Letting the ends justify the means

Golden-leaved fuchsia.
Golden-leaved fuchsia.

Heaven forbid that we should ride roughshod over all the gardening rules and advice ever printed or repeated on air.

But it is a fact that there are often several routes to success with a particular plant type. If you are lucky enough to find one that works for you – stick with it! Were we to follow every piece of well-intentioned advice verbatim, think of the gardening opportunities that might be missed.

Take plant propagation for example.

How often have you read that vegetative cuttings, that is those of stems or attachments should be taken from non-flowering shoots?

While it is true that such material is preferable, and more vigorous initially, unfortunately the advice is occasionally interpreted by beginners as ‘cuttings from flowering stems don’t root’. But oh they do!

I’ve recently been successful with a batch of the golden-leaved fuchsia genii, cuttings coming from soft tips because lower stems had hardened. Clusters of flowers, some in bud, were removed first. Penstemons too have rooted after the removal of terminal blooms. Another old chestnut is that geranium (pelargonium) cuttings should be taken in summer. How would the parks departments of old have survived, were it not for the propagation of autumn geranium cuttings by the thousand, and the boxing-up of stools of parent plants to produce more?

Take them in July-August by all means but the golden rule for any plant at any time of year is; if there’s a hint of soft stem and you fancy propagating, go for it. Reference the scented geraniums we’ve just planted around the inside edge of a pot of gritty compost. It will stand uncovered, in the light and modest warmth of the conservatory, and should need no more water for several weeks. I’m also asked: ‘Will cuttings root without that powder?’

This in response to the age-old advice: ‘Before inserting the cutting into the medium, dip it in hormone rooting powder’.

Questions: What happens if you are running to a strict budget and cannot afford any and what difference does the powder make anyway?

It apparently encourages earlier callusing-over of the cambium layer and root production, but having experimented in the past and found very little difference, saving the money for something more important and waiting a little longer for cuttings to root seems no hardship.