Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cold weather and short days have put a not totally unwelcome lull in the gardening year. Nonetheless, I wander into the greenhouse occasionally just to drink in the sight and smell of lush greenery suffused in warmth and humidity, and to pull some weeds. The figs, I see, haven’t been pruned; they are dormant and leafless and need all stems cut back to 3 to 4 feet in height.
Gardening lull or not, I can’t just toss those cut stems away, putting them to waste. Each stem can make a whole new tree, and fairly easily. So I set up a little propagator for rooting some of these “hardwood cuttings.”
Being leafless, the cuttings lose little water so have no need for the high humidity demanded by so-called softwood cuttings, which are cuttings taken while plants are actively growing and leafy. Any cutting, hardwood or softwood, does need its bottom portion, where roots will form, cozied in moisture and air. Some people just plop stems into a glass of water. That works for easy-to-root plants, like fig, as long as the water is occasionally changed so bacteria don’t build up and the roots get a fresh charge of aeration. Roots formed in water are morphologically different from those in soil, so the eventual and inevitable transfer to soil must be done with care, with attention to root breakage, aeration, and moisture.
Here's my propagator for cuttings, in this case with figs.
My cuttings will root directly in soil, or a “soil” of some sort, actually a soil-less soil similar in makeup to most commercial potting mixes. That soil is nothing more than a mix of equal parts perlite, a “popped” volcanic rock, and peat moss. The perlite is for aeration; the peat moss is to hold moisture. (Coir, a byproduct of the coconut industry, or leaf mold could be substituted for the peat moss.)
Now here’s the cool part: After filling a large flowerpot with the rooting mix, I scooped out the center and put into the hole a smaller flowerpot. That smaller flowerpot has to be terra cotta and unglazed. It also needs it’s drainage hole plugged; some moldable wax, saved from when my daughter had braces, worked well. (I knew I had saved that wax all these years for something!) Rapping the large pot and pressing lightly on the soil ensured good contact and a continuous capillary connection between the water in the inner pot and the surrounding soil between the inside and outside pots.
I slid the cuttings into the circle of soil with only one or two upper buds showing. Until leaves appear, and there’s no rush, the only attention the pot needs is to keep the inner reservoir of soil filled with water. Once leaves appear, the cuttings need light.
Sometime I’ll have to figure out what to do with all my new fig plants.
New plants in the wings could have been the spark for a horticultural dream the night following setting up the propagator. In this dream, I lived in a large, modernistic house, the most significant features of which were its 3 stories and large, south-facing windows. I evidently wasn’t all that familiar with the house because I wandered around in amazement.
Not a bad guava harvest -- two delicious fruits!
And most amazing were the plants sitting in the windows: potted fruit plants of all sorts, everywhere I turned. In one window was a potted pawpaw tree, in another a peach, then a guava, and still other fruits in other windows. Turning to go down the stairway from the uppermost floor, I came upon small pots of strawberries. (The floors themselves were broad expanses of polished wood and furniture was sparse or absent.)
Most amazing was the shadow of a lush plant hanging in front of a shaded window. (In my waking life, I had that day put up a new window shade.) Coming closer, I saw that the plant in the hanging basket was a grape vine, a grape vine with a compact growth habit and that was loaded with tight bunches of delicious, ripe grapes.
The kumquats are almost ready for harvest.
In fact, much of the dream is not far-fetched. True, I do not live in a large, modernistic house of 3 stories. But some of my windows are, in fact, home to edible plants such as bay laurel and rosemary. I even have some fruiting plants, tropical and subtropical ones such as kumquat and guava rather than pawpaw, grape, and other temperate-zone plants that need to experience winter.
I harvested a guava a couple of weeks ago and the kumquats will start ripening next month. Fruiting takes energy, so these fruit plants sit near sunny windows. Indoor fruiting by a shaded window only works in dreamland.
In that same dream, I was in school. (I spent an inordinate number of years in school.) In the dream, I couldn’t keep track of my school assignments, even what classes I was taking or where. I was too preoccupied with caring for all those plants in all those windows at home.
It was good to wake up to a gardening lull.


  1. Hi Lee,
    I root fig cuttings every year.
    I see one cutting, that in the forefront, which has an small breva. I would remove it, it will take cutting reserves for nothing.
    Nothing you don't know, of course!
    I have several books written by you. I like them!

    Regards from Spain.

  2. Thanks for the information. Yes I saw and know about the breba sitting there. I have to admit that I couldn't resist leaving it on the long shot that the cutting would do something interesting (like root and ripen a breba fig!). I have plenty of figs and cuttings so am not too concerned if that particular cutting doesn't root. What fun!

  3. Hello Lee,
    What fig cuttings are you starting?
    This guava looks like the Ruby Supreme, was it from that small plant?


    1. Hi Bass,

      That guava is from the plant that I got from you. Is that Ruby Supreme? Thanks. It was delicious!