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Best bang for your buck at the garden center

Not everyone has the time, space, inclination or ambition to grow the flowering plants for their garden from seed on their windowsill. This leaves people buying their plants and sometimes these can get pretty pricy. I haven’t had the time or space to start my flower box plants this year, so the DH and I went to a local greenhouse to pick up a few things.

I always find that getting plants in six-packs is a bit of a disappointment. The plants are so small that it takes a very long time for them to get big enough to fill in the space and make a show (which, of course, is the whole point, right?). So, to get enough plants to fill in, I end up buying probably 4 times the plants that I really have budgeted for – very expensive. Since I won’t be putting my plants into the boxes for another month then, it really pays me better to get a larger plant and split it. This is something anyone can do as long as you have some pots, potting mix, a sharp knife and some rooting hormone. You don’t need a greenhouse to do this; once you’ve potted up the cuttings, you can just stash the pots someplace in a bright room, out of direct sun. Keep the potting mix moist and you are all set.

At the top, you see an ivy geranium – it came in a four-inch pot so it was pretty big. I carefully pulled it out, teased off most of the potting mix and some of the roots (it was pretty root-bound; I can’t imagine what condition this will be in toward the end of the month when most people locally will rush out to the greenhouses to buy their plants to stick in the garden on Memorial Day weekend). What had been done (and this local greenhouse obviously had bought what are called ‘plugs’ from a commercial grower which does vegetative growing – that is, they take cuttings, dip them in some sort of hormone or cloning treatment and then grow them under controlled conditions to sell to local greenhouses which don’t have the staff or growing conditions to do this job themselves) was rooting a cutting. A single stem and a pretty woody one at that.

What I did was take a sharp knife and very carefully, split the stem, from where it separated into two branches, into two pieces which had roots at the bottom. Then, I took my trusty rooting hormone powder bottle and carefully tapped out powder on the cut surface and planted the two plants into separate 4″ pots with potting mix and gave them a good drink. Then I put the pots into a protected corner of the greenhouse, out of direct sun. In a couple of weeks, we should have a good amount of root growth and by the time I plant out the window boxes out front at the end of May, we should have plants a-plenty and they will be much much larger than what I could get with buying plants in six-packs.

Now, what I really did, was cut each geranium into two pieces and I’m rooting them, so I’ve literally turned my 4 geraniums, which cost me $4.50 apiece, into 8 geraniums. Sort of like getting a ‘buy one/get one’ deal.

And just for those in the botanical community which want to see what this geranium looked like close up, here you go:

Now, some plants actually give you more ‘bang for your buck’ than the geraniums did for me; after all, I was only able to split those in half (and I suppose if I had a sharper knife and a steadier hand, I might have been able to divide them up further but I didn’t want to take any chances). I also bought several 4″ pots of what are referred to here as “New Zealand Impatiens”. These are versions of the impatiens plant (which has been popular in American gardens for at least 50 years if not longer) which are bigger in every way – bigger stems, bigger leaves, bigger flowers, plus they have the advantages of colorful leaves and the ability to handle conditions other than shade. Now, you can take the extremely low tech route with impatiens and take stem cuttings and stick them in water and wait for them to root, which doesn’t take that long. I sometimes have had poor results with those, actually as the roots tend to be brittle.

In this case, after teasing away the potting mix and some of the roots (which was difficult because these plants were even more root-bound than the geraniums were), I realized that because of the tight mass of roots, I’d be able to ‘slice and dice’ this baby into multiple sections, and get roots attached on every single one. As you can see from this photo, we’ve got a whole lot of stem and root ‘action’ going on here. On the left hand side of the plant, there is a stem literally coming off the bottom of the original cutting. I sliced right where it attached to the original plant and made that a separate plant, turning that one piece into two, dusting both on the cut surfaces with rooting hormone powder and planting both in their own 4″ pots with potting mix. Other pieces of that particular plant gave me 3 opportunities to ‘slice and dice’, so that one, $4.50 impatiens plant, was turned into 5 separate plants.

Divide and conquer, people. Divide and conquer.

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