In the big smoke, everything has a price. While on my city sojourn here in Auckland, I decided to make marmalade from the citrus growing in my backyard. I didn’t have any containers to put it in, and when I went to the op-shop, I discovered that recycled jam jars were (gulp) a dollar each! When you’re starting a garden from scratch, the same cost-shock can set in. As you hand over your precious savings to the garden centre check-out lady, it can even feel as if it’s cheaper to shop at the supermarket and the nursery than to grow your own produce and flowering plants. That’s why you have to get smart.
So many edible and ornamental garden plants strike (form roots) in nothing but a jar of water, that you’d be mad to buy them. One of my favourite is mint (and there are a whole host of mint varieties to choose from). If you can cadge a piece from a friend, you’re made (it may even have roots already attached). If you do have to purchase a plant, you can soon grow loads of other plants from it. Basil is another ‘striker’, along with lemon verbena, pineapple sage, tomato cuttings, willow, impatiens, daisies, coleus, ivy, penstemmon, begonia … in fact, I’d give just about anything a go. When the experiment is free, why wouldn’t you!
Maximise your potential for success by adopting a few tricks of the trade. Choose cuttings from outdoor plants that are already growing vigorously. (A ‘cutting’ is just another name for a length of plant - and I wouldn’t choose a length any shorter than my finger – that you’ve snipped off a growing plant.) The best time to snip off a cutting is in spring or early summer. Take the cutting from a plant that doesn’t have disease and which isn’t being attacked by bothersome insects such as aphids. Don’t go for pieces of plant that are flowering. If they are, nip off the flowers – you want the cutting to put its energy into making roots, not flowers. Take several cuttings from the one plant. They may not all strike roots, but there’s a good chance that some of them will. Snip off about one third of the leaves from the lower end of your cutting (that’s less foliage for the cutting to support while it’s growing new roots).
If you have some rooting hormone (a liquid or powder available from garden centres) dip the ends of your cuttings into it for about a minute. If you don’t have rooting hormone, don’t panic. Your plants will still have a very good chance of striking roots without it. Pop your cuttings into a glass of water (the water should come about one third of the way up the cutting) and sit it on a sunny window ledge. Change the water every day as this helps prevent bacteria building up. Different plants take different time to grow roots. You may find that mints and impatiens develop roots in just a week. Tomatoes won’t be far behind them. It’s like magic!
As soon as the roots on the cuttings are are 1.5 – 2 cm long, it’s time to ‘pot them up’. This is a gardening term for planting the cutting in soil. Your rooted cuttings can be gently planted into containers of potting mix (and this is where I do recommend you part out with the cash because commercial potting mix is likely to be weed and disease free). Keep the plants well watered and in a warm but semi-shaded spot. They’re trying to become established in a new home and the less stress they encounter the better. Don’t let them get too hot, too cool, too dry, too wet or too wind-blown. Within a couple of weeks, your plants will seem to develop a life of their own and will begin to grow new shoots and leaves. Once the plants are looking strong (and this can be from 3 – 5 weeks depending on variety), gently transplant them into the garden or a larger pot.
There’s something very satisfying about growing new plants in nothing but water. It’s as if the commercial world doesn’t quite exist and self-sufficiency is just around the corner!