Moving away? Take your garden with you
After building up a beautiful garden through the years it is a shame to leave it all behind when you move. But why should you? You can take along many of your favorite perennials, ground covers, vines, shrubs, evergreens, and sometimes even trees, by propagating them.
Usually, you'll have at least a few months' warning before the actual move takes place, so you'll have time for the propagating process. Spring is the best time, because plants are in vigorous growth then, but you can propagate a great many plants in any season -- even winter.
You should consider whether a plant you'd like to take with you will grow in your new location. Let's say you're moving to Florida. A plant that needs a long dormant season will fail, regardless of your tender loving care, unless you plan to keep it in your refrigerator for a couple of months each year.
It's a good idea to look at a nursery catalog, which will give you the cultural requirements of the plants you are planning to take with you when you move. Thus, you'll be able to see if they will grow in your new location. Pay special attention to the zone-of-hardiness map. Even if you won't have the conditions required for a specially loved plant, you can get into some container gardening.
Take along a large pot of soil and bring the plant inside when the outside conditions aren't just right.
Unless they're small, it usually isn't practical to dig up whole plants and move them. Also, taking larger plants would leave ugly voids in the garden which prospective buyers might not like.
You don't need any special equipment to get into propagating. A sharp knife and pruning shears will bruise plant tissues less than dull tools. Fish tanks or large terrariums are ideal, but flowerpots or flats put into clear plastic bags will do almost as well.
Coarse vermiculite, often used for insulation, is probably the best medium to use, because the roots will permeate it easily. It's inexpensive, sterile, and lightweight as well.
Labels are a must for all but the most obvious plants. You may think you'll never forget a leaf shape, but when you're working with many plants -- and sometimes with different colors of blooms -- it's comforting to know exactly what you have when you're replanting them.
Excellent labels can be made by cutting aluminum TV dinner trays into half-inch-wide strips. You'll also need a rooting hormone powder, such as Rootone.
Finally, you'll need a holding bed outside. This should be a bed of loose, well-drained soil in a semi-shaded location out of the mainstream of activity. Dig it up and rake it smooth, but don't put any fertilizer on it.
You can use the three main types of vegetative reproduction: divisions, layering, and cuttings.
The plant's characteristics will help you decide which method to use, and often you'll have a choice. Wash your hands and all utensils before propagating. Division method:
This can be used with plants that have several stems, such as rhubarb, hosta, daylilies, peonies, iris, phlox, and any ground covers.
Dig up the entire clump, getting as many of the roots as possible. Cut through the root ball with a sharp knife, dividing it into two or more pieces, making sure you have leaves and roots with each division.
Wrap a wet rag around the roots immediately, because a dry root is often a dead root. Replant some where you dug the plant up, and put the divisions you want to take in your holding bed, firming them down well and watering thoroughly so as to avoid air pockets.
For larger plants or tougher roots you may have to put two spading forks back to back into the crown and pry the plant apart, or use a sharp spade to cut through the root ball. Layering method:
This is used with shrubby plants, such as forsythia, azalea, clematis, and cotoneaster. First look to see if nature has done your work for you. If you see any rooted twigs, cut them off the mother plant and move them to your holding bed. If there aren't any, select a vigorous shoot and loosen up a little patch of earth beneath it.
Cut a notch in the underside about four inches from the tip and remove the leaves for a few inches on either side. Then dip the notch into your rooting powder or apply the powder to the cut with a cotton swab.
Finally, nestle the notched part in your loosened soil and put a stone on it large enough to hold it down. Water carefully and in a few weeks you should have roots. Then cut, label, and move it. Cutting method:
You've probably used the cutting method before on indoor plants. Taking slips of plants and rooting them in water is one example; rooting leaf cuttings is another.
You can use all three kinds of cuttings -- root, leaf, and stem -- on outside plants. Remember that your main aim is to keep the cutting alive until it develops roots and leaves that will sustain it.
Root cuttings may be taken from any plant with thick, fleshy roots, such as bleeding heart, yucca, monarda, and Oriental poppy. Dig around under the plant until you find a thick, healthy root, and cut it into pieces about two inches long. Plant the pieces horizontally about an inch deep and six inches apart in your holding bed. Mark the place so that you don't plant something else there by mistake.
Keep the soil moist and in a few weeks you should see little sprouts appearing. Label them when they get about 4 inches high.
Leaf cuttings are made from plants with fleshy leaves, such as begonia and the succulents. Cut the leaf with as much stem as possible and stick it into sand or vermiculite, or try it directly in your holding bed.
