Warm spring like days, ruined watery rinks and icy ski paths make it seem like spring has arrived early. This is Alberta and experienced gardeners know that now is the time to order seed but not to plant it.
February is a good time to take cuttings from last year’s plants such as geraniums, fushia and coleus. Start by giving the parent plants a bit of fertilizer, more water and more sunlight to encourage new growth. The cells on new growth are soft allowing new roots to easily pass through the barrier to grow, develop and feed the new plant.
Cutting size makes a difference in the success rate. It is a bit of a balancing act. There must be enough leaf to enable to plant to process enough food to feed the existing foliage and the new root system. When there are too many leaves on a cutting the stem cannot take up enough moisture or nutrients to feed all the existing leaves and some die. When the leaf surface area is too small the plant cannot convert enough raw material to food to grow new leaves or roots.
Three average sized leaves per cutting tends to work. If the leaves are oversized, cut them in half. When the leaves are small, add another leaf.
To take a cutting, cut the stem above another leaf. Use a sharp, clean tool, knife, scissors or secateurs work well. Clean means free of dirt and bacteria that can lead outbreaks of infections and diseases. Cuttings should be placed in growing medium before they wilt but it does not have to be instantaneous.
People have more success with cuttings if the growing medium and container used are sterilized eliminating all harmful bacteria. Containers once clean, can be rinsed in a five per cent bleach solution to be free of diseases and bacteria. When using a growing medium, make sure all containers have sufficient drainage.
When rooting in water, keep all leaves out of the water. Leaves will rot if left in water for any length of time.
Greenhouses that grow bedding out plants have the choice of purchasing cuttings, plugs which are rooted cuttings or seed. They factor in the cost of heating a greenhouse for a longer time against the cost of purchasing the more expensive plugs.
Homeowners may be able to purchase select plugs but they are more likely to start bedding-out-plants using seeds.
Like cuttings, sterilized equipment and soil can make a huge difference in the success rate. Most soil available through stores is soilless which is less likely to harbour bacteria. Potting mixes contain peatmoss and vermiculite/perlite combinations. If nutrients are added they will be specified on the container.
Knowing when to plant is important. Planting too early and chances are that the plants will be large the roots will be packed into a small space making it hard to keep the soil moist and the plant healthy.
Plant too late and they are too small to be planted out when danger of frost is past.
Planting dates are set by counting back from the time the plant is to be planted outside. Ball’s Seed charts have been used by the greenhouse industry for years. They recommend planting seed six to eight weeks before the set out date. More specific information the information is on their website (www.ballseed.com)
If the goal is to transplant large plants in the spring, germinate the seeds earlier and be prepared to use larger containers or transplant when necessary. Bedding plants suffer less transplant shock when the roots hold the soil in place but do not cover the entire rootball.
February is the time to plan the garden. The actual work will come later when spring arrives.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.