Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kitchen Bench Propagation

Pottering in the garden on a weekend is great when it's fine, but today it's raining so I did my gardening in the kitchen, propagating the seeds I recently collected as well as doing some cuttings from plants in the garden.

Propagation tray

This tray is something I picked up a few years ago, and it is brilliant for propagating both seed and cuttings. The pots have lids (see top right) that allow you to keep the seedlings or cuttings protected, as well as regulating water loss. The pots sit on sponges which you keep wet, and the soil draws up moisture as needed.

So the Allocasuarina littoralis and Hakea sericea seeds you might remember from my previous post. I've made cuttings of three other plants:

The first is Adenanthos sericea, Albany Woolly Bush, a West Australian species I'm growing in a pot. It's getting a bit large for the pot and a little tired, so some offspring are timely. As you can see from the photos in the link above, it looks like its leaves should be sharp and tough like those of Hakea sericea, but in fact they're soft and delicate. It's a very beautiful shrub/tree.

Next is Hibbertia scandens, a local twiner which propagates from cuttings very easily. It flowers year round--I took this photo this afternoon.

Hibbertia scandens

And finally, Elaeocarpus reticulatus, Blueberry Ash, which produces either white or pink flowers and bright blue berries, beloved of birds. As you can see, we have the white flowered variety.

Elaeocarpus reticulatus.

All these cuttings are semi-hardwood. That means it's not the most recent growth, nor old growth, but something in between that still has vigor but is more substantial than the new growth used in soft-tip cuttings. Autumn is the best time for semi-hardwood cuttings.

As a propagating mix, I used 1:1 peat moss and vermiculite, a quite versatile and handy mineral that assists in ensuring that the growing medium is well aerated. I also use it to cover seeds when they're sown, to gently hold them down and keep them moist.

When you're making cuttings, it's important to make your final cut at the bottom just below a node. The node is where the meristematic tissue is--basically, the same as embryonic stem cells in humans, able to differentiate into a variety of cell types. When you're doing cuttings, you want them to become root cells.

It's also wise to remove most of the leaves, and cut half to two thirds off the remaining. Some leaves are needed so the plant can still photosynthesise, but plants transpire (lose water) through their leaves, and for a plant with no roots, water is at a premium. For the same reason, you need to keep their environment humid.

Humidity, of course, brings its own problems, mainly in the form of fungal infection. Whenever I propagate with cuttings or seeds, I first wash all my pots in a dilute solution of bleach, then rinse. "Damping off" is a form of fungal disease that can easily kill tiny seedlings, the stems essentially being eaten away.

To give your cuttings a high chance of success, rooting hormone is a good idea. This is basically auxin, a plant hormone. Auxin's quite remarkable stuff. It is found in the shoot and root tips of plants, and its presence there ensures that tip's dominance, and suppresses the growth of competitors. When you remove the main shoot of a plant (by tip pruning, for example), that suppression ceases, and the apical buds in the nodes (near where the leaves attach to the stem) then begin to grow new shoots. Thus by tip pruning, you can make your plant nice and bushy, especially if you begin tip pruning when they're still very young . Applying auxin to the basal cut of a cutting stimulates root growth there--especially if it's just below a node.

Now I know you're just aching to know how the dreaded Persoonia pinifolia seeds I talked about last post are coming along. Hmm. Not great.

Having soaked them for a couple of days, I tried breaching the endocarp, and succeeded in cutting the embryo in half. Whoops. This photo shows just how solid and relatively thick the endocarp is!

Persoonia pinifolia endocarp and embryo
Scale: 1mm.

There were three seeds left, but I stupidly left them on the kitchen counter in a bowl. My husband just got home and cleaned up.... Well, we rescued two from the sink. This is clearly the downside of kitchen bench propagation.

I'm going to attempt to file off the endocarps. I may be gone for some time....

Edited to add: If you're interested in propagating native plants, I couldn't recommend this book more highly. Angus Stewart's "Let's Propagate: A Plant Propagation Manual for Australia". Not only does he provide good advice on methods, he also has a comprehensive listing of Australian plant genera, and what method works best with each.


samantha said...

Hi Margret-

I just happened to find you on line and I have so many questions to ask you! I just bought my first home In Bilgola Plateau (Northern Beaches of Sydney.) My home is very much like yours with lots of natural bush and shade. I am looking to create a corner with a water feature and want to plant some native orchids. Any suggestions as to what type of Orchids would work best in our climate and shade? (I am also new to Australia- so very ignorant of native plants all together)

Thank you Samantha

Margaret said...

Hi Samantha. Nice to meet you, and I hope I can be of help!

Australian orchids fall into a few categories, depending on what they grow on. There are terrestrial (growing in soil), epiphytic (growing on other plants), epilithic (growing on rock) and climbing species. Probably the best for your needs would be Dendrobium, a genus that contains both epiphytic and epilithic species, and many are pretty hardy, although rather slow growing. These are very different from the Cymbidium orchids that are popularly grown in pots, and that you see in lots of nurseries. I'd suggest you try Dendrobium speciosum. You can grow it on a piece of bush rock, and it has beautiful masses of white to yellow flowers.

Here are some photos I took of D. speciosum in my parents' garden:

You might also like to investigate Dendrobium kingianum, which has smaller leaves and flowers which are a delicate pink. It's also an epilith.

To flower, these do need a little sunlight, preferably in late summer/autumn. They don't want much sun, though, or they'll scald.

There's a nursery not too far from you that probably stocks both these species: They also have a good range of other native plants, including gorgeous tree ferns.

Have fun, and please let me know how you fare!