Plant  Propagation


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Written 07-05-02

by Nita Holstine

  Back in about 1995, we bought trees from the local country extension office. Some of each variety survived but we were nowhere near ready to plant them when they arrived. The ones that survived until their permanent location was ready did very well but only 3 pine trees, 3 cedars and 7 russian olives made it that far. 

  It was stated that the trees must have one gallon of water every day for their first year. These were the days when I also was in the city all day. That meant that every night, I was out with the 5 gallon bucket. We tried making a soaker system but it could only water the first two trees in the row and the rest were dry. With the end of summer came fall and winter rains which came every two to three weeks and I no longer needed to water. During the worst of our drought over the past 4 years, it is only a matter of knowing when your last good rain occurred. If you have to sprinkle, make sure the flow is low and does not blow away in the wind. A soaker hose on the surface will keep your watering from creating water holes that make the water flow straight down. 

  We had russian olives that were dormant in the winter while the pine and cedars were always green and did most of their growing in the fall and winter.  When they were all about 5 years old, I decided I wanted to start taking cuttings and making more of them. The first thing I did wrong was to put two and three together in one gallon size container. They all made roots but the close competition for food and water keeps them stunted. There has been no growth in two years. The other threes are 10 to 20 foot tall and these new crowded ones are staying at a scrawny 2 foot tall.  Next time, either one per container or leave the heartiest and cut the others off at ground level.

  When we ordered the trees, we were looking at having windbreak trees to help cut the mean winter & spring north and northwest winds. The russian olive tree is not extremely dense and while being bare in the winter and early spring, it does produce a crop of fruit that the wildlife really enjoy. When I create a new windbreak area, it will not include russian olives, they will be placed in areas where they can grow wild. When the instructions say, plant the cedars 10 feet apart, it is because that plant will (maybe not real quickly) grow to that 10 feet across. If you plant in rows and they are only 10 feet apart, you will have no pathway to cross through the area. We did as suggested and staggered the pine and cedar. 

  Thinking my attempt at the pine and cedar cutting was a failure since all the top twigs were dead, I set the containers aside and quit watering the. When I dumped the pots out, I was surprised to find lots of roots on the dead twigs. I gave up too soon. This next season, I will cut the tops off and see if I cannot encourage new growth. Two of the pines are over 20 foot tall. Runt tree (now 5 foot tall) was in the shade of a scrubby elm tree, it was on a greater incline and did not retain as much water as any of the other trees. The bigger trees are finally making big cones and I will attempt to sprout the seeds. Right now, I have 8 wall of china cuttings that have rooted. They were standing up to the grasshoppers but are beginning to suffer. They are in a large 5 gallon bucket and in the garden shade. After the heat of the summer, they will get planted out into the yard. These we plan to trim and keep as shrubs while the originals grew too tall before we tried to trim it. They were part of a grab bag special from Michigan Bulb. 

  I have learned that before I even start to take cuttings to make sure I know where I am going to plant the babies. As we are able to get water to more areas, we will be able to get some fruit and nut trees started. Pear trees have lousy luck in these parts. But peach and apricot do very well. There is suppose to be a variety of apple that will produce a good pie apple. The same county agency that sells the spring trees will have information on the varieties that do well in your own area. 

  A few actual details of successful rooting: make the cutting about 10 to 12 inches long, cut at an angle. To the bottom 4 inches, remove all branches or growth. Dip into water and then into powdered rooting hormone. The soil for rooting to do best in should have plenty of sand for good drainage. Add as you would for a garden bed, plenty of compost and mix well. I always use what ever is on hand. It is best not to use old bagged soil that may be full of unknown seeds and possible disease. 

  For trees and shrubs that are budding in the spring, cut the stems right before the buds start opening. Have your water bucket for dipping and your powdered rooting hormone ready to use, have your new containers ready. Have the soil wet before putting the cuttings in and make sure it is very wet so you will not have to water the plant for several days (otherwise, you will be washing off the rooting powder.) Set them in a shaded area of the garden and a place protected from such bad guys as bunny rabbits. They will be rooted and making new leaves within the next few weeks. If the tops dry up, check to see if they are making any roots. If so, try cutting back the top dead part several inches. If  you cannot promote new growth, discard and give you attention to the remaining plants. My next attempt at the cedars will be in the early fall and they will get a year in the garden before they go out in the permanent location. Like the cedars, they are very slow growing especially the first few years.