ROOTING PASSALONG PLANTS IN FALL

I don’t think I had ever heard the term “Passalong Plants” until I read the book by that name written by my friend Felder Rushing. I immediately understood the term though. Gardeners have amazing generosity when it comes to their plants. Admire a blooming whatzit in someone’s garden and they will, likely as not, press cuttings of that plant and three others into your empty hands. “I got these from my grandmother’s side yard twenty years ago”, they might explain. “She would be delighted if you had some in yours!”

Kay Powell recently sent me a note regarding her passalong plants. “Three summers ago, I planted three rooted twigs from Mama’s Confederate rose that grew in her backyard in Valdosta. Her neighbor, Beulah Brinson, the real gardener in the area, just stuck some cuttings in a clear glass vase and left them on the back porch until they rooted. Already this fall, my plants are fifteen to twenty feet high and have been blooming three weeks. It’s been a joy sharing cuttings with people up here and a pleasure bringing in the blooms for co-workers to watch as they turn from white to pink to red during the day.”

My friend Wallace Nelms grows several big angel trumpet plants in his front yard for the entire neighborhood to admire. “They root like a weed”, he counsels. “I just give cuttings to anyone who asks. Several grow up and down my street.” He, too, spreads the enjoyment of his garden to anyone who wants it.

Lest you think some gardeners have magic fairy dust that enables them to root plants with ease, let me describe three easy ways to propagate plants this fall. Next spring, you can share with all of your friends!

WATER ROOTING Angel trumpet (^Brugmansia suaveolens^) and Confederate rose (^Hibiscus mutabilis^) are supremely easy to root. Simply cut a ten inch section from the end of a branch now, before a hard freeze, and strip the leaves from the bottom eight inches. Leave a leaf or two at the top of the cutting and place it in water so the lower two thirds of the branch is underwater. Most folks put several cuttings in a single container. Place the assemblage in a warm, sunny spot. Change the water every week. Within four weeks, fine white roots will form on the underwater stem. At this point, transplant each rooted cutting into its own eight inch pot, carefully packing potting soil around the tender roots. Grow in a sunny window until you plant them outdoors next April. Other plants are not so easy, but these two (plus pussy willow, forsythia and Rose of Sharon) will make any gardener a successful propagator with ease.

SOIL LAYERING Hank Bruno, the trails manager at Callaway Gardens, taught me a quick and effective way to root plants where they grow. When he sees a beautiful azalea or other notable shrub, he bends a branch down to touch the earth. The touch-point should be twelve inches back from the tip of the branch. Using the blade of his pocket knife or a handy stone, Hank gently scrapes the branch where it touches the soil. He mounds a fistful of dirt over the wound and places a brick on it to hold it touching the ground. By spring, roots have formed from the wound and Hank can clip the baby plant from the mother and transplant it into gallon pot.

KITCHEN WINDOW PROPAGATION My mother’s kitchen window is always full of plants she enjoys. Sweet potato vines twirl from a tuber half-submerged in a margarine tub containing wet sand. Basil sprouts from an aluminum ice tray filled with soil. Three inch cuttings of her favorite coleus and impatiens plants root in miscellaneous glass tumblers. Come spring, she will have plenty of small plants to put in her flower beds by the front door. Like other gardeners, she will be able to offer visitors samples from her landscape. If your coleus and impatiens have lit up your landscape like mine have, now is the time to bring small cuttings indoors to keep in a sunny window.

Kay, Beulah, Wallace and Frances have all graduated from the “learning” part of gardening. Now they are settled into the “teaching and sharing” phase: ready, willing and able to pass along to others some of what they themselves have gained from their garden. With a tiny bit of effort, you can become a sharer just like them.