One of the most expensive things about setting up a new garden is the cost of the plants. Along with the cost of good soil, which as the pundits have pointed out, is not dirt cheap.
In order to get your garden up and running without playing the bankers’ game, there are lots of little ways to increase your plants if you’re patient. Growing from seeds, cuttings and root cuttings are some of the best ways to have more and more varied plants in your garden. The greatest benefit is that you can have your plant and share it too. If your neighbours or friends would like some of your gorgeous lemon thyme, (fantastic with roast chicken!) propagate some from a cutting and make a gift of it simply, easily and for free.
For this example a southernwood plant is being propagated from hard wood cuttings. Southernwood is an artemisia species, related to Tarragon and Absinthe. It smells like flea repellent and that is the job it’s here to do. Help keep ants, mozzies and perhaps termites away from precious fruit and nut trees.
Here’s the big piece broken off the stem of southernwood. Don’t worry, the plant won’t be badly affected by this. Southernwood, like lavender and lemon verbena, can do with a prune in autumn to keep it from getting too woody and straggly.
Here’s the smaller branch broken off, showing the “heel” of the small stem. With most of those lower leaves taken off, the stem including the heel will be planted in good quality potting mix and left for a few weeks to develop roots.
There’s about a dozen cuttings in this little pot, where they can be kept an eye on. If the cuttings were stuck straight in the ground and kept damp, a few more than half could be expected to survive. By keeping them in damp soil and out of really harsh weather more should take root.
If you’d like to help the cuttings along a little, or if you’re working with other species that are less robust, you can buy little packets of rooting hormone. Dip the heel or end of the cutting in the powder before you plant them in the pot and it encourages the plant to take root.
There are many, many species that will grow quite well by this method. Geraniums and pelargoniums are notorious for it. Almost any bit of day old geranium stuck in the ground will soon grow into a lovely strong flowering bush. As a starter they’re great. Drought and heat tolerant, can cope with shade, flower for ages and you can prune them with a whipper snipper. If you haven’t gardened before and would like something in the patch of dirt out back, geraniums and lavender might be somewhere to start and get your confidence up before you add lettuce and kale. Geraniums and lavender can be eaten but they don’t taste very good. Nice in bath oils though. The point being that just about anything is preferable to stones or lawn in terms of sustainability and if it helps encourage people into growing food plants, that’s a real bonus.
Thyme varieties and any of the mints can be propagated easily from woody cuttings, while rosemary and verbenas seem easier to get going from soft stems.
Here’s another piece of southernwood, this time broken off a little further up the stem. See how the stem here is green and there isn’t brown bark on it? This is a “soft cutting”. Some plants that don’t grow well from woody cuttings will be more likely to grow like this, including lavender. I’m told that roses will also, but the root stock is not likely to be very strong in that case.
In the little vase here are three pieces of pennyroyal, which have been sitting on the windowsill for about a week. Notice the roots in the bottom of the vase? Pennyroyal is a mint variety, another plant that helps to keep pests down and is a great little ground cover with lovely delicate flowers. Any of the mints can be grown in this manner, as can violet leaves!
Keep the piece/s in semi-sun in water until roots begin to grow then transplant them into a pot for a couple of weeks to strengthen. After that they can go into the garden. The soil should be kept quite damp for the first day but then let dry a little so mould doesn’t take over.
This little mess is the seed heads from tansy. Tansy is another good pest repellent which will quite happily self-seed once its established in the garden. Growing from seeds will be coming up in the next week or so. Happy gardening.