There are certain facts of gardening life that are right up there with ‘this won’t hurt a bit’ and ‘the check is in the mail.” You can absolutely count on the fact that if you have not gotten the plants into the garden at the optimal time, a massive weather system will choose to route itself through your backyard and right through the area where you have your tender little tomatoes and pepper plants and wreak havoc on them.
And snap a couple of them right off where they are just starting to branch off. If you are truly doomed, they will also have flowers on them.
So, what are you going to do with THAT?
Being the thrifty sort (as in “I paid good money for those and I’ll be …..”), I decided to put the plants in the ground, give them a good shot of fish emulsion and then deal with the parts of the plant that got snapped off.
Sort of ‘reverse guillotine’ as it were.
Now, there is a little garden aid – and this is not a brand new, super jiffy whizbang thing – which I have used over the years to multiply expensive plants for the garden and the house, carry plants over the winter and so on. This is called ‘rooting hormone.’ No matter what form you use – powder, gels, drenches, etc., what this stuff does is stimulate the plant’s cells to generate roots, which are a rather specialized form of plant cell. It’s all based on this stuff called ‘gibberellic acid.” Gibberellic acid
The instructions for using this stuff always make it look dead simple: Create the cutting, dip it in the hormone and put into some sort of planting mix. Now, in THEORY, this is what you do, but I have found a couple of tricks that make it work a LOT better.
1. Make sure the stem of the plant and the cutting instrument you are using are clean. Like: swab the surface of both with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol sort of clean. And clean off the knife between cuts as well.
2. Put the powder or the gell or whatever form you are using into something narrow but deep – actually, if you can find old film canisters, those work really well and make sure they are clean also. THEN, cut and dip. Don’t dip into the container of hormone itself – you will contaminate it and disease is probably the number one reason why rooting cuttings does not work.
3. With a clean finger, scrape the outside of the stem of the cutting – the bottom inch or so – this ‘injures’ the plant and I get better results from using hormone when I do that.
3. Dip the cutting and put into sterile medium. Like perlite or vermiculite or even sterilized coco fiber- nothing organic like planting mix (which also has germs and diseases in it no matter what it says on the bag, ok?). Once the rooting has taken place, then transplant it into anything you want.
4. Put the cuttings into a shady protected spot and keep moist (not wet). I’ve read a number of descriptions where the instructions say to put a plastic bag over the cuttings and so on. When I do that, do you know what I get?
Fungus and mold. Better to give the cuttings lots of air in a shady spot and have to do a bit more watering. When you get fungus and mold, you have lost all your efforts.
Depending on a lot of factors (warmth, what stage of growth the plant is in, how old the plant is, how woody it is and so on) rooting can take from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Well, I can see using this sort of thing to multiply prize-winning pelargoniums, but why use it for tomatoes?”
Well, let’s put it this way – we’re right at the start of the tomato-growing season. I can always use a couple of good tomato plants and I can put them into pots to put into the greenhouse for the fall. These happened to be cherry tomatoes so I think this will work because the plants were young and I think I’ll get rooting within a couple of weeks.
What else can you use this for?
Well, if you have a woody houseplant (say a corn palm or a fruit tree in a pot) that has gotten really leggy and want to cut it back and make two out of it, here is what you do with rooting hormone. You’ll need:
Rooting hormone or gel
Clean plastic bag (see, for this we really do need a plastic bag) – a plastic bread bag works really well.
Sharp paring knife
Sterile coco fiber or peat moss (the long green fibrous sort; not the powdery sort in the bags)
Analyze the plant in terms of where you are going to make a small, sharp cut. Within the top foot or so is best.
Slit the plastic bag up one side.
Put the coco fiber or peat moss into a bowl of warm water to wet and expand. you’ll only need about a handful.
Put some gel or the powder on a piece of waxed paper or plastic and smear the fiber or peat moss into it.
Cut two lengths of duct tape that will be long enough to go around the stem of the plant a couple of times.
Cut two lengths of string that are long enough for you to wind around the stem a couple of times and also tie securely.
Using your paring knife, cut a small slit on the outside of the stem at an oblique angle. Just about an inch will do the trick.
Take the fiber or peat moss and using your knife, carefully push some of the fiber or peat moss in the slit and wrap the rest around the stem in the same area where you make the cut.
Take the plastic bag and wrap it around the steam where the peat moss or fiber is and securely tie at both ends just above and below the fiber wrapped around the stem. If there is a lot of extra plastic bag, take a pair of scissors and cut it about an inch away from the string at both ends.
Take the pieces of duct tape and use them to seal off the ends of the plastic bags by wrapping them securing around the stem at both ends of the plastic.
Put the plant into a shady spot and wait until you see the roots coming out of the fiber or peat moss.
At that point, you’ll need something (depending on the thickness of the stem) like a hack saw, pruners or a pruning saw and cut the stem just below the plastic bag. Unwrap the plastic and pot up this new plant, keep well watered and in the shade for a while so it can acclimate.
Rooting hormone – very useful stuff. Please note – this is a chemical – keep it out of the reach of children and pets.