Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cheap geraniums


Today's frugal rainy-day gardening project: geranium cuttings! It's cheap and can be done indoors--perfect for our March-going-on-January weather. Here's what you need:

  • A geranium plant that needs (or can tolerate) a trim
  • Pots. I use old nursery pots, but you could also use yogurt cups, Dixie cups, or whatever you have around. Just remember to poke some drainage holes in the bottom.
  • Vermiculite. The best thing I've found for rooting cuttings, vermiculite is available at your local garden center. Some people use plain ol' potting soil, but my results improved drastically when I listened to one of my horti-friends and started using vermiculite.
  • Rooting hormone. Also available at your local garden center. It'll probably set you back about $8, but you'll have enough for hundreds of cuttings. Some gardeners have good luck without it, so feel free to skip it if you wish.
  • Plastic bags
  • Something to keep the plastic bag from touching your cutting--small stakes, chopsticks, plastic forks, etc.
  • Rubber bands
  • A waterproof tray
  • Some kind of label
  • A source of bottom heat. Optional but will improve your results. I put mine on top of my reef tank, where the lights keep the soil at about 80 degrees during the day. If you don't have a reef tank, don't buy one just for rooting cuttings--that would make this a distinctly unfrugal project. Try the top of your refrigerator, fork over for a heat mat (about $40 but reusable many times), scavenge an old waterbed heater, or do without the bottom heat.

Here's what to do:

  1. Fill pot(s) with vermiculite and wet it down till it's moist throughout.
  2. Take your cutting(s). Snip them just below a leaf bud, remove all but the top 2 or 3 leaves, and pinch off any flower buds or blossoms. You want your cutting to put its energy into roots, not flowers, and you don't want it to lose too much moisture through its leaves.
  3. Pour some rooting hormone into a shallow dish. Wet the bottom inch or so of your cutting and roll it in the rooting powder. Tap off the excess.
  4. Make a hole in the wet vermiculite and stick the cutting in at least an inch or two. Firm the vermiculite around the cutting. Repeat with additional cuttings if you wish to put more than one in a pot.
  5. Put a plastic bag over the cutting securing it around the bottom of the pot with a rubber band. Poke some holes in the plastic bag to control buildup of moisture.
  6. Put the pot on a waterproof tray, preferably one that can hold some water so you can water your cutting from the bottom when the vermiculite starts to dry out.
  7. Put the cuttings and tray on your source of bottom heat.
  8. Check your cuttings every few days and dispose of any that are wilted or rotting. Make sure the vermiculite is damp, watering from the bottom if it isn't.
  9. After a couple of weeks, or if you see new growth on your cutting, tug gently on it. If you feel resistance, you have roots! Pot the cutting in potting soil and care for it as you would any young geranium.

For my project, shown in the photo above, I used an old pot I'd saved from a plant purchased ages ago, an old produce bag, a rubber band from the newspaper, a popsicle stick for a label, and chopsticks from a long-ago Chinese takeout night, plus a cutting from a geranium I bought for a couple dollars at an estate sale last year. The only things that cost any money were the rooting powder and the vermiculite. I love projects that are cheap and fun!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Today's bargain

I just got back from grocery shopping, and I have to brag about my latest bargain. It turns out that WinCo, our local bargain-basement grocery chain, sells bareroot perennials and bulbs. Who knew? They were on a small display near the entrance to the produce section. For $1.99 per package, I got 3 purple astilbe (1 per pkg) and a box of 10 gladiolus bulbs. The selection was pretty limited, but in addition to the glads and astilbe, they had dahlias, hosta, liatris, salvia, and a couple other things I can't remember. So if you have a WinCo in your area (check to find out), take a look.

A gardener's survey

I found this survey in an old posting on The Garden's Gift and thought it would be fun to post here. Feel free to leave your responses as a comment if you want. Here are mine:

