water you provide according to the signals the plants give you. Too much water will encourage the growth of fungal diseases. Lack of water will wilt the plants and kill the cells in the plants' vascular systems.

Most garden plants will produce roots in approximately six weeks, depending upon many factors. As long as the leaves look healthy there is hope for success. To check on progress, lift the pot to see if roots are growing out of the drainage holes. Gently turn the plant out of the pot to see how roots are growing. Before the cuttings become rootbound, transplant them into new pots that will accommodate the roots—neither too small or too large. They will not grow very much during the short days of the coming winter.

Make cuttings with the children in your life. Pass the joy of growing plants around. Gardening feeds the mind, body and spirit. The world can use more love and more gardens. If I don’t see you in the future, I’ll see you in the pasture!