PLANT BASED LANDSCAPES
Remember the awe you felt at your first encounter with nature? The glory of a cloud of Crabapple flowers overhead, dark evergreens on a forest trail, or simply a crocus bursting through barren ground ? Wonder is the missing element in so many ordinary landscapes that depend on commonly used plants. You will find nary a spirea in a GRC design! Instead, we plant Magnolias, Korean Maple, Boxwood, Rhododendrons and other unusual, but proven hardy plants. Like a seasonal calendar their flowers bring anticipation and excitement. Alternating with evergreen Balsam, White Pines and Spruce, that bring strength and fortitude to snowy winters, your home landscape becomes a place of wonder all year long.
Remember Rice Creek Gardens? For forty years we trialed hundreds, if not thousands, of plants for hardiness, beauty and that rugged quality that “meets you halfway” in the landscape. Now, at Gardens of Rice Creek, primarily a design/build operation, we apply that experience to all we do.
Why are plants so important? In brief, framing the home with trees sets it off from its neighbors. Foundation plantings connect the home to the earth. Plants marry the house to the yard and make a complete place to call “home”. Without plant materials the home looks like it was dropped from the sky, without context and connection. Even a minimum of plants helps settle the home, but so many more attractive choices are available and many times for the same, or little more investment, it is a shame to settle for less!
In these remarks from the heart I will try to explain the plants and principles behind the special landscapes we create, so you will be empowered to create and appreciate your work and the work of others who rise above the ordinary. After all, GRC can’t do it all, but let us be one of your guides to a wonderful journey. Whether you only want minimum or maximum for your landscape, let it be excellent quality.
PROPAGATION OF ALPINES BY CUTTINGS
Why take cuttings from our precious plants? The best reason is to save them! You can’t kill a plant by taking a moderate amount of material, and you will create new plants to start in other parts of the garden or to share with your gardening friends. Who knows? When your plant succumbs, you may be able to make cuttings from a friend’s plant. So the best way to keep a plant is to share it! Double Bloodroot is one of my favorite examples. Found in 1936 in Ohio, it periodically dies out completely in my garden over winter, but when a friend shares survivors, their exquisite flowers again light up my garden and my spirits in April.
What time of year is best? Spring or fall, when weather is moderate. Hot days stress the cuttings, unless misting keeps the leaves from wilting. Without roots, water is taken up only through the cut stem. Good light, but not direct sun allows the leaves to collect energy to make roots. Then, when roots develop, more water is collected and cuttings start to grow and need less care.
Where do you place the cuttings? In spring, a table on the North side of a building, near water, puts the cuttings where you can check on them daily and mist them with a hose. In late fall, they can go under lights or in a sunny window of a cool room, where a spray bottle of water can be used to keep the leaves turgid. Just like in the produce section of the grocery store, wilting is prevented with periodic misting.
What is the best medium for rooting? A very light mix that still retains moisture, because air is just as important as moisture in the spaces between particles in the medium to make roots. 50% air, 50% moisture is the ideal. Most alpines will root well in a commercial potting mix like ½ Metro-mix 830 and ½ coarse Perlite.
How long does it take? A couple of weeks for Arabis, Aubrietia and Draba, in the cress family, in warm weather. A month in the fall for Androsace, and Campanula. Heat supplied by a propagation mat in the winter will speed rooting. Woody perennials like Iberis can take a couple of months or more. As long as they are green, don’t give up!
What are problems to avoid? ‘Drying out disease’ is the most common. A super-light mix with plenty of air is nearly impossible to overwater. Watered from above, water should drain out the bottom immediately. Lifting the flat will tell you the weight it should be when well watered, so when you are in doubt, a light flat will alert you to add water. Misting is important to keep the leaf surface from drying. Watering supplies moisture to the inner parts of the cutting.
Under lights, mildew and rot can be avoided by having good air circulation, and bottom heat of 70 degrees. If mildew starts, a spray of 1 tablespoon bleach per quart of water will control it. Covering the cuttings with plastic can be done on an emergency basis, but don’t be tempted to leave it on longer than absolutely necessary, because rot will destroy your cuttings.
LET’S GET STARTED!
What supplies do I need? Sharp scissors, plastic bags and labels are all you need to collect cuttings. Ideally, have your pot or flat prepared ahead of time with the medium at least 3” deep for good drainage. Rooting hormone speeds root development and can be powder or liquid.
How do I collect cuttings? Trim the outside of the cushion by pulling stems back into the center. You may find roots on some stems already, like on the alpine below, that made 6 rooted cuttings.
Label each row, trim leaves below the soil, dip in rooting hormone and stick in medium, using a chopstick for a dibble. Water heavily to settle medium firmly around cuttings.
Cuttings are closely spaced, about 100 can fit in a flat this size. Mist and place on a propagation mat (in winter) in good light. Remove dead leaves or cuttings to keep disease at bay.
New growth starts in the center of rosettes and signals rooting is occurring.
Special Methods for Woody Plants:
Conifers and other woody plants take a little more patience than herbaceous materials. Cuttings are taken in Fall, after a couple of hard frosts. Dwarf conifers can sport reversions, so take typical wood for cuttings, one year old at the base, and about 3-4” long. Chamaecyparis and Junipers are the easiest to root. Soak them for 1 hour or overnight in liquid rooting hormone 1-5, or use a strong powder. Daphne, Boxwood and small leaf Rhododendron cuttings can also be taken in the fall.