English ivy leaves can be rooted in water if you cut them before July.
Stem cuttings will probably be the method you'll use the most. From early spring when leaves first appear until frost you can use this method to propagate many of the plants in your garden.
A good way to control conditions so you can keep the air warm and moist is to use a fish tank or terrarium. Wash it with hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and dry in the sun. Fill it halfway with vermiculite and add water until it is moist but not soggy.
If you're making a great many cuttings, you may find it easier to use a cold frame outside. You can make one by putting concrete blocks in a rectangle with an old storm window on top to keep in the moisture. Put it next to your holding bed and you can keep watch over all of your propagating efforts at the same time.
For stem cuttings, cut just below a leaf about 6 inches from the tip. Take off all the leaves from the bottom half of the stem and any flowers or buds. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, shake off the excess, and put half its length into a hole large enough so the powder isn't brushed off. Press the vermiculite firmly around it and mist it with a spray bottle of water.
Plant the cuttings just far enough apart so the leaves won't touch, and don't forget the labels. Cover the tank with glass or plastic so the air will stay moist around the cutting.
If you're using flowerpots, make some simple wire frames to keep the plastic bags from touching the leaves. Keep your propagating tank in bright light but out of direct sun until roots form.
Controlled heat will help roots form faster, so if you have a soil cable or radiator that won't get the tank warmer than 75 degrees F., by all means use it. Don't guess, however.Keep a thermometer in the tank and check it periodically.
Take the cover off for a while every day to give the cuttings some air circulation, but make sure the medium doesn't dry out. Mist the cuttings often, especially if they look a little wilty. If any are obviously dead, remove them immediately to avoid decay problems.
When roots have formed, take the cover off for a few hours each day. Gradually increase the time to get them used to air that isn't so moist. When top growth has started, transplant the cuttings to flowerpots with good topsoil in them and plant them up to their tops in your holding bed.
Some plants you should find easy to root are honeysuckle, buddleia, clematis, lilac, euonymus, hydrangea, periwinkle, poplar and willow trees, forsythia, azalea, and chrysanthemums. But don't be afraid to try any plant in your garden. Always take several cuttings, because all of them won't root.
These methods will work with many plants anytime from early spring, after growth has started, until late fall.
Some plants are stubborn and just won't root no matter what you do. But you won't lose anything but a little time in trying. If you especially want a plant that won't root in vermiculite, try it in a glass of plain water. Some evergreens will root about as readily as other plants. Others take many months to root, and then take years to get to any size, so you need a lot of patience to grow them. If you do want to try them, you may have to take them along in plastic bags of vermiculite to root at your new home, unless your move is a long time in the future.
If you have only the winter months to get ready for your move, you can still propagate most shrubs and many other plants. You'll use what are called hardwood cuttings, as opposed to softwood cuttings; spring sprouts; and half-ripened wood cuttings, which are taken in late spring to fall.
In this method you cut stems off on a slant, just above a dormant bud, and about 10 inches from the tip. Whenever you're in doubt, the slant cut will tell you which end is the bottom. Cut the top off straight so that the cutting is about 8 inches long. Tie cuttings of the same kind together -- all pointing the same way; label them; and put them in a plastic bag of moist vermiculite.
Keep them in a cold, not freezing, place so that calluses can form. Your refrigerator is the ideal temperature if you have room in it. If you'll be in your old home until spring you can bury your twig bundles outside. Dig a hole 18 inches deep and bury the bundles (without plastic) upside down.
The callusing process takes about eight weeks. Anytime after that you can plant the cuttings outside with the top few buds above the ground. Within a month you should see some leaves, and by the end of the summer you can transplant the cuttings to their permanent places.
If you are moving out of state you should call your state agriculture department to find out if you need a certificate of inspection to take plants where you are moving.
Interstate movers often have rules against moving plants. You should check with your mover to see if you'll have to take your plants with you in your car. If so, it might limit what you'll want to propagate.
When you're ready to move, pack your new plants in pots of soil or vermiculite, disturbing the roots as little as possible. Water them lightly and put the pots in plastic bags. Or you can forget the pots and just put the plants in plastic bags of moist vermiculite and wedge them upright in sturdy boxes.
When you arrive at your new home, unwrap your plants at once.
Prune off any parts that are broken or bruised, and get them into the ground as soon as possible, even if it means you have to move them later. Protect them from the sun for a few days until they recover, but don't fertilize them until you see some evidence of new growth.
With care, your efforts should result in many new plants for your new home at very little cost.