One of the virtues I try to cultivate in life is persistence. I have never liked to quit, even in the middle of a project that has suddenly gone bad. Somehow when I’m flat on my behind (metaphorically speaking) I can always hear my father’s voice saying “Finish the job, kid!” and I get back up and go at it again.
As in life, so in gardening. I hate to give up on a plant. Once it comes into my herb beds I expect to keep it healthy and growing for the foreseeable future. Alas, all my good intentions do not overrule the realities of life. Sometimes a disaster happens and I have little choice but to pull up the failed plant. However, there are times when a little thought can reveal a way out. I liken it to hitting the RESET button on the computer and starting over from scratch.
Such was the case this week when I was out weeding and transplanting. I came across a blanketflower (Gaillardia grandiflora) I had transplanted last fall. It had been in a spot where a nearby plant overshadowed it so much that it had to grow a sinuous stalk just to creep around the neighborhood bully and try to find enough light to survive. I had moved it to a better location, hoping that the open space would encourage it to sprout new growth around the base.
Alas, this was not to be. Note the arrow in the picture to the left pointing to the still-bare lower stem. The blanketflower was responding to better conditions by blooming (see top and far left of the photo) but appeared to be doomed to a rather arthritic shape. Furthermore, the stem was weak and likely to break at the least bit of disturbance. I needed to take drastic action or admit to failure. It was time to hit the RESET button.
I had healthy growth coming up but a weak base. So I took my clippers and lopped off the green part of the blanketflower, leaving the now denuded stem attached to the roots. I am doubtful that it will re-sprout but there is no harm in leaving it there. Hope springs eternal in the heart of every true gardener.
Taking the just clipped new growth inside, I clipped the plant into five sections of new spring growth. These are called “softwood cuttings.” Softwood is any part of a herbaceous plant (like blanketflowers and many other herbs) where the stem tissue is mature enough to have some stiffness but not so old that it has developed a hard outer bark. This is the part of a plant that is most likely to strike new roots when placed in damp soil.
In the process I also removed dead or dying leaves and the flower buds. If you look closely at the stems in the picture you will see the stubs of the removed leaves. Where they attached to the stems are leaf nodes, tiny dormant portions of the stem that are ready under the right conditions to either leaf out (if above ground) or strike roots (if below ground). This is where the magic will be happening once they are planted.
Next I filled a couple of pots with potting soil and watered them thoroughly by watering them from the top and leaving them to soak in a saucer of water for 5-10 minutes. It is important to have a thoroughly moist – but not soggy – potting medium. After I had allowed excess water to drain from the pots, I took the blanketflower clippings and nestled the stems down into the moistened soil. No need for rooting hormones – blanketflowers should be able to root on their own.
My last step was to take a clear plastic produce bag (recycled from the latest grocery shopping), turn it upside down and cover the pot with the newly planted cuttings. Once I had the opening of the plastic bag tucked under the pot I had created a mini-greenhouse for the to-be-rooted cuttings. I placed it in my office plant nursery where it will get light to encourage growth. Now I will leave it in place with the plastic bag cover for two weeks. The thoroughly moistened soil will evaporate slightly to provide humidity in the air trapped in the plastic bag. No need to water as the water already in the closed environment isn’t going anywhere.
With these simple steps I have wrestled victory from defeat by hitting the RESET button and creating new blanketflower plants ready to move outside and join their neighbors in my herb garden.