By David Nagel and Lelia Kelly
Extension Horticulture Specialists
Distributed by Lisa Stewart, Webster County Director
Some examples of plants that you can take cuttings from now are roses, althea, Burford holly, oakleaf hydrangea, Camellia japonica, forsythia, bunch grapes and “Otto Luyken” laurel.
You can try your hand at propagating many other plants in your landscape this winter. The fun is in the experimenting! Cuttings taken during the winter are called dormant cuttings and are an easy way to increase your plants.
First step is to prepare a good rooting bed. Ways to do this range from an elaborate excavated bed with automated sash to a simple nursery tray filled with perlite surrounded by hay bales. My propagation bed is a simple cold frame constructed from concrete blocks, recycled lumber and topped with an old window sash that can be propped open on sunny days for ventilation.
The floor of the cold frame is pea gravel. I fill deep nursery trays with either a soil less potting mix or just perlite. Your rooting bed should be located in an area of the yard that is accessible, yet out of the way of spring gardening activities. It should be protected from cold winds and preferably in light shade. When determining the size of your rooting bed figure that each cutting will probably take a 2-inch square area — every square foot then translates into 36 cuttings.
When taking cuttings use a sharp knife that will make a clean cut. Choose wood that was grown last season and is least as thick as a pencil. Tip growth is usually the best and will root the fastest. Cuttings should be between 4-6 inches with the initial cut about one-half inch below a node (bud, leaf scar) — this is typically the area where root initiation occurs.
With most cuttings, in particular roses and bunch grapes, it is important to have at least two side buds per cutting — one at the base where the roots will emerge and one above where the new growth will emerge. Using a rooting hormone is optional — results vary depending on plant species.
A fun experiment (this is the time of school science projects!) would be to treat some cuttings of a species with hormone, some without and see if there is a difference in rooting. Remove all but two or three leaves from evergreen cuttings to decrease water evaporation through the leaves.
Stick cuttings 1 to 2 inches deep into the rooting media. Be sure and label, as it is amazing how remarkably similar dormant cuttings look! Water thoroughly. Check regularly and keep rooting medium evenly moist. If the rooting bed is covered be sure and ventilate on those sunny days to prevent overheating.
Cuttings taken in late January and February should root by early April. Cuttings are ready to pot into 4-inch pots when roots are at least an inch long — these young plants should not be put directly in the garden. Continue to care for these potted cuttings throughout the spring and summer.
Fertilize each pot with a soluble fertilizer or you can topdress with a slow-release such as Osmocote. Follow fertilizer application instructions. Your new plants should be ready to transplant into your garden this coming fall when the weather cools.
Many gardeners think that a cold winter like we are having will decrease the insect pressure in the spring. This is true for a few insects, but the majority of insect pests are only slightly delayed by starting with fewer-than-normal over-wintered adults. Some aphid eggs can survive temperatures well below 0.
Many things need to get done before the end of February. Planning and planting are at the forefront of the list, but other tasks need to be completed before March is here. Winter cover crops should be turned in at least a month before planting the crop to eat. This allows the plants to decompose and release their nutrients.
Wood ashes or lime should be applied if the soil is acidic. You can test the soil pH yourself with a kit from the garden center or with pH paper from the hobby or chemistry store. You can get your soil tested for acidity and nutrient levels for $6 at the local Extension office.
Vegetables grow best when the soil pH levels are between 6.2 and 7.5, but few vegetables grow well when the pH level is below 5.2.Thoroughly mixing liming materials with soil will begin acid neutralization immediately and will probably have pH levels well raised in a few weeks.
Keep in mind that tomatoes, peppers and other spring garden favorites should be started under protection about six weeks before the last frost for your area. Vine crops like cantaloupe, cucumber and watermelon should be started three weeks before last frost. You can find the anticipated last frost date at http://www.plantmaps.com/interactive-mississippi-last-frost-date-map.php. It surprises people that Clarksdale (75 miles south of Memphis) and Hattiesburg (75 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico) share the same frost dates.
Cold, windy, cloudy days make it not fun to garden outdoors. Microgreens and sprouts are indoor gardening methods that take little time and space. Sprouts are grown in water in the dark and are eaten two to four days after the seeds turn into plants. Bean sprouts have disappeared from grocery stores because of contamination problems, so keep all materials associated with sprout growing scrupulously clean. Microgreens are grown in well-drained media in the light and are eaten after two to four weeks. You can read more about microgreen growing at http://msucares.com/news/print/lgnews/lg12/121218microgreens.html