1. Lilies: oriental or asiatic? No preference, as I'm not a big lily grower (yet)
2. No-till or till? No till, baby! I'm way too lazy for that. I've posted a few times on mulching for lazy gardeners; see
3. Bare hands or garden gloves? I used to be a bare-handed gardener, but I'm starting to use gloves more now. I'm tired of having big cuts on my hands from accidentally grabbing blackberry vines, not to mention the effort to get all the dirt out from under my fingernails.
4. Garden tchotchkes, no or yes? Eh... I don't have many, mostly because I'm too cheap to by them. Cheap and lazy... that's me.
5. Clay or sand? (by default) Here in the NW, we have clay. Boy, do we have clay. Forget the tiller; rent a jackhammer.
6. Shrub roses or hybrid teas? Both!
7. Hollyhocks: single or double? Again, both! I may be cheap and lazy, but in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury, I want it all, and I want it now!
8. Foliage: gray or glaucous? "Glaucous?" Cool -- I learned a new vocabulary word! In case there's someone out there as uneducated as I am, here's the definition from
  1. Of a pale grayish or bluish green.
  2. Botany Covered with a grayish, bluish, or whitish waxy coating or bloom that is easily rubbed off: glaucous leaves.
So "gray or glaucous" sounds a bit redundant. I prefer green foliage mostly, though I like some white variegation and some reddish foliage too.

9. Hemerocallis: flava or fulva? This is why I hate plant snobs! Would it be so effing difficult to say: Daylilies: yellow or orange? C'mon people. Latin is a dead language for a reason. And again, I like both.
10. Impatiens: double or single? I like both, as you might have guessed by now, but I'm hopelessly in love with the double ones. They're like miniature roses for shade.
11. Calendula or tagetes? Here we go with the Latin again. At least I didn't have to look these up (it's pot marigold and regular ol' marigold, in case you're wondering). I grow both (big shock, that). I like calendula flowers better, because they make lovely cut flowers, but I like the growth habit of marigolds (OK, fine, "tagetes" for you horti-snobs) better. My calendulas get a bit messy and rangy, and they don't hold up to the summer heat too well. Marigolds have a tidier habit, which makes them better suited as bedding plants.
12. Arborvitae or juniper? I'm sick to death of both of them! The hedge around our corner lot is arborvitae. It makes a nice hedge, especially since drunk idiots insist on running off the road and into our yard every couple years. Usually the arborvitae slow them down a little, but the dude in the 4x4 pickup a few years ago mowed our 30-year-old arborvitae down like matchsticks. He also destroyed some huge juniper (see, I'm back on topic) on his way to almost driving through my mother's bedroom. I just replaced some of the juniper a couple weeks ago, but I think I'm going to plant some sturdy shrub roses there too. As I said at the beginning, I'm sick of arborvitae and juniper.
13. Spaded edge or "edging"? Spaded edge around lawns. It's less work and looks more relaxed. Edging is nice to separate beds from paths.
14. Asters or mums? Mums are prettier, but asters are easier.
15. Reflecting pool or coursing waterfall? I love both, but I prefer waterfalls unless I can have some fat, lazy fish in my reflecting pool.
16. Morning glory blue or forget-me-not blue? Morning glory blue. I love the things.
17. Lettuce: leaf or cos? Both! Leaf is prettier, both in the ground and in salads. Cos (romaine to normal people) is great too and stores better in the fridge than the more fragile leaf lettuces.
18. Hyacinth bean or red runner bean? I've never grown hyacinth bean (yet). I love runner beans, because they're gorgeous and edible--if you pick the pods while they're small. If you wait too long, you'll be chewing the things for three hours.
19. Orange or pink? Pink. It's funny, but I haven't been a pink person since I was a little girl. I've always been a tomboy, and lacy frilly pink stuff activates my gag reflex almost instantly--except in the garden. I love big ruffly romantic pink blossoms--peonies, roses, all that stuff. Just don't ask me to wear anything pink.
20. Garden bed shapes: formal or informal? Informal all the way. Big wide curvy beds are great. You didn't really expect "formal" from the person who thinks jeans and a Def Leppard t-shirt should be acceptable apparel for all occasions, did you?
21. Garden bed planting schemes: informal or formal? Again, informal is my style. I love the rangy cottage garden look. Tidy the border with a sharp spade, but then let the plants have free reign. It's more interesting, I can cram more stuff in the bed, and it suits my laziness.
22. Hydrangeas: lace-cap or mophead? Do I have to quote Freddie again? Both! And I grow both. And I love both. But mopheads are better for cutting.
23. Spirea japonica: dried flowerheads standing over the winter or in bloom? In bloom
24. Japanese beetle drowning medium: kerosene or dishsoap solution? No Japanese beetles here, thank goodness. But I'd vote for the dish soap. I hate the smell of kerosene.
25. Garden stroll time: dusk or dawn? It's prettier at dawn, but I'm too lazy to get up that early, so we'll make it dusk.