River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Garden Talk

August 2001

Beds and Borders

Any seasoned gardener will tell you that there is nothing more satisfying than growing your own plants from seeds or cuttings. But most of us still take the shortcut and buy 'ready made' from the nursery or garden centre. If you want to try and introduce a few of your own amongst these off-the-shelf ones Martin Davey is here to help. Martin works in the Department of Horticulture at Easton College. And if you like what you read -then you might even consider joining Martin on one of his practical propagation sessions at the College! This month Martin talks Beds and Borders.

One way to have a beautiful colourful display of annuals in the garden is to use hardy annuals which can be sown direct into the flowering position in spring. Examples of these are Love-in-a-Mist, Forget-Me-Not, Nasturtium, Pot Marigold, Californian Poppy, Alyssum and Candy Tuft.

Hardy annuals make a great low-cost, low input, high output display, producing viable seed, which can be saved and stored to sow the following year.

Sowing seeds of half hardy annuals, though, is not the most reliable method of production unless you have a heated greenhouse.

Many people like bedding plants and want to grow their own. It is good to try - though the most cost effective way is probably to buy fully grown ones for the garden. If you do try then the best way to ensure good results is to use pre-germinated seedlings such as Plug-u-Grow.

Pots and tubs are very popular on patios and drives or even on lawns. Pots of Geraniums or Zonal Pelargoniums are a must for that Mediterranean feel. Fuchsias are also a top pot plant, as there are many varieties, some trailing and others upright, a wide selection of which are hardy and will over winter left in the pot in a sheltered position~.

To propagate Geraniums, take cuttings in late summer. They must be of the current season's growth and not old wood. (This goes for all types of cuttings and vegetative propagation: old wood does not have the same ability to root as new growth)

Make sure to use non-flowering shoots but if they are, flowers must be removed. This is to stop the cutting from pushing all its strength into producing seed thus failing to form roots and eventually dying.

Geraniums are best taken as tip cuttings which need to be 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) long. Remove lower leaves, leaving two to four leaves at the top. It is unlikely that you could remove too many leaves and it is better to remove too many than not enough. Ensure the cut on the end of the stem is clean to avoid disease getting in, This can be done with a sharp knife or scissors. Allow the cut to dry out over a period of 12 - 24 hours. This will help to prevent Black Leg, a fungal disease which stops the cutting growing and causes it to go black from the base and rot off.

Insert the cuttings at least half their length into the compost, placing five to seven cuttings in a 1 litre (6 inch diameter) pot, filled with general purpose or coir-based compost (not bark-based) - a John Innes No.1 loam-based compost may be used.

Water the pot and cuttings well and put the whole thing inside a clear plastic bag, ensuring that the leaves do not touch the bag, as this may well cause them to rot. Remove the bag once a week and check for watering although it should probably not be required. Replace the bag inside out, to expose and kill off fungal spores.

By six to eight weeks, the cuttings should have rooted. Gradually open up the bag over a period of a week, acclimatising the rooted plants to the great outdoors. You could leave them in the same pot for the winter and plant out the following spring. Ideally, re-pot in autumn and keep on the dry side over winter, planting out in spring.

Fuchsia cuttings can be done in the same way -- but do not allow them to dry out before insertion.

Plastic bags make great propagators on windowsills inside or sheltered areas outside.

For propagation, a cool north-facing windowsill is best. Temperatures of 10 - 150C are best for rooting plants. Large clear plastic drink bottles are effective as propagators when cut in half and placed as a dome above the pot. I would favour plastic bags, though, as drinks bottles cannot be turned inside out!

All Garden Centres and Nurseries named in Garden Talk are members of the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA).

Martin Davey

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