The medium is acid, 1 part Peat Moss, 2 parts coarse Perlite. A propagation mat is essential to form callus, and then roots. I like to say that woodies “think about” rooting all winter, but only start to root in March as the days begin to lengthen. Don’t be tempted to pull them up to see if they are rooting! They will show you be new growth when something is happening. Then they can be lightly fertilized.
There is no secret to propagation, only guided action. Try it soon and the pleasure will grow on you! (pun intended)
Betty Ann Addison 11/15/14
SEED PROPAGATION OF ALPINES
Why grow plants from seed? Variety adds spice to rock gardens. Who needs same old sedums everywhere, when you could have miniature columbines, dianthus and pasque flowers nestled between the rocks? But, if you purchase all of them it could be expensive and they may not live because they are not adapted to your garden. Boo hoo. Growing from seed can give you quantities of good plants to trial, all over your garden, at little expense.
Isn’t it difficult? No more so than planting grass seed, and who hasn’t thrilled at the first green fuzz emerging from the barren dirt? When you follow a few simple suggestions, good results can be even easier to obtain than growing grass.
What do seeds need? Steady moisture, good light, warmth, freedom from disease—and varying amounts of time. Some will germinate in a few days, and these are where you may want to start.
Where do I get seeds? Our national organization, The North American Rock Garden Society, has a wonderful Seed Exchange, including easy- to-grow and hard-to-find seeds from all over the world. Jelitto Seeds offers European grown alpines and are a dependable source. (See details at the end of this article.)
How should I choose seeds? Easily germinated seeds include: Aquilegia, Campanula, Draba, Dianthus, Primula and Sedum. These will all germinate in a few days to a couple of weeks.
LET’S GET STARTED!
What kind of soil should I use? A good commercial potting mix like Fafard 3B that is sterile and well drained, half and half with perlite will help you avoid problems and be successful. Seeds need air as well as moisture in the soil. Use new, or well washed pots for containers. The minimum size is 2 ½” wide by 3” deep.
How do I plant? Dampen the mix and fill the pots, tamping down gently but firmly till the surface is level and about ¼” from the lip. Water thoroughly and relevel the surface. Write the name of the seed
on a plastic label and lay it on the seed envelope. Carefully open the envelope and crease one side so you can control the seed as you tap the envelope to distribute the seed in a circle around the pot. No dumping, please! Stick in the label.
If the seeds are large, cover them lightly to the depth of the seed. If they are hard to see when planted, just leave them uncovered.
Cover the pots with plastic wrap. Inexpensive wrap allows for gas exchange, and is preferred. Secure with a rubber band.
Where should I place the pots? In winter, a sunny window will do, but placing them under florescent lights will give you more control over light conditions and heat. Place them 8—10” below the lights, use reflective material on the sides to capture stray light, and cover with a sheet of plastic. Lights can be on 18 hrs. a day for best growth. A propagation (heating) mat, kept at 70 degrees will supply heat for optimal growth. In summer, put them out of direct sun, but in good light, like on a bench on the north side of the house.
What should I watch for? “Drying up disease” is the most common ailment. Avoid it by keeping the plastic wrap on at least until germination, and it can even be left on until true leaves form. Lift the pot. It should feel heavy. If it is light, water gently with a small watering can, or soak from below. If you use the suggested well-drained mix it will be impossible to overwater. The plastic wrap keeps the humidity high, so watch out for mold. If Mold appears on the seeds, spray with 1 Tablespoon of bleach per quart of water. Let the pot air for a few minutes before recovering with wrap.
What’s next? Chances are you will have lots of seedlings. If they are tall and spindly, they need more light and to be uncovered so they toughen up. Transplanting can be done after production of true leaves, which shows that the roots are well developed. All seedlings are not created equal. Only transplant the strongest, bushiest plants with good roots and discard those without that “lust for life” that characterizes a good garden plant. If you don’t have room to transplant in winter, wait until spring and plant them either in pots, or
in a sheltered spot in the garden, improved with compost, with water close at hand. By fall at the latest you will have plenty of well-rooted plants for your garden or to give to others.
Considerations for Special Seeds
What is stratification?
Some seeds need to rest in the cold for weeks, or even a whole year before they germinate. Books have been written on special seed germination techniques, but to have success most of the time, give perennial seeds the afore-mentioned care. All seeds need to imbibe water before they germinate. In winter, if they do not germinate in 2 weeks, put them outside in the cold to stratify. Then in spring, when their preferred temperature is reached, they may germinate. It is possible to even have seed germinate a year later, but it is hard to keep pots weed-free outdoors that long!
Some examples of seeds needing cold stratification are conifers, apples, peonies and anything in the buttercup family.
How do Acid Loving plants differ?
Jack-in-the-pulpit and conifers need peat moss as a planting medium. The arums should be soaked until they sink in a glass. Conifer seeds have a waxy coating and do not need soaking. Put both kinds in damp peat moss and refrigerate for 3 months before planting.
Rhododendron seeds, planted on peat moss will germinate in a week or two under lights and will bloom in 3 to 5 years.
Why do I plant seeds? Seeing New Life emerging in winter is one of the greatest, most thrilling adventures in my existence!
Betty Ann Addison 12/10/14
SEED SOURCES: Jellito: www.Jelitto.com (firstname.lastname@example.org)
North American Rock Garden Society: Bobby J. Ward, P.O. Box 18604, Raleigh NC 27619, Dues: $30.
Planting seeds and labeling
Seeds under lights with reflector
Choosing healthy seedlings
Seed pots covered with plastic wrap
Seedlings ready to transplant
Transplants in a nursery bed